Our most revered non-native gamebird, the ring-necked pheasant, stars in the splendid presentation you see here. But don’t fret: Even if you don’t hunt, you can still enjoy this sensational treat by ordering a free-range, all-natural, antibiotic-free uncooked pheasant online (I like Dartagnan.com). Want to go frugal-yet-elegant? I’ll give you dollars to dumplings that this recipe will elevate a humble chicken from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Spatchcocked Pheasant: Serves 4
1 pheasant or organic free-range chicken
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup minced shallot
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups mushrooms (I like a mix of oyster, hen-of-the-woods, and shiitake for different shapes and textures)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Spatchcock the pheasant (see sidebar below) the day before you cook, place it on a wire rack over a drip pan, and refrigerate, uncovered, to dry-age. Several hours prior to roasting, remove from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 500° F. Lightly season the inside of the pheasant with salt and black pepper, then turn it over and place it breast side up on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan. Rub 2 tablespoons butter over all the skin, and season again with salt and pepper. Place the pan on the oven’s middle rack, close the door, and lower the oven temperature to 350° F. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until a meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of the thigh reads 155° F. Remove from the oven, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 15 minutes.
While the pheasant rests, prepare the velouté: Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, the shallot, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme in a saucepan over medium heat and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, until the shallot is translucent. Reduce the heat to low and add the mushrooms. Toss with a wooden spoon for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and thoroughly cooked. Reserve a dozen or so for garnish.
Add 1 cup water to the saucepan, increase the heat to high, and bring just to a boil. Pour the mixture into a blender and process on high speed until smooth. Pour it back into the saucepan, whisk in the cream, and season with salt and white pepper.
To serve the pheasant, make a pool of the velouté on a serving platter and place the pheasant in the center. Garnish with the reserved mushrooms and serve.
Master the Supreme Spatchcock
To “spatchcock” means to remove the backbone and flatten out the bird for more even roasting. I like to take this a step further, removing all but the leg and wing bones from a bird. This technique removes bones from the inside, leaving the skin intact except for the cut made to remove the backbone. Spatchcocking results in a bird that cooks quickly and evenly, and makes for a lovely presentation.
1) Place the bird breast-side down, with the neck facing away from you. Hold a leg in each hand and push down quickly and firmly to pop the thighs from the hip sockets. Repeat the process with the wings, to dislocate the wingbones from the wishbone.
2) Grasp the bird firmly, and use game shears to cut close to the edge of the spine from the vent to the neck opening. Repeat on the other side of the spine. Remove the spine and set it aside.
3) Use the point of a sharp knife to score down the center of the keel (breastbone) from the inside, then turn the bird over and use the palms of your hands to press down on both sides to flatten. (Note: This completes a simple spatchcock, but for presentation and ease of carving and serving at the table, you may want to go a few steps further, and remove the bones from the main body.)
4) From the inside, gently work the tip of a flexible filet knife under the rib cage on either side of the keel, and then under the keel itself, from the back to the front. Use an index finger to gently probe for the wishbone. Angle your knife tip just beneath the wishbone, and free it from the meat. Remove the ribs, keel and wishbone; set aside.
5) Slice down through the thigh meat from the inside, running your knife blade down the thighbone to expose the joint that connects the thighbone to the drumstick. Cut the ligaments holding the joint together and remove the thighbone. Repeat for the other leg. Freeze the thighbones—along with the spine, ribs, keel, and wishbone you removed earlier—to make stock at a later time.
Find this and more than 175 other organic wild game, seafood, foraged foods, and garden fare recipes in The Field to Table Cookbook by Susan L. Ebert (Welcome Books, 2016), available in the Cowgirl magazine online store.