On cold dry Saturday mornings you hear it frequently these days. A sound halfway between a crack and a boom, hollow and distant. It's funny to me that now that I am living right in the heart of a hunting region, I see game much less frequently than I did living in the metropolis of Paris. My local Parisian supermarket carried guinea fowl, duck and rabbit on a regular basis and if I ventured to an open market the choice was even better. I will never forget the morning I saw my first wild boar: hanging, snout down, in front of a butcher shop in the 12th arrondisement, a disturbing sight at any time of the day but particularly hard to face at 8 a.m. There was a cup under the boar's nose to catch drops of blood.
So I was extremely pleased on a recent trip with the Critic to a farm shop to discover a butcher counter with a wonderful selection of game: guinea, pheasant, venison sausages. The Critic was delighted with the selection of pork sausages and less pleased with my choice of venison sausages and pheasant. But he manfully swallowed his criticism and confined himself to pursed lips and a dubious side look at the package. And for my part, I resolved to roast up some potatoes with my pheasant, because I know the way to the Critic's heart is through roast potatoes, bless him.
Pheasant is a tricky bird to roast if you have a doubtful spouse. Although all the books will tell you that the meat is fine - and in fact tastier - if it isn't too well done, I knew that my Critic would have none of that. Fowl is meant to be cooked through. Period. So a good thermometer is essential to catch the point when the bird is cooked through, but before it dries out. I love my thermometer. Another common device to keep a pheasant nice and moist is a few strips of bacon and I had a half a package lurking in the back of the fridge. You might think that this is inconsistent with a Weight watchers regime, but actually it was perfect: the bacon would no longer be there to tempt me into an illicit BLT sandwich and the fat from the bacon is drained away from the bird before serving. As I scanned the kitchen looking for inspiration, another solution to dryness jumped out at me: half an orange, left over from breakfast a few days before. During the roasting process, it gave a welcome moist center to the bird and with a heaping spoonful of mustard, its juice made the perfect gravy: savory and sweet and intense, a perfect match for the slight gamy edge of the pheasant.
Roast Pheasant with Orange and Mustard Sauce (serves two, with leftovers)
1 medium pheasant
1/2 a medium orange
4-5 strips of bacon
2 cloves garlic, smashed but not peeled
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
Preheat the oven to 200C. Rinse the bird and pat it dry. Stuff the orange, garlic cloves and thyme in the cavity of the bird. Place in the oven and roast for 35-40 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 155C. (Sources vary on whether the ideal temperature is 150, 155 or 165C, so I opted for the middle range, correctly assuming that the temperature would rise further while the bird rested.) Remove the bird to a platter and cover. Drain all the liquid from the roasting pan to a cup that separates fat from lean. Pour the lean juices back in the pan and stir in a heaping teaspoon of sharp mustard. Reduce the sauce by about a third and taste for seasoning. In normal times, I would now recommend stirring in a nice big pat of butter - but we are trying to lose weight these days, not gain it. Sigh. Instead, I added about half of a cup of water from the carrots I cooked to accompany the roast and despite the lack of butter, the sauce was delicious. There wasn't a drop left on either of our plates when dinner was done and that is not because I'm starving myself on this diet, far from it. Weight Watchers points for one breast of pheasant, minus the bacon: 4 points. I calculated the sauce at half a point a serving, given the fact that there was a little orange juice and otherwise no points at all in the lean meat juices and mustard.
I roasted the potatoes separately and according to my points calculator, each small one is a whopping 1.5 points. If, like me, you are trying to lose weight, I would recommend boiled new potatoes. With such rich gravy, you won't miss the fat!
Note: if you make this recipe, please do NOT throw away the carcase or legs and DO read my next recipe for Pheasant and barley soup. It was almost better than the original dish!