Here’s a great-looking dish for a dinner party, straightforward to make and easy to eat. If possible, ask your butcher for a hen rather than a cock pheasant because although the females are smaller, they are plumper. If buying a whole bird, you can easily tell the cock because it has spurs on its legs. Otherwise, the cock’s breastbone sticks out more. But don’t worry, as both male and female are good for this dish. Not all butchers can supply a boneless crown, in which case see the steps-by-step instructions.
4 boneless pheasant crowns or double breasts (you may be able to order in advance from your butcher), or buy 4 whole pheasants and follow steps
2 thick rindless smoked streaky bacon rashers (about 75g/3oz in total), cut in half
For the stuffing
50-g (2-oz) bunch of basil
3–4 garlic cloves
¼ teaspoon sea salt flakes
¼ teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
3 thick rindless smoked streaky bacon rashers (about 100g/3½oz in total), finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
First make the stuffing: put the basil leaves in a small blender with the garlic, salt and peppercorns and whizz until finely chopped. (This can be done by hand if you prefer.) Transfer to a bowl, add the bacon and olive oil and mix well.
The breast meat must now be taken off each pheasant carcass in one piece before being stuffed. To do this, follow the step-by-step instructions.
When you are ready to roast the stuffed pheasant breasts, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Place the parcels in a roasting tray and roast for 30–40 miutes until the meat juices run clear when a knife is inserted into the thickest part. Set aside to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.
Serve with the traditional roast pheasant accompaniments – game chips, bread sauce and gravy – plus steamed vegetables, such as carrots and green veg. Alternatively, serve dauphinoise or roast potatoes instead of the game chips.
How to bone & stuff pheasant breasts
1 Place the bird on a chopping board, legs pointing towards you. Push the legs outwards and use a sharp knife to cut between the right-hand thigh and the breast. Repeat on the left-hand side.
2 Hook your thumbs into the cavity of the bird. Pull the breast in one direction and the legs in the other so that the top half of the bird snaps away from the lower half. Cut the two parts in half at the base. Reserve the legs to use in another dish (you can poach the meat and use it in a curry or game pie, while the bones and other remnants can be used to make a delicious stock), or roast them with the pheasant crowns, with slices of bacon on top.
3 & 4 Place the breast half of the bird on a chopping board, wing-end nearest to you, skin-side down. Using a sharp knife, cut out the breastbone, taking care not to break through the skin. To do this, ease the flesh gently away from the breastbone. Use short strokes to run the tip of a knife between the flesh and the ribs on one side of the bird. Ease the flesh away from the ribs.
5 Repeat on the other side, ideally cutting away the meat from the bone so that you include the little wing joints.
6 Remove the breastbone, trying not to break the skin. (But if you do, don’t worry: bacon will cover up any holes.) Repeat this process for the other pheasant crowns.
7 Lay the boned breasts out on the chopping board and check that there are no little splinters of bone left in the meat. Place a quarter of the stuffing mixture in a strip along the centre of each one. Fold the sides of the meat over the stuffing to enclose it.
8 Using a butcher’s needle and string, sew the meat together in front of the wings, then tie with a knot. Repeat behind the wings, and then at the neck end. Alternatively, use roasting bands to do the same job.
9 When you have made 4 parcels as described above, turn them over so they are breast-side up. Plump them up so they look like little roasting birds. Lay half a rasher of streaky bacon on each one and transfer to a plate. Cover and place in the fridge until ready to cook, taking them out 30 minutes before roasting so they aren’t fridge-cold.