Eastern Europeans are fond of game meat—venison, bison, boar, elk, pigeons (squab), and other wild poultry like pheasant. Pheasant hunting was not only expected of the men in the family, it was demanded by the women who used the birds' beautiful feathers to make some pretty snazzy hats. While some don't like the gamey taste of wild pheasant, farm-raised pheasant is another bird entirely.
Pheasant can be overcooked in the wink of an eye. Some people get around this by cutting the bird into pieces and giving the dark meat a headstart in the oven so the breast meat doesn't become dry. If you leave the bird whole, you can lay strips of bacon or salt pork over the breast meat while it is roasting to alleviate some of the problem. But most farm-raised pheasants have a substantial amount of fat in the neck skin, and added fat makes for pretty greasy drippings. Instead, you can marinate the whole bird for 30 minutes. The oil from the marinade helps to keep the breast succulent and moist. Pheasants are small birds, so one will probably serve only two hungry people. Plan accordingly.
- For the Marinade:
- 1/3 cup wine (dry red or white wine or plain water)
- 3 tablespoons vinegar (red-wine or balsamic)
- 2 tablespoons shallots (minced)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon garlic (minced)
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano (chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano)
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil (chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried basil)
- 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram (chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried marjoram)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- For the Pheasant:
- 1 whole pheasant (farm-raised, 2- to 3-pounds, washed and patted dry)
- Optional: salt
- 1 small onion (peeled and cut in half)
Gather the ingredients.
In a large zip-top plastic bag, combine wine (or water), vinegar, shallots, olive oil, sugar, garlic, dry mustard, oregano, basil, marjoram, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper until well mixed.
Sprinkle salt in the inside cavity of the pheasant, if desired. Place the whole bird in the marinade, moving it around so the marinade reaches all parts of the bird. Refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 325 F.
Remove the pheasant from marinade, but do not rinse it off.
Place bird in a lidded roasting pan that is just slightly bigger than the bird. Place bird, breast-side up in the roasting pan. Place the halved onion in the cavity of the bird. Cover and roast for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid, baste bird and let it continue to roast for approximately 30 more minutes without the lid so it will brown. The pheasant is done when the thighs move easily and the juices run clear.
Remove the pheasant and allow the meat to rest for at least 5 minutes before carving and serving.
As with most poultry, pheasant benefits from an accompaniment of a chutney such as pickled raisins when serving. You can serve your pheasant with side dishes such as roasted potatoes or a rice pilaf and steamed or roasted vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower.
For food safety, discard the marinade after it has been in contact with the pheasant. If you wish to serve it, you must bring it to a boil first to kill any bacteria it will pick up from the meat.