“A whole roasted pheasant takes time to pull off correctly. Rush the process and you’ll end up with a dry, lackluster-tasting bird that will make you wonder why you didn’t buy a chicken. But take the time and care needed, and the result will be fit for any occasion. There are few sights more glorious than a properly roasted bird at the dinner table – and few tastes as rewarding as an aged and brined pheasant.”
— Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley, Food for Hunters
You should age pheasant to improve its overall texture and flavor. Birds that show next to no shot wounds in the breast area will benefit from at least one week of aging. With extremely damaged birds, I break these down after three days.
Find space in a garage, shed, or refrigerator that’s at a constant 32° to 40° Fahrenheit. Make sure it stays dry and that no pets or pests have access to the area. Hang pheasants by the neck or feet with feathers and guts intact or lay them on a refrigerator shelf, allowing plenty of room between each bird. Bacteria grows slowly below 40°, and we haven’t had issues with spoilage.
When aged to your liking, pluck and remove the guts of more pristine birds. Peel off the skin and cut out the breasts and legs of more damaged birds. Save the wings, breast bones, and back for stock.
1 aged whole pheasant with skin
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 small shallot
8 cups of water
½ cup of coarse kosher salt
½ cup of brown sugar
1 pound of baby carrots
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
¼ teaspoon of dried tarragon, or fresh equivalent
Quarter of a lemon
Brine pheasant to add moisture and flavor. Also, when salt infuses into the meat by osmosis, it helps to break down the protein in the muscle tissues, thus tenderizing it. The longer the bird sits in the brine, the saltier it will taste. Six hours is a safe amount of time for pheasant.
Allow time to make this recipe. After brining, the bird should sit uncovered in a refrigerator to allow the skin to dry out overnight. This will promote better browning.
1. Combine 8 cups of water, ½ cup of kosher salt, and ½ cup of brown sugar in a saucepan. Apply just enough heat to completely dissolve the salt and sugar. Take off the heat and allow to cool completely.
2. Submerge the pheasant in the cooled brine, whether in a saucepan or in a bigger bowl. If needed, use a heavy plate to keep the bird fully submerged. Multiply brine recipe as needed. Refrigerate for 4-8 hours.
3. Remove pheasant from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Lay the pheasant onto a lined cooling rack and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight or up to 24 hours before cooking.
One pheasant should serve at least two people.
1. One hour prior to cooking, remove the pheasant from the refrigerator to sit at room temperature. The pheasant should be dry from sitting uncovered in the refrigerator. Lightly coat with olive oil, and then stuff the inside cavity with thyme and a halved, peeled shallot. Truss/tie the bird for even cooking.
2. Preheat oven to 450° and allow it 30 minutes to get hot. Lay the pheasant breast-side up on a rimmed cookie sheet or roasting pan, and roast for 15 minutes on the middle rack to brown the skin.
3. Then take out the pheasant and lower the heat to 350°. Move the oven rack one notch below the middle. Return the bird to the oven and cook the rest of the way, shooting for an internal temperature of about 155° in the thigh area. If the thighs are too small and bony to get an accurate reading, shoot for 145° in the breast area. This could take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the bird. I use a probe thermometer to eliminate the guess work.
If the skin browns too quickly, tent it with foil. Allow the pheasant to rest at least 10 minutes before you break it down to serve with roasted carrots.
1. Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Toss 1 pound of baby carrots with olive oil to coat and then season with salt. Roast carrots for 30-45 minutes until tender and brown at the edges.
2. During the last five minutes of roasting, toss the carrots with tarragon, freshly cracked pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Keep warm until ready to serve. Or, if you have access to two ovens, roast the carrots while the pheasant cooks.