I was at the right place at the right time last week at work when I went into the showroom, mid-afternoon to get some coffee. A car salesman walked up to me holding a clear bag with a two freshly killed pheasants. As someone who’s not a hunter it was a little gruesome of a sight for me. “Do you know how to cook these?” he asked. I didn’t even know what ‘these’ were; I did see some feathers, but of course I can cook them.
From what I could gather the car salesman was offered the two pheasants and he didn’t want to seem rude by turning them down. I could tell he really didn’t want them though. I just hope it wasn’t part of the deal selling a car. I live in northern Illinois, really close to the Wisconsin border and hunting is quite popular here. I’ve never hunted myself, and I have no desire to take the life of an animal, but I’ve got no problem with other people doing it. If you kill it I’ll cook it.
It felt like an honor to be taking these two birds home and I was excited to cook pheasants. I’ve never even eaten pheasant before, so this was a very new experience for me, but I was a little worried how this was going to go over at home. Just as I expected my children were a little freaked out by these two birds in the refrigerator. My oldest daughter said, “Dad, I’ll eat anything you cook that comes from land as long as it’s not brains or tongue, but I don’t want to see my food with feathers.” For the record they weren’t covered in feathers, but just had some scattered about.
I found a recipe at Hunter Angler Gardner Cook that was very basic. That’s just what I was looking for. I wanted to keep it very plain so I could compare this bird to turkey and chicken. Because this was my first time cooking pheasant I didn’t want to make it too complicated.
I started off by making a brine in a large stock pot the day before I was to cook them. I filled a large stock pot with water and added a decent amount of salt, some sugar, and about six bay leaves. I brought it to a boil and then let it cool to room temperature. In the meantime I plucked the remaining feathers and rinsed the pheasants in cold water.
Later that night when the brine cooled to room temperature I submerged the two birds into the liquid and covered the pot. Even though it’s mid-March it’s still really cold this year so I was able to use my garage to store the brine overnight. Pheasants are a little bit smaller than chickens so they fit nicely in one of my larger stock pots. The recipe I was following said to brine the pheasants for four to eight hours, but I didn’t think it would be a problem brining them longer. They ended up brining for a total of twenty hours.
Early next evening I removed the pheasants from the brine and let them warm up to room temperature for half an hour while I preheated the oven to 500F. I cut a yellow onion in half and stuck half inside each pheasant cavity. Then I brushed the outside of both pheasants with olive oil, cracked some black pepper on top, and sprinkled a little basil over them.
After the oven was preheated I set the pheasants into a roasting pan and put it in the oven for fifteen minutes, then I lowered the oven temperature to 350F I left the door open for a minute to speed up the process. Then I roasted the pheasants for another forty minutes, just until my internal temperature was 165F. I checked it with my digital thermometer. I let the meat rest for fifteen minutes before I cut and served them.
The roasted pheasant turned out great. The breast meat was the juiciest breast meat I’ve ever eaten in my life. The thigh meat seemed a little tough to me though; almost a little like red meat. My oldest daughter wasn’t too crazy about it, but she tried it. My youngest daughter complained more than my oldest, but she ate everything on her plate. I know my darling wife liked the breast meat, but she said it was alright. So maybe the next time I roast a pheasant I’ll have to stop at the store to get some chicken breast too.
I talk about using a thermometer to check the doneness of pheasant, but I also use it when cooking chicken breast, pork, beef, or any other meat. I even use it when I’m roasting a turkey on Christmas. This is the thermometer I use and I’m really happy with it. I’ve used thermometers for years and I like the digital display much more than a dial with the tiny little lines.
I always had a hard time looking at the little lines, and by the time I was able to read it the temperature changed. Another thing I like about this thermometer is that there is a hold button, so I can press that button then pull the thermometer out to look at it without the reading changing. This thermometer is worth the small investment.
Adapted from Hunter Angler Gardner Cook