Scot­tish flavour

Pheas­ant hot­pot with chest­nut and ap­ple by Shirley Spear

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - FOOD & DRINK - PHO­TO­GRAPH: AN­GUS BREMNER

THE game sea­son is in full swing and the dandi­est bird of all is the hand­some male pheas­ant, of­ten seen from the road­side, peck­ing in re­cently har­vested fields, or around the hedgerows laden with over­ripe berries. His fe­male part­ner, al­though more ten­der and plump to eat, is dowdier in colour­ing and not al­ways as vis­i­ble. Ris­ing from the un­der­growth with a dis­tinctly harsh, dou­ble squawk, these birds flap clum­sily into the air, fly­ing low; per­haps too easy a tar­get. Driv­ing through the Scot­tish coun­try­side, there are many signs of shoot­ing par­ties on open farm­land, on the hunt for pheas­ant and par­tridge in par­tic­u­lar, at this time of year.

There is an an­cient cul­ture of hunt­ing feath­ered game for food in Scot­land. Paired with au­tumn fruits, nuts and veg­eta­bles, older birds are de­li­cious for one-pot, slow cook­ing, or a game ter­rine for win­ter par­ties. Younger birds can be roasted whole, very quickly. Old recipes extend to a va­ri­ety of na­tive duck, in­clud­ing mal­lard, teal and wigeon, plus grouse, wood­cock, pi­geon and snipe, par­tic­u­larly in the High­lands and Is­lands. Once upon a time, black­cock, ptarmi­gan and ca­per­cail­lie were also con­sid­ered fair game.

They say that the Ro­mans in­tro­duced pheas­ant to north­ern Europe from the Mid­dle East and bred the birds specif­i­cally for the ta­ble. Pheas­ant cooked with ap­ples, cream and Cal­va­dos brandy comes from Nor­mandy, home of these in­gre­di­ents. I love this recipe for a fam­ily meal, adding sweet chest­nuts for a sea­sonal flavour. Sweet chest­nuts – which are cov­ered in fine spines, like small green hedge­hogs – are very dif­fer­ent from the big brown conkers we know from the horse chest­nut tree. Each nut con­tains three or four ker­nels, packed to­gether. Tra­di­tion­ally, these are split and roasted over an open fire. They smell de­li­cious while roast­ing, par­tic­u­larly out­doors, but you can eas­ily do this at home in the oven too. You will find red string bags of shiny sweet chest­nuts in the shops, but they are time-con­sum­ing to pre­pare. Those ready-cooked and vac­uum-packed in tins or pack­ets are more con­ve­nient. Pheas­ant hot­pot (Serves up to 6) 2 large, oven-ready pheas­ants For the hot­pot: 1 medium onion, chopped small 1 large leek (peel and chop the pale green and the white part of the leek into a sim­i­lar size as the onion and set aside the darker green leaves for the stock pot) 2 sticks cel­ery, plus the leaves, chopped into same size as above 2 tbsp rape­seed oil 1 rounded tbsp sieved plain white flour Sea salt and black pep­per 1 bunch fresh thyme, leaves shred­ded (keep stalks for stock) 6 rash­ers un­smoked streaky ba­con, chopped into 1.5cm square pieces Finely grated zest and juice of 1 large or­ange 2 crisp, sharp, medium cook­ing ap­ples, such has Bram­leys, weigh­ing around 350g when peeled and cored, chopped into thumb-sized pieces and tossed in the or­ange juice to­gether with the zest 180g pack of whole, cooked chest­nuts 25g un­salted but­ter 2 tbsp brandy or Cal­va­dos (op­tional) ½ pint game stock (see recipe be­low) 2 bay leaves ¼ pint dou­ble cream to serve For the game stock: Car­casses and drum­sticks from both pheas­ants 4 tbsp rape­seed oil 1 tsp each of sea salt and black pep­per­corns 1 medium onion Green top from leek used for hot­pot 1 large carrot 1 large stick cel­ery 1 large sprig flat leaf pars­ley, in­clud­ing stalks Stalks from bunch of thyme used for hot­pot 8 ju­niper berries, crushed be­tween thumb and fore­fin­ger 1 tbsp heather honey ¼ pint red wine Wa­ter Method 1. Pre-heat oven to gas mark 6, 200°C. 2. Pre­pare all veg­eta­bles for stock and hot­pot. 3. Re­move legs and breasts from pheas­ants. Check them for shot and blood clots, mak­ing sure they are clean and free from feath­ers. Di­vide the legs into two, sep­a­rat­ing thigh from drum­stick. Re­serve the drum­sticks and car­casses for the stock. Keep the thighs for the hot­pot. No need to re­move the bone. Cut the breasts into three or four pieces, and place all meat pieces on a large flat dish; cover and set aside some­where cool. 4. To make the stock, pour half the rape­seed oil into a shal­low roast­ing tin. Place car­casses and drum­sticks into tin and sprin­kle over sea salt and pep­per­corns. Place in cen­tre of oven to roast un­til siz­zling hot, for 20-30 min­utes. 5. Mean­while, pre­pare the veg­eta­bles for the stock. Cut into chunks and soften in the re­main­ing oil in a large saucepan, turn­ing all the time un­til soft and be­gin­ning to colour. Add the ju­niper berries, pars­ley and thyme stalks. 6. When the pheas­ant bones are roasted and coloured, re­move from oven and lift into pot con­tain­ing the veg­eta­bles. Set roast­ing tin over a low heat. Pour the red wine into hot tin, stir­ring all the time to lift the meaty sed­i­ment from the base. Add honey and stir un­til melted. 7. Pour this liq­uid into the pot, fol­lowed by enough cold wa­ter to cover the bones. Bring to boil­ing point, re­duce heat, cover with a lid and al­low to sim­mer for 1 hour. Strain cooked stock into a bowl through a colan­der, then again through a fine sieve, and set aside. Dis­card con­tents of pan. 8. To make the hot­pot, sieve flour over the pheas­ant meat and turn pieces to coat lightly on ei­ther side. Sea­son with freshly ground sea salt and black pep­per. 9. Heat oil in a large fry­ing pan and seal the pieces of meat, a few at a time, re­mov­ing to set aside on the plate un­til all are lightly browned. Add ba­con pieces to the hot pan and cook un­til the fat be­gins to run. Add onion, leek, cel­ery and toss with ba­con in the hot fat un­til be­gin­ning to soften. Sea­son with a lit­tle salt and pep­per, adding thyme and bay leaves. Stir. 10. Add pheas­ant pieces to the mix­ture in the fry­ing pan and pour over the game stock. Bring gen­tly to boil­ing point, turn­ing the meat and veg­eta­bles to­gether with a fork and large spoon. Trans­fer all of this to an oven-proof casse­role dish. 11. Add 25g un­salted but­ter to the fry­ing pan and when melted, add the whole chest­nuts. If us­ing the brandy or Cal­va­dos, add this to the hot but­ter, swirl around and flame to burn off the al­co­hol. 12. Fi­nally, add the ap­ple and or­ange juice to the fry­ing pan, stir quickly and pour ev­ery­thing into the casse­role dish. Make sure the liq­uid level is just creep­ing half­way up the side of the dish. If you need a lit­tle more, add a dash of stock, but don’t overdo it. Cover the whole mix­ture with a layer of grease­proof or parch­ment pa­per and place a good fit­ting lid on top. Al­ter­na­tively, seal the casse­role alu­minium foil. Place in cen­tre of oven at re­duced heat of gas mark 4, 180°C and cook for up to an hour, by which time the pheas­ant and veg­eta­bles will be pip­ing hot and ten­der. 13. Just be­fore serv­ing, warm the cream in a small saucepan and mix into the casse­role. Serve with sea­sonal veg­eta­bles. Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chim­neys and The House Over-By on the Isle of Skye www. three­chim­ Pete Ste­wart chooses the drinks to ac­com­pany Shirley’s recipes: P22

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