Pheasant with Green Chiles

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In my post entitled pheasant, I talked about how for years I’d disregarded the lovely pheasant as a gourmet protein, and decided it was finally time to give it the respect it deserves. I’ve had so many pheasants in my freezer over the years, but to me they were just fiddly, bony little birds to which I had no time to dedicate.

Pheasants not only require some butchering and de-boning skills, one must also be careful cooking them. Pheasant breasts, which I’m cooking today, are darker than chicken breasts, but not moist like chicken thighs or dark turkey meat. So I knew I had to be patient and attentive, which are not my strong suits.

The recipe that I immediately thought of using with the pheasant breasts is one from the Africa cookbook of the Foods of the World cookbook series. The recipe is from South Africa, and the name reflects the Dutch influence on South African cuisine.

Braised Pheasant Breasts with Green Chiles
or, Gesmoorde Hoender

4 pheasant breasts
Salt
Pepper
Butter, about 4 tablespoons
2 shallots, diced
2 ounces diced green chiles from a can
1/4 cup chicken broth
Nutmeg, to taste

Season the pheasant breasts well with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a hot skillet and let it brown slightly.

Add 2 pheasant breasts and let them brown on both sides, for a minute on each side. We just browning, we’re not cooking through to the middle.
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Place them on a platter, add the remaining butter and let it melt and brown slightly.

Add the remaining two pheasant breasts and brown them the same way, then place them on a platter. (Obviously I browned more than four pheasant breasts today, for this recipe I’m only using four.)
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Reduce the heat under the skillet, and to the butter add the diced shallot.
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Give them a stir and sauté them for a few minutes.

Then add the green chiles and chicken broth. Stir well.
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Bring to a light boil, and cook for a few minutes.
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When the liquid has reduced somewhat, add the pheasant breasts in one layer, and partially cover the skillet with a lid.

Braise the pheasant breasts for about 5 minutes. If you’re concerned about overcooking, use a thermometer. The inner temperature should not reach over 150 degrees, just like with chicken.
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Alternatively, you could also pound the pheasant breasts like you would veal scaloppine, then you wouldn’t have to worry about uneven thickness.

Remove the cooked breasts from the broth, and place them on a serving plate. Using a spoon sieve, scoop out the shallots and chiles, and place them on top of the breasts.
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Continue to reduce the liquid, then pour it over the pheasant. I also used a couple of tablespoons of the broth to sauté the spinach, that I used as a bed underneath the pheasant for serving purposes.

Sprinkle the pheasant with a little nutmeg, and add a little more salt and pepper, if desired.
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verdict: I think I like pheasant! Next time I cook breasts, I will sous vide them first. The spinach was a great addition!

Beef Cheeks

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So what are beef cheeks?

You know how some people say that if you don’t want to know the answer to a question.. don’t ask?

Well, beef cheeks are just that – cheeks from cows’ heads. Or would that be faces?

Surprisingly, the other day at the grocery store, I came across beef cheeks, and I’d never cooked them before. I’ve had them at restaurants – I think most often as an hors d’oeuvre. So it was time to try them out as a main course.

They’re a very tough piece of meat, so braising was the only way to go. So here’s what I did.

Wine-Braised Beef Cheeks

Beef cheeks, about 3 pounds
1 bottle of good red wine – you’ll be using it in the braising liquid
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely sliced
A few bay leaves
Sprig of rosemary
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons paprika paste
Salt, to taste

Place the cheeks in a large, non-reactive bowl. add the wine, onion, rosemary, and garlic. Then cover everything with the bottle of wine. Refrigerate overnight, for at least 12 hours.

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The next day, remove the cheeks and lay them on paper towels to dry. Pour the marinade through a sieve and set it aside; discard the onion and other goodies.
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Heat some oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Cut up the cheeks into workable pieces, then season them on both sides with salt and pepper. Brown the cheeks, about 2 minutes on both sides, without crowding them.
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Set the browned cheeks on a plate, and continue with the remaining pieces. Then lower the heat to medium and add the onion, celery, and carrot. Saute the vegetables for 5 minutes.

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Stir in the garlic and saute for just a minute. Then add the remaining marinade, and the beef broth. Reduce the mixture by about half.

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When the liquid has reduced, stir in the tomato paste and the paprika paste.

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Return the cheeks to the pot, including any liquid that might have accumulated on the plate, and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer the cheeks for about 2 1/2 hours. Turn the pieces over about halfway through the cooking time – especially if they’re not completely submerged in the liquid.

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Remove the lid from the pot, and let everything cool down. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the cheeks and slice them thinly. You can strain the liquid in the pot to remove the aromatics, but I left them as is. Place the cheek slices in the liquid and heat slowly until heated through. Taste the liquid and add salt, if necessary.

I served the cheek slices on top of cheesy polenta, topped with some of the braising liquid. Alternatively, you could also strain the braising liquid and make more of a gravy with it, but I preferred a more rustic presentation.
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If you need a recipe for making polenta, which are also grits (they’re both cornmeal), there’s a recipe here and one here.

The combination was really fantastic. And I enjoyed beef cheeks as a main course. They’re almost like beef tongue, but much softer. They were also very inexpensive.

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Braised Cabbage with Chestnuts

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Most people who know me would be surprised to know that I have never cooked with chestnuts, or even had roasted chestnuts sold to me by a street vendor during the holidays. You know, like the song.

Chestnuts have always seemed a little strange to me, even though they grow on trees just like the more familiar nuts. Maybe because I grew up hearing horror stories about my French grandmother practically blowing up her house when she roasted chestnuts in her old-fashioned oven. But then, my grandmother was always a bit funny in a way, and probably shouldn’t have been allowed into the kitchen. She was missing parts of a few fingers, in fact, because of kitchen accidents.

Now I have used chestnut cream, thanks to discovering it in Nigella Lawson recipes. And it is fabulous. In fact, if you have never tried it, run to the store right now and get it. But that is for desserts…

Back to chestnuts – I was at a Williams-Sonoma store last week, and decided to buy a jar and play around with them. I might throw some into the Thanksgiving stuffing I make this year, but for now, I thought I’d add them to a simple braised cabbage, just to spiff up the dish.

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The recipes I’ve always come across for braised cabbage are always too sweet, thanks to additions of sugar and sometimes jelly as well. I’ve toned the sweetness down significantly, because I find cabbage inherently sweet as it is. It’s sort like me refusing to put marshmallows on sweet potatoes.
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So here’s what I did.

Braised Purple Cabbage with Chestnuts

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-sized purple cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 large purple onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons jelly, I used plum
10 or so whole, peeled, and steamed chestnuts, sliced
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Heat the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it browns.
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Add the cabbage and onion and sauté it for about 5 minutes in the butter, stirring it around occasionally.
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Then add the salt and wine. Give the mixture a stir, then put on the lid and braise the cabbage for about 15 minutes. I stirred everything once again about halfway through the braising process.
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Add your choice of jelly, return the lid to the pot, and let the jelly melt into the cabbage. The jelly adds some sweetness but also flavor. This should just take a minute.
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Then give everything a good stir. If there’s some liquid at the bottom of the pot you could always raise the heat a little and reduce it, or just make sure to use a slotted spoon to serve the cabbage.

To serve, sprinkle the cabbage with the sliced chestnuts. I served the cabbage with baked chicken, and some truffle oil-roasted carrots. Divine.
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Braised cabbage is also lovely with turkey, steaks and pork chops. This really is a pretty versatile side dish.
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note: If you don’t cook with wine, a little chicken broth would also do the trick.