First bag a game bird ... how to make a decadent meal fit for a king-to-be
PHEASANT Crumble Pie? Pheasant. Crumble. Pie. Surely it’s either a crumble or a pie, but it can’t be both?
Who am I to argue with the dining habits of Prince Charles, the birthday boy who announced this week that this was his favourite dish of all time?
The recipe he favours, from marvellous head chef John Williams at the Ritz, involves poaching a pheasant — but hold it right there, people. I mean poach in water with juniper berries and vegetables, not poach by stealing. It also involves a shocking amount of butter, which makes me fear for dear Charles’s arteries.
The method seems straightforward enough and is delightfully old fashioned, something you might find in Mrs Beeton.
After poaching, you cool and shred the pheasant meat (breasts only), strain and reduce the stock, then spike it with sherry. After making a roux with flour and butter, you use the stock to make a thick white sauce. Then you mix it all together, top with breadcrumbs, cheese and bacon before baking in the oven. It sounds divine! Not having the Ritz kitchens, a palace or a personal chef at my disposal, I decide to make it myself. After all, what could possibly go wrong? So I order a pheasant from C Lidgate, the prestigious West London butchers beloved of royals and Richard Branson, but don’t let that put you off. It comes from Norfolk although not the Sandringham Estate, but that is close enough for me. I poach it as instructed, then boil the stock to reduce. Neither Mr Williams nor Prince Charles mention the scum that gathers on the surface, as is usual when boiling fowl. Perhaps you just can’t have that word in a royal recipe? I skim my scum surreptitiously. The breadcrumbs are an outrageous extravagance, fried in 170g of butter, almost three-quarters of a pack. Even after drying them, they are still a mound of engorged butter bombs. To intensify the decadence, parmesan cheese and crispy bacon are added, before the dish is baked in the oven.
So what does it taste like? Really rather delicious, although it is incredibly rich. Savoury, soothing and surprisingly economical, it is exactly the kind of comfort food one might expect the Prince of Wales to adore. White meat only and lashings of dairy, with a crispy topping and a buttery overload all add up to a decadent supper fit for a king-to-be.
It is retro nursery food given a touch of luxury — the kind of food that has fuelled the Monarchy for hundreds of years.