Pheasant is my chicken. Where most people search around for new and interesting chicken recipes, I comb my cookbooks for interesting recipes for pheasant. This one has become a favorite of mine. It’s Greek, or at least was designed by a Greek-American: Michael Psilakis, a well-known chef in New York whose book How to Roast a Lamb is the inspiration for this dish.
Psilakis’ book is not your typical “celeb chef” cookbook. It is designed around Psilakis’ life story, and that story happens to include hunting with his family on Long Island and in upstate New York. I love Greek food anyway, but when I learned that his book includes a whole chapter on game, I had to buy it. Many of my wild game cookbooks endlessly repeat variations of old standards — don’t get me wrong, I love venison steak Diane and pheasant cacciatore as much as the next guy — but I am always looking for others who are pushing wild game cookery in new directions. Psilakis doesn’t disappoint.
His book has recipes like grilled rabbit confit, and grilled quail with sweet-and-sour charred onion and a venison stew that is unlike any other I’ve ever seen; rest assured I’ll be making a lot of these dishes in the coming months.
Greek Pheasant Pasta
I started my tour through Michael Psilakis’ game recipes with this pheasant dish because I had a shot-up bird that couldn’t be roasted. What to do? I’d thought about soup, but when I read the ingredients for this spaghetti recipe, I was hooked. It’s so… medieval. It seems like a throwback dish to the Byzantine Empire or something. There is a sweet-and-sour thing going on here, with lots of herbs and shredded pheasant bits. Holly and I just couldn’t stop eating it: We ate a four-person portion between the two of us.
Don’t be scared off by the long list of ingredients here — none are hard to find in a normal supermarket. And if you don’t have pheasants, use partridges, chicken or turkey. I suppose you could use ruffed grouse or quail, but I wouldn’t.
Serves 4 to 6.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 90 minutes
- 1 pheasant, cut into serving pieces (see How to Break Down a Game Bird)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow or white onion
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine (use Mavrodaphne, a Greek sweet wine, if you can get it)
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
- 4-6 sage leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano (Greek, if possible)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1-2 tablespoons mustard
- About 3-5 cups water (see below)
- 1 pound dried spaghetti
- 8-10 dates, pitted and chopped roughly
- 1/3 cup golden raisins (optional)
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, mint, fennel fronds or a combination of the three
- In a Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and brown the pheasant pieces. Sprinkle some salt over them as they brown. Take your time and make sure everything is nicely browned, as it makes a difference in the final dish. Remove the pheasant and set aside.
- Add the carrot, celery and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are slightly browned, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. While the veggies are cooking, mix the tomato paste in with the red wine and stir vigorously until they combine. Add to the pot and use a wooden spoon to scrape off any brown bits that have stuck to the bottom.
- Put the pheasant pieces back into the pot, then add the thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, cinnamon stick, vinegar, mustard — and enough water to cover everything by about 1 inch. Bring this to a simmer and cook over low heat until the pheasant meat wants to fall off the bone. This could take anywhere from 45 minutes for a young, pen-raised pheasant to 2 hours for an old rooster.
- Remove the pheasant and pull all the meat off the bones, and put it into a large bowl. Discard the cinnamon stick. Look at the pot, and if there is less than 2-3 inches of liquid in it, add some more water and bring it to a boil.
- Break the spaghetti in half and toss it into the pot with the dates, pine nuts and raisins if you are using them. Boil the pasta in the sauce uncovered until it is al dente. Toward the end of cooking you may need to stir the pasta frequently because the sauce will be getting close to boiling away. If it does get too dry, add 1/4 cup of water just to loosen it.
- When the pasta is done, turn off the heat and return the pheasant to the pot. Add the fresh herbs and toss to combine everything. Drizzle a little olive oil over it and serve at once with a light-bodied red wine or a hoppy beer.