Mistley and Manningtree are smack in the middle of huntin’and shootin’ territory. During the season, which starts on October 1 and finishes at the end of January, there are numerous shoots in the region of which I am the happy recipient of some of the spoils. I still have a difficult time believing that much of a day’s shoot will be left to waste. I am told there isn’t much of a market for game birds, which is a shame as pheasant is delicious, nutritious and easy to prepare. Once the season is underway the price drops considerably making pheasant very economical.
Pheasant can be purchased ‘oven-ready’ from good butchers, farm shops and farmers markets and sold in a ‘brace’, a hen and a cock. Early in the season, pheasant is very tender, becoming a bit more robust in texture as the season goes on. Because pheasant is extremely lean, I tend to cut the breast meat from the carcass and leave the rest for the stockpot. Call me a philistine, but I don’t like roasting a pheasant whole, I find it has a tendency to dry out and can be a pain to carve. One great way to serve pheasant is as a paillard, which is a handy little cutlet that can be prepared ahead of time. Bathed in a sublime mustard sauce and served with one of my favourite veggies, Cavalo Nero, it makes a delicious autumnal supper.
Breaded Pheasant Breast Paillard with Mustard, Cream, Capers and Wilted Greens
Serves 6 to 8
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F)
For the Pheasant:
- 12 boneless, skinless pheasant breasts
- Sea salt and ground black pepper
- 150g (5 oz.) plain flour
- 4 free-range eggs, whisked
- 450g (15 oz.) fresh breadcrumbs
- 125ml (4 oz.) light olive oil
Place the breasts on a flat surface and pound with a kitchen mallet until they are an even 1cm (3/8 in.) thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place the flour and fresh breadcrumbs each separately (do not mix together!) in large shallow bowls or pans. Arrange in a row: The flour, then the bowl of whisked eggs, and finally the breadcrumbs. Dredge each pheasant breast first in the flour, shaking off the excess, and then dip it in the egg mixture and then the crumbs. Make sure that the pheasant is completely coated. Set aside breaded pheasant breasts until ready to cook. (This can be done up to a few hours ahead of time, just cover and refrigerate until needed.)
For the sauce:
- 1 litre (1 quart) chicken or pheasant stock
- 250ml (8 fl. oz.) dry white wine
- 3 shallots, minced
- 500ml (16 fl. oz.) cream
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 lemon
- Sea salt and ground pepper
- Capers and shavings of Parmesan cheese
In a large heavy saucepan add the stock, wine and shallots. Bring to a boil over heat and reduce the liquid by half. Add the cream and mustard and cook for a few minutes until it is slightly thickened. Complete the seasoning by adding lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Keep sauce warm while cooking the pheasant and kale.
To finish the pheasant:
Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan over moderate heat. When the oil is hot add the pheasant breasts to the pan without crowding. Reduce the heat slightly and cook each breast about 4 minutes until golden and then turn each piece over and finish cooking for another 2 minutes, or until the breast is completely cooked through. Place the wilted greens on a warm platter and top with the pheasant breasts and warmed sauce. Scatter capers over the top along with shavings of Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.
Serve with Wilted Greens