Photo by Gail Gordon Oliver

Pheasant Braised With Fall Vegetables

When I’m out food shopping, an unusual food item will often catch my eye and tempt my taste buds. I’d never cooked pheasant before but when I saw a fresh one in a local butcher shop, I couldn’t resist. It wasn’t cheap, but it was very delicious, so you might want to look at it as a once-every-so-often indulgence. You can substitute a good organically raised chicken for the pheasant, if you’d like.

I cooked this dish in my Romertopf clay baker, one of the clay pots I’ve come to adore cooking in over the past year or so. I’ve started to amass a collection of Moroccan tagines, Spanish cazuelas, and clay bakers. Clay bakers are relatively inexpensive (your local cookware shop should carry them or they can be ordered online) and produce wonderfully juicy and flavourful roasts and stews. (You can also use a roasting pan with lid to prepare this dish.) We went through half a loaf of challah bread just sopping up the incredible braising juices. And leftovers a couple of days later were even better than the first go-around.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 whole pheasant or chicken (about 3 pounds)

2 tsp kosher salt

3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup grapeseed oil or extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, halved and sliced

1 large red pepper, sliced

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp achiote/annatto powder*, optional

1/2 tsp smoked paprika, optional

1/4 tsp ground cayenne

1/2 head green cabbage, coarsely shredded

5 sprigs thyme, tied together with kitchen twine, or 1 tsp dried thyme

3 cups water

1 small winter squash, such as buttercup, acorn or pepper, peeled, seeded, and cut into large chunks

6 small carrots

* Achiote/annatto powder is available at Latin grocery stores and fine-food shops. Alternately, annatto seeds can be purchased at spice shops or ordered online. Simply use a coffee grinder to pulverize the seeds into a powder. (Make sure to use a coffee grinder dedicated only for grinding spices.)

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper evenly over the top (breast side) of the pheasant; set aside. In a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion, red pepper, garlic and annatto. Cook until the vegetables are very soft and mushy, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the remaining teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, the smoked paprika (if using) and cayenne. Add the cabbage, thyme and water. Stir well. Increase the heat and bring the liquid to a boil.

Spread the contents of the pan evenly into the base of a clay baker or a roasting pan with lid. Place the pheasant breast-side up in the centre. Scatter the squash and carrots evenly around the pheasant, immersing them in the liquid. Cover the clay baker or roasting pan with the lid. Cook in a 300º F oven for 90 minutes. Remove the lid. Baste the pheasant with the pan juices. Cook until the skin is golden brown and the pheasant is cooked through or still has a slight bit of pink near the joints. (If using a chicken, cook until it is no longer pink inside.)

Transfer the pheasant to a cutting board to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Carve off the legs and the breasts with wings intact. Cut the breast portions in half, if desired. Spoon off the fat from the pan, if desired. Spoon some of the vegetables from the centre of the pan onto a deep serving platter. Transfer the pheasant pieces to the platter and surround them with the carrots and squash. Serve the rest of the pan vegetables and braising liquid in a large bowl. Your guests will love this for ladling over their pheasant and for dunking into with chunks of great bread.