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How to cook whole pheasant

The sight of pheasants foraging in the British countryside varies enormously throughout the seasons. Originating in Asia, whole pheasant is a wonderfully versatile combination of white and dark meat that’s widely available during autumn and winter.

Our birds spend their days in the wild North Yorkshire countryside, scavenging for seeds, berries, nuts, and insects, while using their movement to escape predation. This is why pheasant meat is exceptionally lean and needs to be basted frequently to prevent it from drying out during cooking.

Enjoy the subtle gamey taste and delicious yellow fat of pheasant by cooking it in a slow cooker or following our step-by-step roasting guide below for meltingly tender meat.

How long to cook a whole pheasant?

Pheasant is a meat that has a tendency to become very dry if it is not cooked with a bit of care. The breasts of the bird are very lean and shallow. By contrast, the leg meat is tougher due to the amount of work it gets through — remember, pheasants can’t really fly, so they spend quite a lot of time running around.

To get the best out of both cuts, we would suggest cooking them separately. The breasts roasted on the crown for 16-20 minutes, then the legs braised in a little wine and stock for 1-1 ½ hours. This braising of the legs has the added benefit of providing you with a lovely sauce.

How to roast whole pheasant

  1. Take your pheasant out of the fridge and remove all packaging. Pat the meat dry and allow it to come to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170ºC.
  3. Separate the legs from the carcass.
  4. Brown the legs in a pan with a little oil. Then braise in a little white wine and chicken stock, with a sweated down onion and some bay leaves. Simmer, with a lid or cartouche, very gently for 1-1 ½ hours.
  5. Season the crown well with sea salt, both inside the cavity and on the skin.
  6. Set a pan or cast-iron skillet over a medium heat. Place the pheasant in the pan, skin side down and allow the meat to brown. Turn the heat down if it seems too fierce. Remember, it is an unforgiving meat.
  7. Once all the skin has been browned, add a knob of butter to the pan and begin basting the bird. Add a few thyme sprigs to the pan and transfer to the oven.
  8. After 10 minutes, remove the pan and baste the bird thoroughly. Return to the oven for another 8-10 minutes.
  9. Remove from the oven and rest your pheasant, somewhere warm, for a minimum of 20 minutes.
  10. Check the legs are cooked — they should be soft and coming away from the bone with ease. Watch out for the tendons in the lower part of the leg — they can be easily removed.

Top tips

  • Lay a couple of rashers of smoked belly bacon over the top of the crown just before it goes in the oven. This will help to insulate the breast meat, whilst imparting that wonderful smoked bacon flavour.
  • The braised legs would make a great basis for a pie filling.

Whole pheasant recipe

Celebrate Oktoberfest at home with Val Warner’s German-inspired pheasant schnitzel recipe. Pheasant meat is pan-fried in a crispy breadcrumb coating and served with a fried egg and pickled walnuts, before drizzling over a salty parsley butter for a wild taste buds experience.