Now, we have been gifted a pheasant. The benefactor is a customer, a man who likes Oliver’s bacon so much he buys a whole side at a time. He takes it on holiday with him to far flung islands and invites friends along for epicurean feasts. This man went on a pheasant shoot in Victoria and shot more than his own tastes required, so gave us a bird.
I collected it from the drop-off point, a Launceston providore where the girls were a little freaked out by the sight of a fully feathered dead pheasant, and had popped it on the floor of the cool room in a corner, with its head tucked under a cabinet.
Wanting to do justice to the gift and the bird, we turned to the oracle on these occasions for advice – YouTube – and found a chef who demonstrated for the camera how to skin, fillet and cook it.
We set to work. you don't pluck a pheasant - that's too fiddly. You peel its skin, and the feathers come too. It's quick, clean and easy. Oliver nicked the skin on the breastbone pulled it away in a thick coat. It made a curious noise, like fabric ripping quietly. Some people might feel squeamish at that thought. But it’s a noise that connects us to what we’re eating. It reminds us that if we going to eat meat, something has to be prepared and butchered. It’s a noise that our ancestors have been hearing for many generations. It’s a good noise to hear.
Once the bird was bare, Oliver butchered it, carving off the breast fillets and the legs. And then I cooked it, after finding a couple of recipes online and then making up my own version.
I like to cook a dish such as this slowly and thoughtfully. That allows time for the flavours to develop, in the pot and in my mind. After searing the meat, I cooked shallots and mushrooms, added white wine and cream and some chard from the garden, and cooked it all gently in the oven in a cast iron pot for a brief time.
If we’re lucky enough ever to have another pheasant, I’d try a different recipe – with more of a jus rather than a heavy cream sauce. Even so, the dish was delicious, the meat like a cross between chicken and pork, with a good bite but not too chewy, and very flavoursome. We ate it two nights in a row, first with roast potatoes and then with rice.
The provenance of meat is important and we're happy to know this pheasant would have lived a good life in the wild or on an estate. It came to us near-organic and free range. We’re happy with that, and with the chance to have tried it, and cooked it.