When life gives you a beautiful pheasant, one that you have not shot up or that was raised in a pen, you should roast it whole like a chicken. But a pheasant is not a chicken — it can get dry and ugly very fast if roasted poorly. That’s where this recipe comes in.
I designed this recipe for young birds, but I have also found that ranched birds are ideal; you can often find whole pheasants in places like Whole Foods, or you can buy a whole pheasant online from MacFarlane Pheasants.
This roast pheasant recipe, unlike many of the others you may have seen, relies on a few special tricks. One is an eight-hour brine; this will season the bird and help it to retain moisture. Brining is a critical step when roasting lean game birds such as wild turkey, pheasant, sharptail grouse, or even smaller birds such as chukars or quail. You risk dry birds if you skip this step.
Another trick is a searing hot oven, followed by a stint in a cooler oven. This isn’t a terribly new idea, and if you happen to have the Englishman Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book, he goes into this pretty thoroughly. I like my second, cooler step a bit cooler than he does, however.
The third is resting the bird. Fearnley-Whittingstall is big on this, but then again so are all cooks worth their apron.
1 pheasant will serve 2 normal eaters, or 1 hearty eater.
Prep Time: 5 hours, if you are brining the bird
Cook Time: 60 minutes
- 2 whole pheasants
- 4 cups water
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or softened butter
Here’s a basic method for roasting a pheasant:
- Brine the bird. Make a brine by bringing 4 cups water, 1/4 cup salt, 5 crushed bay leaves, 1 tablespoon of white sugar and a tablespoon of crushed juniper berries to a boil. Cover and let cool to room temperature. When it cools, submerge your pheasant in the brine and keep it in the fridge for 4-8 hours. The longer you brine, the saltier the pheasant will become.
- Bring the bird to room temperature. After the soak, take the pheasant out and dry him off. If you have the time, let the bird rest, breast side up, uncovered in the fridge overnight. This will help when it comes time to crisp the skin. When you are ready to cook, take the pheasant out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.
- Heat your oven. Get it to 500 degrees if possible, but at least 400 degrees. Give yourself at least 15 minutes of preheating, and up to a half hour. Oil the bird. You can do this with olive oil or you can smear butter all over it.
- Stuff and salt the bird. Salt the whole bird well, then stuff with a piece of onion or apple and a few fresh herbs. Do not pack the cavity.
- Roast the pheasant for 15 minutes at your high temperature. Take the pheasant out and lower the temperature to 325 degrees. Leave your oven door open to speed this process. OPTIONAL: Baste the bird with either butter or a glaze. I like a boiled-down combination of butter and maple syrup.
- Return the pheasant to the oven and roast for 30-45 minutes. You want the internal temperature to be about 150-155 degrees and for the bird’s juices to run pretty clear. A little pink in the juice — and in the bird — is what you want. The higher end of this cooking time will give you a well-done bird, which I try to avoid but many people prefer.
- Remove the pheasant, cover loosely with foil and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. This resting time is vital, as it lets the juices redistribute within the pheasant. It will also finish off the cooking process through carry-over heating.
Serve with potatoes and a veggie of your liking.