I am test-driving a pheasant tonight for Christmas Eve dinner at my darling sister Molly’s house. In fact, her husband got twelve pheasants on a recent hunting trip, and, if all goes well, we’ll be feasting on them together Friday night. I haven’t had a pheasant dinner like we’re planning since my dear grandfather passed away in 1985, and roasting the bird has brought back a flood of memories of sitting at their table, so happy to just be there, eating yummy things that he and my grandma had cooked for us, making a little pile of buckshot on my plate, and watching my grandpa dip his flour-dusted roll into the butter and through the pheasant gravy on his plate. How I miss them and time at their table.
Wild pheasant is much gamier than commercially raised, and also considerably leaner. It benefits from barding, but in lieu of such, I opted to just smear my bird liberally with softened butter. Barding the bird is easy enough—you simply place a layer of bacon or slab fat over the breast of the bird—but I prefer to enjoy game birds as my grandpa made them, their nature unadulterated. To test-drive roasting tonight, I kept things ultra simple, but you could stuff pheasants with anything you like: with wild rice, with a proper stuffing made with sausage and cubed bread, or even with clementines or lemon and perhaps some thyme or sage leaves. If you stuff your bird, add five to ten minutes per pound to your roasting time, and stuff the bird just before it goes into the oven.
The bird pictured here arrived skinless, the victim of a very lazy butcher, poor bird. If you hunt for your own birds, pluck them and leave the skin on. Skinless, I’m afraid, they are doomed to dryness, though this little bird was still delicious drizzled with a little pan gravy. With the skin, they will live up to their succulent potential.
Roast Pheasant with Pan Gravy
One pheasant per two diners
A good knob of softened butter
Salt and pepper
Chicken stock for the pan gravy, perhaps 2 c. (preferably homemade)
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
- Rinse your bird and pat it dry.
- Rub it liberally with softened butter and sprinkle it all over and inside with salt and pepper.
- Place it in a roasting pan and into the oven. Immediately turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees.
- Roast the bird for 20 minutes per pound, or until the juices run clear.
- Tent the bird with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for ten minutes.
- Place the roasting pan on the stove over medium heat and add a bit of chicken stock to the pan.
- Scrape up the pan juices and any crispy bits with a wooden spoon.
- Bring the stock and pan juices to a boil and reduce them until they are a syrupy consistency.
- Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.