When King George V of England shot over a thousand pheasants on the 18th of December, 1913, he didn’t wear a fluorescent orange mesh over his stately robes, and he probably had at least one dog in his employ. The modern-day hunter is more conscientious of overkill and environmental impact, and shotguns have been improved over time; still, dogs are as useful in the field as they have been since the 1500s, and properly prepared pheasant is every bit as rewardingly delicious today as it was when hunting involved a bugle. Likewise, cooking a bird over a flame (albeit a charcoal one) hasn’t changed a lick. But when it comes to preparing said bird, the culinary sciences have taken pheasant from peasant food to royal status and back again.
The 39-person kitchen staff at Betony, a Michelin Star-rated restaurant in the center of Manhattan, is about as close as most will come to a royal kitchen, and in November, the restaurant began offering game birds. “It’s the perfect season to be doing this kind of thing”, according to Jack Logue, the executive sous chef at Betony who cooked up the decadent bird seen here. Head chef Bryce Shuman inaugurated their game offerings with squab, but their pheasant is unique: “It’s our first foray into aging the birds ourselves and sourcing a properly hunted bird”, says Logue.
Betony’s pheasants are hunted in estates across England and plucked in Maldon, Essex. “They’re coming from one of the most famous licensed game purveyors from Scotland, Ben Rigby”, says Bryce Shuman, head chef. “They’re farmers who grew up hunting.” After being shipped stateside, the birds are eviscerated and deboned by the staff at Betony, who then clean and cure the innards, age the cleaned birds in a temperature-controlled locker for about a week and then cook them over a charcoal grill for those customers willing to try it. (The bird is offered verbally by the waitstaff rather than on the menu.) “With a little bit of age”, says Logue, “it’s a really magical, vibrant bird”, one that hunters should know is worth the effort. “You can age a farm animal, but it won’t ever get to the same point. The muscles don’t work as much because they’re not flying around… whereas with the pheasant, you have myoglobin — the meat gets red and is very well tenderized.”
“With a little bit of age, it’s a really magical, vibrant bird.”
Shuman’s appreciation for pheasant, and for cooked game in general, was born of a different bird: a rotisserie-cooked snipe he came across while he was working abroad in Brussels, Belgium. “They would roast the whole bird on a rotisserie — with the innards inside”, he recalls fondly. “They would just pluck ‘em, baste ‘em with butter, leave the innards in and roast them on the rotisserie.” They would then gut the bird hot, blend the innards with salt and foie gras with a tammis and serve the mixture on toast alongside the bird.
Granted, earning a Michelin Star entails a bit more involvement, and so does Shuman’s recipe for pheasant. Beyond stuffing and grilling the bird, replicating Betony’s much-lauded game dish is a master class in gutting, cleaning, and aging (take a look at Bryce’s comprehensive guide if you need pointers) — not to mention confiting, baking pastries and making condiments from scratch. If you’re not up to the task, Shuman and Logue have kindly provided alternatives for most every component of the dish; all that matters is that you appreciate the special, untamed qualities of game the way they do. In Shuman’s words: “It’s succulent, sweet, delicious, slightly gamey, a little funky, a little unctuous.” Game hunting, to him, “isn’t the next farm-to-table so much as the first farm-to-table.”
If that’s a little too twee for you, think of it this way: this is a bird that puts up a fight, from the field to the freezer to the fork, and every bite is worth it. Here’s blow-by-blow guide to cooking your fresh game.
Charcoal-Roasted Stuffed Pheasant
Alternative: Liver and Mushrooms
For those unable to acquire foie gras and black truffle (or who abstain from the former), the pheasant’s liver and some wild mushrooms will suffice in their place. “It’s as they say”, according to Shuman: “If it grows together, it goes together.”
25 grams grape seed oil
1,000 grams pheasant backs, cut into 1-inch pieces
150 grams shallots
4 grams black peppercorns
2 grams bay leaf
150 grams madeira
6 grams thyme
3 liters chicken stock
1 liter chicken jus
25 grams foie gras torchon trim
5 grams madeira
1 Scottish red-necked pheasant
3 grams thyme
1 garlic clove
5 grams foie gras black truffle trim
8 grams salt
4 grams brown butter
Preparing the sauce: 1. Heat the grapeseed oil in a large rondeau over high heat until just before it begins to smoke. Lower the heat to medium and add the pheasant backs to the pan. 2. Caramelize the bones on all sides, turning them, for about 5 minutes. Lower the heat to low, deglaze the shallots and add the black pepper and bay leaf to the pan. 3. Sweat over medium heat until tender. 4. Add the madeira to the pan and cook out the alcohol. Add the chicken stock and the chicken jus to the pan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, skimming frequently to remove fats and impurities. 5. Strain the sauce through a chinois and then through a linen-like towel. Transfer the sauce to a medium-sized sauce pot and reduce over medium low heat, skimming frequently and brushing the sides, until it has a sauce consistency. 6. Using a hand blender, blend the foie gras trim and madeira into the sauce.
Preparing the bird: 1. Once your bird has been properly aged, pipe the foie gras and black truffle trim underneath the skin, along the top and bottom of the breasts. 2. Season the bird with salt and stuff the cavity with the thyme and garlic. 3. Separately, heat the charcoals over a hot flame until they burn white. Transfer the charcoal to the hibachi grill and place the grill grates on top. Let the grates heat for at least 10 minutes. 3. Brush the pheasant with brown butter and place on top of the grill. Roast for about 5 minutes and rotate the bird to the other side. Cook for 5 minutes more, continually basting with the brown butter. Remove from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes.
Patee Brisee (Crust)
Alternative: Offal Salad
Whether for lack of time or resources, a salad is a solid alternative to the offal tart. After the gizzards and hearts are cured and cooked, simply slice them up, season them with salt and a vinaigrette of your choosing (lemon is recommended) and serve over baby greens and sliced chives.
563 grams all-purpose flour
8 grams salt
3 vanilla beans
53 grams sugar
338 grams butter, cold and cubed
95 grams cold water
1,000 grams gizzards (cleaned)
14 grams salt
1.5 grams pink salt
5 grams thyme
2 bay leaves
100 grams duck fat
1,000 grams hearts
1,900 grams water
100 grams salt
4 grams pink salt
3 bay leaves
5 grams thyme
100 grams duck fat
15 grams foie gras black truffle puree
20 grams gizzards (sliced)
10 grams hearts (sliced)
1 patee brisee tart shell (baked)
1 grams picked thyme
0.5 grams fleur de sel
3 grams pheasant sauce
Preparing the tart shell: 1. In a food processor, blend together the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and blend while slowly pouring in water, until pea-sized crumbles form. 2. Allow to chill for 1 hour. Creates 6 tart shells.
Preparing the gizzards:1. Clean the gizzards and mix them together with the salt and pink salt. Cryovac this and let sit for two days. 2. Melt the duck fat with the thyme and bay leaf. Strain the duck fat and cryovac with the gizzards. 3. Cook at 82 degrees C for 12 hours. Preparing the hearts: 1. Bring the water and salt to a simmer. Cool down over ice. 2. Add the bay leaves, pink salt and hearts to the cold brine and let sit for 24 hours. 3. Melt the duck fat with the thyme and bay leaf. Strain the duck fat out and simultaneously strain the hearts from the brine. 4. Cryovac the hearts in the duck fat and cook at 82 degrees C for 12 hours.
Finishing the tart: 1. Fill the baked tart shell with the puree. 2. Carefully arrange the sliced gizzards and hearts on top of the puree. Top with the pheasant sauce, fleur de sel and picked thyme. Serve warm.
500 grams dried cranberries
150 grams honeycrisp apple (diced)
Alternative: Store-Bought Chutney or Cranberry Sauce
As self-explanatory as it gets; either will do.
30 grams sugar
400 grams orange juice
25 grams orange zest
400 grams water
5 thyme sprigs
2 cinnamon sticks
4 seeds allspice
10 grams salt
2 grams picked thyme
1. In a medium sauce pan, add the cranberries, honeycrisp apple, sugar and orange juice. Cook this down, stirring occasionally until the orange juice has evaporated. 2. Add the water with a sachet (read: cooking bag) of the thyme, cinnamon and allspice and cover with a cartouche. Cook for about 20 minutes on medium heat. 3. Fold in the orange zest, salt and picked thyme.
Serving and Plating
Warm the tart in a 300 degree F oven for 3 minutes; once warmed, place on a small plate, to be kept separate from the meat. On two entree-size plates, place a small dollop of chutney on one side. Carve the two breasts off of the bird and place one on each plate, opposite the chutney. Sprinkle each breast with some salt. Lastly, pour the sauce directly in the center of the plate, being sure not to pour it onto the meat directly.