Braised Pheasant with Mushrooms
January 07, 2015 | Updated June 18, 2020
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I am an avowed leg man, especially when it comes to poultry. But as a hunter, I understand that there’s a huge difference between store-bought legs and wild ones. I love chicken drumsticks, but eating a pheasant or wild turkey drumstick isn’t so pleasant; it’s those steel tendons they have.
But the thighs of wild upland birds aren’t so much different from those of their easy-living, domesticated cousins. So I separate all the drumsticks from the thighs of my pheasants and turkeys. (And if you happen to be from New Zealand, pukeko thighs are great this way, too!)
I find that grouse and quail and partridges are small enough to cook the legs whole. For whatever reason, they don’t seem to get so tough, either.
This recipe is designed for thighs. Could you use drumsticks, too? Sure. But strip off all the meat and throw it into the stew before you serve.
Could you use breasts? Probably, but you will want to cook everything else for that first hour, and then toss in the breasts for only about 20 minutes. Overcooked pheasant and turkey breasts are a sad thing.
My inspiration is from a chicken recipe that appears in Paula Wolfert’s excellent book, The Cooking of Southwest France. Her recipe is from Dordogne, and relies on unripe grape juice called verjus. You can make your own verjus if you have grapes nearby, or you can buy buy verjus online. Don’t want to bother? Use lemon juice.
I love this dish on warmer days in winter, when there’s a clear, cool sun that makes you think of the springtime to come. It’s a break from the heavier, red wine-based, brooding braises we normally eat this time of year, but it’s still super hearty.
Braised Pheasant with Mushrooms
- 8 to 12 pheasant thighs, or 4 turkey thighs
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large onion, sliced thinly from root to tip
- 1 to 2 pounds fresh mushrooms (use a variety)
- 1 whole head of garlic cloves peeled but left whole
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 quart chicken, turkey, pheasant or vegetable stock
- Salt and black pepper
- A splash of lemon juice, white wine vinegar or verjus
- 4 tablespoons minced parsley
- In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat the butter over medium-high heat and brown the thighs. Take your time and don't crowd the pot. Do it in batches if need be. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Remove the pheasant and add the sliced onion and mushrooms. Turn the heat up to medium-high and stir well. You may need another tablespoon of butter, as mushrooms soak up a lot. Cook, stirring often, until the onions begin to brown. Salt everything as it cooks.
- Deglaze the pot with the white wine; turn the heat up to high. Scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add the garlic and the pheasant, skin side up. Let the wine cook down by half.
- Pour in enough stock to come up to the level of the pheasant skin without submerging it. Doing this will keep the skin crispy when you finish the dish. Cover the pot and cook in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes; you want the meat to be just barely tender. Uncover, turn the heat to 400°F and cook for another 15 to 30 minutes, until the skin crisps up. To finish, add the parsley, then salt, black pepper and some form of acid -- lemon juice, vinegar, etc -- to taste.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
What do you think about mixing pheasant and turkey legs? I don’t have enough of either to make the recipe with just one type of bird. Thanks!
Lisa: Go for it. Only issue will be how long it will take them to get tender. Just pull the tender legs out as you go and you will be fine.
So I made something like this based on this recipe last night. I used all the same ingredients except that it was a whole pheasant cut into pieces and I used dried and re-hydrated morels. After browning the meat and cooking the onions and mushrooms, it was all dumped into a slow cooker. I’ve found that when I try to do this technique in the oven, the liquid evaporates to fast and it is all too dry. Also, my husband rarely plucks a bird so they don’t have the tasty skin. Still, the end result was wonderful. I did remove the meat and dumped the liquid into the cast iron pan to cook it down at the end and concentrate the flavors. We quite enjoyed it.
Hank, all the hunters in my family remove the skin from any fowl much to my dislike. Therefore I’m never privy to a good roasted skin and can easily have dry bird. I can’t change them, do you have any suggestions. (Other than hog tie them!)
Made this for dinner last night using boring old commercial chicken thighs. I didn’t have white wine so I used beer. It was a big hit, the new favorite chicken thigh dish in our house (which is saying something: many chicken thighs find their ultimate destiny in our kitchen). The only downside was that my husband ate so much he went straight to sleep after dinner. Thanks Hank.
Hank, thanks for the wonderful, warming recipe. It’s pretty cold outside!
If you were to use goose legs/thighs, would you recommend changing the wine to a red? Also, what type of mushrooms did you use for the pictures of this recipe.
Nate: regarding plucking pheasant, I was in your same boat (going after them like a duck), but if you pull a few feathers at a time it takes a little bit but it’s worth the effort. Scalding would be best, but in a pinch grabbing a few feathers at a time seems to work.
Ben: yep, I would switch it to red wine. As for what kind of shrooms, I had all sorts of wild ones I’d brought home: porcini, hedgehogs, chanterelles, etc. Use whatever you can find.
Wow. Plucking pheasants. That takes some patience. Every time I’ve tried, the skin would tear. I’ve since seen videos, and it looks like I was plucking them a little too roughly like I would a duck.
Nate: Fer sher. BUT… the best way to do it IMHO is to wet pluck. Scald like a chicken. Works great if you do 1 bird at a time, as the feathers are only loose when the bird is warm.
My Busia aka Grandmother taught me a recipe similar to this when I was a boy. All the men in her family were hunters she learned early. She could work miracles with ALL game. I miss her and her wisdom.