Don’t get me wrong, I love hands-on, elbows-on-the-table, sauce-on-the-face eating – wings, ribs, mussels, snails, whole crab, anything that goes well with lots of friends and napkins and beer – but it’s nice occasionally to have something a bit more, well, refined. Something where the hard work, the nuts and bolts and bones, is got out of the way long before dinner, and all you have to do at the table is sit and eat. This is especially true, I think, over Christmas, when you’ve got quite enough to eat without making it any harder for yourself, and when the tradition of carving at the table leads to unwanted scrutiny of your knives and skills.
Carving a bird isn’t the hardest of tasks, but there is something a bit silly about the whole affair; taking off the breasts before you can slice them, utensils wrestling with tasks better suited to hands, and then the whole question of stuffing. If you actually stuff the bird with it, it plays havoc with the cooking time, and of course you have to get it out again; if you don’t, well then it isn’t really stuffing, is it? Drastic as it may seem, de-boning the whole bird is really the best solution to all of these problems. To carve, you simply slice across, and the flesh becomes, really, a wrap for the stuffing, which after all is usually the best bit.
Against this, of course, is the work of actually boning the damn thing. Well, you could always ask your butcher to do it (I’d give him a little advance notice, though). Or you could (as I did) learn how to do it from this excellent video. It isn’t that hard, although it certainly isn’t quite as easy as he makes it look. Or, of course, you might already know how to do it! It’s incredibly satisfying, anyway. Here’s what I did with mine.
PHEASANT WITH BLACK PUDDING AND CITRUS STUFFING
serves 2, festively, or more in leaner times.
1 pheasant, fully boned (keep the bones)
1 fat carrot
2 cloves of garlic
Roast the pheasant carcass in a hot oven, then make a stock with it and the rest of the ingredients, covered with water. It’ll need a good 2-3 hours of simmering. You could pop the pheasant in brine overnight, too.
1 rasher of streaky bacon, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
2 good chunks of black pudding (about 100-150g)
a small handful of parsley, chopped
a small handful of dried breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp allspice
a grating of nutmeg
1 tbspn chopped candied citrus peel
1 small egg
lard, salt and pepper
Sweat the bacon, onion and garlic in a dollop of lard until soft and clear. Crumble in the black pudding, then stir through the rest of the ingredients. Season. When cooled slightly, beat the egg lightly and mix that in too.
1 leek, sliced into chunks and washed
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into chunks
1 onion, peeled and sliced into chunks
5 rashers of streaky bacon
another onion, finely diced
1 tbspn flour
a little mustard, redcurrant jelly, and/or booze, as you will
lard, salt and pepper
Get the oven to Gas Mark 4/180C/350F. Lay your pheasant, skin side down, on a board or counter. If not brined, season enthusiastically. Rearrange any ragged bits of meat so there’s a good, even layer, then spoon over the stuffing. Spread it out, leaving a slight border, and work some right down into his trousers. When happy with your work, begin the reconstructive surgery. Fold over one side into the middle, and then the other, overlapping the skin slightly. Turn over onto the seam, cross the legs at a jaunty angle, and tie, again as shown here; finally, lay the rashers of bacon across the breast, then get his bed ready.
Melt a little lard in an appropriately sized (ie small) roasting tin, then toss in the vegetable chunks, making sure they get a good coating. Place your handsome pheasant sausage in the middle of this, then roast in the oven for about 45 minutes. As ever, you’re after clear juices and crispy bacon. Remove from the oven, remove the bacon, and wrap the bird up to rest. While this happens, make the gravy.
Sweat the onion in a little more lard, then stir in the flour, cook until it smells vaguely of biscuits, and add whichever of mustard, jelly and booze you see fit (I used all three). Gradually add the pheasant stock, stirring slightly manically, and simmer until thickened nicely. How much stock, and how much further liquid you add, depends on how you like your gravy. Pour in the vegetables and juices from the roasting tray too, and simmer some more. Strain into a jug.
Serve, sliced thickly, with the gravy, greens, perhaps tossed with hazelnuts and mustard dressing, and some sort of potato. As for the bacon, you could chop it and add to the greens, or just have as a treat on the side. Or eat it, while making the gravy, and pretend it never existed.