Pheasant, Sous Vide

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In January of 2015, I wrote a post entitled pheasant, in which I wrote about my shock in discovering that the man I married was a hunter. Since we only knew each other 3 months before getting married, there just wasn’t time to discuss such an important thing.

Read the post if you want a laugh. Because of my limited but scarring experience with drunk holiday hunters, my overall impression wasn’t positive. But I learned, slowly, that not all hunters are crazy fools, and that it is a sport to be respected.

I re-read the post myself, because I remember the emotional phase well – me trying to reconcile the fact that my husband owned a shotgun and shot living birds – him trying to get over me being nuts. Let’s just say that over the years I’ve relaxed a bit.

So it was just a couple years ago that I actually gave pheasant a shot, no pun intended. I made a recipe called Pheasant with Green Chiles that I’d made before with chicken breasts.

When I made the pheasant with green chiles, I wrote that the next time I’d sous vide the pheasant breasts. If the sous vide process would do the same for pheasant as it does for chicken breasts, then the pheasant would be moist and tender. So that’s what I decided to do, although I dragged my feet for a while, reluctantly accepting 4 whole pheasant breasts after a recent hunting expedition.

I cleaned the pheasants, because there are always remnant feathers, and dried them on paper towels. I seasoned the breasts with salt, pepper, and a little thyme.

I put the whole breasts in a vacuum sealable bag. I added 4 tablespoons of butter, a sprig of fresh sage, and vacuum sealed the bag carefully.

I set my sous vide at 135 degrees Farenheit, and the pheasants were in for 3 hours.

After cooking I put the bag immediately in the refrigerator. You can also use an ice bath to cool off the meat quickly.

When you are close to serving the pheasant breasts, remove the bag from the refrigerator. Drain the pheasants if you want to save the jus.

Cut the breasts from the rib bones and lay them out. Dab with paper towels to remove any excess liquid. Season with salt and pepper.

In a skillet over high heat, brown the breasts in a little oil, just for about 30 seconds per side.

For something different, I decided to use the pheasant in a composed salad.

Along with lettuce, I added red cabbage, tomatoes, barley, and feta cheese.

The dressing was lemon pesto, which went really well with the pheasant.

The pheasant cooked this way is superb. As expected, the meat was tender, moist, and flavorful.

I cooked the pheasant on the day our time sprung forward, and so because I used two different clocks, only one of which had the proper time on it, the breasts were actually in the sous vide 30 minutes longer than planned. Fortunately that had no difference on the outcome!

Sous vide is the only way I’ll cook pheasant in the future. And I won’t be so hesitant to have my husband bring them home!

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.
pheas

verdict: I think I like pheasant! Next time I cook breasts, I will sous vide them first. The spinach was a great addition!

Pheasant

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My husband, when he was young, hunting with his bird dog Penny, in Kansas

My husband, when he was young, hunting with his bird dog Penny

In 1981, when I met my husband-to-be, I liked him immediately. Like grew into love, and within 3 months we eloped and moved in together.

Now that’s not something I would recommend to people, like getting married at 16, but it has worked for us. However, there are things that you can’t learn about a person in 3 months.

It was well after we married that I learned my husband was a hunter. I nearly fainted. It was too late for an annulment, but trust me, I wasn’t happy.

During my last years of high school, I lived in Park City, Utah, which is a big deer and elk hunting area. I worked at a diner back then, so every year I had to put up with these drunk guys stopping in for meals, making feeble attempts at sobering up, as well as being crudely obnoxious to me.

These guys would fly into Utah for long weekends of gun- and man-bonding, shooting anything and everything that moved. I remember seeing dead horses and cows that were killed by these idiots during their drunken hunting fests. Sometimes if they kept the deer or elk, they would leave the entrails behind to rot. So believe me. I wasn’t keen on hunters.

My husband told me that first of all, he only killed birds, no four-legged animals. That made me feel better, although I’m not sure why. And he also explained to me that he was trained at an early age on the sport of hunting, and on gun handling.

But it was still really hard to believe that when he’d go out with his buddies for their annual pheasant and quail shoot over the years, that there wasn’t drinking involved. But this was serious business, he claimed, and at least during the time they were hunting, there was no drinking. And at nighttime, it sounded like after walking 10 or 15 miles, they were just happy to go to sleep.

It’s a touchy subject, this hunting thing, which is why I’m not offering up this post as a debate forum. I’ve loosened up about hunting over the past years, and of course I’m especially understanding of people who hunt because they must. That makes complete sense to me.

Out of respect, my husband keeps his shotgun out of my sight, because I don’t even like seeing it, and he’s never asked me to join him. He also doesn’t go on hunts where all the birds are sent flying towards you, which really is no sport at all.

I will never touch a gun and I will never shoot an animal. That I know. I (sort of) understand that it’s a sport, and if there’s no waste, that’s a good thing. But here’s the thing. I fish. In fact, I love to fish. And I do eat the fish. And I also step on spiders. Happily. So what’s the difference?

So most every bird season since we’ve been married, depending on where we were living, my husband went hunting, and on good days he would bring home pheasants and quail.

Quail are so small that I always poached them and fed the meat to our dogs. I really didn’t know what else to do with them.

Pheasants, of course, are bigger. I cooked them a few times in the early years, the best I could. But the first time you bite down on a metal buck shot, you become a bit timid about eating more pheasant.

Buck shot, being so tiny, is easy to miss when you’re cleaning the birds. But discovering it with your teeth is like finding a popcorn kernel you didn’t expect in your bag of fluffy popcorn. Except these tiny metal balls will make your ears ring and your teeth hurt, and crack, if you’re really unlucky.

So pheasant meat also became dog food, which the dogs loved. Sadly, I never really viewed pheasant as “gourmet” game that I was lucky to have in my freezer. But this year, I decided it was time to actually work on preparing pheasant.

My first attempt was the recipe Pheasant with Green Chiles. The only challenge is to not overcook the pheasant breasts; they are lean and dry out easily.

After this pheasant experience, I decided the sous vide process would be the best way to cook tender juicy pheasant. Coming soon!