Retro-Fabulous Saturday Pheasant

5 from 3 votes
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saturday pheasant or chicken in a casserole
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

It’s fascinating to what lengths we will go to recapture a taste of our childhood, especially as we approach middle age. With the passage of so many years, those early memories are always in soft focus, the music of the period wafting in and out of hazy scenes we can only imperfectly recall. Food becomes the anchor, the one vivid thing within the clouds.

Shining through is this recipe, a rich, ruddy chicken casserole my mum called “Saturday Chicken.” I remember loving this dish, which we would often have on days other than Saturday — and fact that confused my little brain. Should it be called Tuesday Chicken, then? No, mum said, it’s always called Saturday Chicken. But why? It just is.

The flavor of this dish, which we always ate with baked potatoes, is instantly recallable even 30 years later. Mushroomy, creamy, “red,” and a little burnt-crispy. We always savored the caramelized skin of the chicken pieces that rose from the simmering sauce like islands in a lava flow.

Mum grew busier as I grew older, as did I. I can’t exactly remember the last time she made Saturday Chicken for me, but it has to be before 1990. Over the years the dish faded in my culinary memory, but it never quite flickered out.

When I started this blog in 2007, I thought one of the things I wanted to do was resurrect mum’s best recipes. I haven’t gone through all of them, but I have made mum’s lasagna, her unbeatable Swedish meatballs, and my favorite Christmas cookie, mum’s walnut snowballs.

But to each of those recipes I’ve added a bit of myself, whether it’s my choice of meat (usually wild game) or altering the flavor slightly with an unexpected herb or spice. I am a reasonably good cook, so they’ve all worked.

But Saturday Chicken confounded me. I had no idea how it was made. So I called mum to ask. “You’re not going to like it,” she said. Why? How bad could it be? I mean it didn’t have globs of mayonnaise in it or those broken up potato chips all over like her tuna casserole, which is a war crime of a recipe.

Then I heard the words: “It has canned, condensed cream of mushroom soup.”

A can of cream of mushroom soup
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Nooooo! Really? Honestly? Yes, she said, and Saturday Chicken cannot be made any other way. I hung up the phone, crushed. I can honestly say I have never cooked with cream of mushroom soup in my entire life. I know lots of people swear by it, and I don’t look down on them for doing so, but I hate the stuff. It is everything I despise about 1970s cooking, everything I despise about many modern wild game recipes, which rely heavily on it. Cream of mushroom soup is the Lord Voldemort of my cooking world: It is That Which Shall Not Be Named.

So I let Saturday Chicken go for a long time. Then I watched an episode of the TV show Top Chef in which the cooks were required to make something delicious out of junk food. And then another episode where everything they had to use was canned. Watching these challenges, I realized I needed to get off my high horse, suck it up and use the damn cream of mushroom soup. Just do it, as Nike would say.

I emailed mum for the recipe, promising to use That Which Shall Not Be Named. She sent it, word for word, from her favorite cookbook of the time, The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken. She also sent a commentary about how she too, over the years, had tried to improve the recipe by switching out canned or powdered ingredients with fresh and natural ones.

Must use Campbell’s canned regular mushroom soup not their new variety as it isn’t the same consistency – definitely not organic mushroom soup as that doesn’t work at all much to my dismay… I tried using fresh garlic rubbed all over the chicken instead of garlic powder and it didn’t work as well as the stupid garlic powder did… Good luck! As you said this is a garbage recipe but it works!

Sigh. So I went to the supermarket to buy Campbell’s condensed cream of mushroom soup. My hand actually wavered when I reached for it, and I kept looking around when it was in my basket. I felt an overwhelming need to explain myself to strangers: “No really, I am making a retro recipe. I don’t actually cook with this stuff.” I realize it was a total food snob move on my part, but hey, it was what I was thinking at the time.

Back in the kitchen, I decided to make the recipe just as it was written, with two modifications: First, I was going to put the parsley in at the end, not in the beginning, as I am not a fan of parsley cooked for 90 minutes. Second, I had no chicken. So I would use pheasant legs instead. Saturday Pheasant.

Making Saturday Chicken (or pheasant) is ridiculously easy: Mix the soup and the cream, use plenty of garlic powder and paprika and lots of parsley. In the oven it goes, and you bake it for 60-90 minutes, depending on how tough and old your birds were.

When the dish came out, it looked pretty much as I remembered, although I think mum let the sauce cook down even more, to the point where some parts of the chicken burned. It definitely smelled right — like paprika, roasted bird and mushroom.

I served it over mashed potatoes and took a bite. There it was! That thick, ultra-rich and tangy sauce, a little sweet with paprika, a little meaty from the mushroom soup. I took another bite. And another. Soon all that was left were bones.

And then I felt my age. This, my friends, is a gut bomb. Cream + condensed cream of mushroom soup = lots and lots of calories and fat. Uffa, but this is rich! I felt sorta like you do after Thanksgiving dinner, tryptophan seeping into my veins. Mussst… sleeep…

I know you’re asking yourself: So, Mr. Fresh-Local-Wild Food-Smarty Pants, bet you liked that cream of mushroom soup, eh? Well, yes. I did. In that recipe. But I still won’t be buying canned soup anytime soon.

Saturday Chicken is a wonderful blast from my past, a brief flirtation with being an eight-year-old in 1970s New Jersey, a savory slice of memory. But it’s not who I am anymore. I neither possess the metabolism to eat the dish on a regular basis, nor the desire to cook with any products that come in a package — no matter how time-honored, or sustainable, or earthy-crunchy or whatever. It ain’t me, babe. No, no, no it ain’t me.

What they say is true: You really can’t ever go home again. And I’m OK with that.

saturday pheasant or chicken
5 from 3 votes

Saturday Chicken, or Pheasant

This is a retro 1970s dish my mum used to make, on, well, Saturdays — only she used chicken. But even in the 70s, she knew to use a high-quality chicken. We got ours from Gage’s Chicken Farm in New Jersey. “The quality of the chicken really makes or breaks this recipe,” mum says. The recipe translates beautifully for pheasant — it requires only 30 minutes longer than the original chicken recipe to get pheasant legs to begin to fall off the bone. 
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes


  • 8-16 pheasant legs with thighs
  • Salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika
  • 1 can condensed Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Salt the pheasant or chicken legs well and dust with the garlic powder and paprika.
  • Mix the condensed soup with the cream and add any remaining paprika and a hit of garlic powder. Pour half of this into a casserole dish. Put the pheasant legs down, skin side up, and then pour the rest of the cream-soup mixture over the legs. Cover the casserole with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Take the casserole out and remove the foil cover. Put it back in the oven and bake uncovered for about another hour, or until the meat begins to fall from the bone. A chicken will probably only require another 30 minutes, and an old rooster could take more than another hour.
  • When the meat is done, take the casserole out of the oven and mix in the parsley. Serve over mashed potatoes, polenta or a baked potato.


Calories: 907kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 51g | Fat: 72g | Saturated Fat: 27g | Cholesterol: 367mg | Sodium: 551mg | Potassium: 1177mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 5688IU | Vitamin C: 20mg | Calcium: 108mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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  1. I am not a great cook and probably shouldn’t even post to this site.

    Sometime after my Dad and Mom had passed away, I made buttered toast with a can of tuna and CoM heated and poured over the toast. My Dad had thought this was great when my Mom made it for him.
    I searched for the closeness I felt when I ate this with my Dad. Yes, I found traces, but also a tummy ache.

  2. My biggest problem with CoMS is the MSG. Gives me a rip-roaring headache. But I really, truly can’t find a substitute that works. So I’ve given up, for now.


  3. There really is no substitute for CoM in a can. I’ve tried using homemade bechamel, and it doesn’t work! But I did finally figure out the secret to getting the taste just right when opting to skip the CoM: a spoonful of chicken fat, a spoonful of nutritional yeast and a few fat pinches of MSG. These three ingredients are in every cream-of soup that Campbell’s makes, I think.

    This reminds me, I need to make my mother-in-law’s saucy stuffed peppers very soon. The sauce? Undiluted Campbell’s tomato soup.

  4. *chuckle* Lord Voldemort, indeed. And tuna noodle casserole is definitely a war crime of a recipe.

    My story of recipes-from-a-box involves a key lime pie that might have been a Betty Crocker recipe (not sure, because it was given to me by someone else.) I made it regularly for Hillel dinners in college, and students raved about it. The ingredient list?Graham crackers, butter, sweetened condensed milk, bottled key lime juice… and copious quantities of Cool Whip.

  5. You might wish to check out Darina Allen’s cookbook Forgotten Skills of Cooking; it has a recipe for ‘Mushrooms a la Creme’ which she seems to use in much the same way that others use canned cream of mushroom soup–but it appears well-made, healthy and tasty.

    I’ve not tried it yet, but plan to in the next week or so.

  6. I’m also a child of the 70s and the heinous convenienced-based cooking traditions. I recently went through my mom’s recipes cards (in the days before the internet and Epicurious) and thought I would make a few well-remembered comfort foods. Wow. I can’t even get most of the “ingredients” in the UK. If you can call marshmallow fluff or Cap’n Crunch an ingredient.

    I tried making the recipes, but a slightly more gourmet version. They didn’t evoke the same childhood memories.

    I have a recipe for Christmas chicken rolls – I think they were fancy in those days, something you made for company. You pound the chicken breast flat and fill it with prosciutto and muenster cheese, dip it in breadcrumbs and bake. The mushroom / tarragon sauce that accompanies it has a ‘quick’ version with – you guessed it – That Which Cannot be Named.

    I’m going to make it this week in the run-up to Christmas. I’m substituting pheasant breasts of course, and we can’t get muenster cheese in the UK, but I might try the quick version sauce. Just to see what it’s like.

    My mom had a near-identical recipe for those walnut snowballs, and I can remember her making them for guests. They were the ‘grown-up’ cookies. We kids must have got the stuff made with Cap’n Crunch…

  7. I bet there are ways to make this work. Looking at the ingredients, it would seem that making a very thick roux, perhaps with some arrowroot in place of the modified food starch, would ultimately allow you to get the consistency you need.

    One of the major things it offers to casseroles is MSG, but there are ways of making broth that result in a fairly high free glutamate concentration.

  8. Fishes and Loaves: I bet it would work perfectly with rabbit!

    TJ: Yep, we tried that, too. It was good, but not the same.

    Geof: That’s quite the sexed-up tuna casserole! I bet I’d even like that one.

    Perri: I was surprised, too, when I googled “saturday chicken” and found others who’d made this dish. Who knew?

  9. A great post. My mother made a very similar dish, too, only without garlic powder. She called it “EZ Baked Chicken” and always served it over rice, and it was one of the first recipes she gave me when I got my first apartment in college and was trying to learn to cook for myself. I haven’t made it in years, but I do remember that back in those days, after subsisting for two years on college dining hall food, cheap pizza, and ramen noodle, that chicken and cream of mushroom soup seemed heavenly.

    Not sure I want to risk the nostalgia by trying to make it now, some twenty years later.

  10. My mom pretty much made this dish verbatim minus the paprika and parsley and using milk instead of cream. I thought it was great! Yes, of course I was a child at the time, and yes, the 1970’s were my formidable primary years. Absolutely, this is a serious retro dish!

    No, I have not had that dish for maybe 25-30 years since, but that dish was great!

    Quite seriously, I had no idea any other family served this dish. This is a revelation.

  11. Hey! My mom had the I Hate To Cook book by Peg Bracken, too! I can’t believe it’s fifty years old, though. Wow. Since I’m heading to Mom’s for Christmas this year, I think I’ll take a look at it, just for kicks.

  12. I have a bit of an obsession with tuna casserole. It was the first dish I ever learned to cook beyond grilled cheese and Mac and Cheese from a box. My mom worked nights two nights a week when I was a kid, and my dad refused to cook, so I wound up cooking for the family on those nights from about 12 until I graduated from high school. We had tuna casserole at least once a week that entire time. After graduating from college, I made it regularly until I moved in with my soon-to-be-wife, whereupon it was banished to special occasions when I was cooking for myself.

    A few years ago I found myself cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my wife’s family. My niece insisted that we had to have the green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and fried onions on top. By that time having a similar attitude to yours, I refused to use Campbell’s canned soup and made and organic cream of mushroom soup and replaced the French’s canned onions with slow-caramelized onions. The soup was excellent. The onions were great. The fresh green beans were perfect. The dish was a disaster. It was a soggy, dilapidated, flavorless mess.

    But! I had enough soup left over that I could try making a fancified version of tuna casserole. I used the leftover soup, Spanish tuna packed in olive oil, fresh minced garlic, hand-cut fresh linguine, and grated real Parmigiano Reggiano over top. I kid you not, it was *fantastic.*

  13. Campbells CoMS has some sort of magical ingredient in it that can still attract even the foodiest of foodies. Maybe it’s because of the nostalgia to which we were first exposed to it and now there is a deep almost primal attraction to it. For me it was breaded, fried then “braised” (in CoMS) Wyoming antelope and mullie backstraps served at Elk Camp when I was a kid. One member of our hunting party always spent the beginning of October in Gillette, WY chasing speed goats and mule deer and would have a giant feast one evening at our cabin with our neighbors.

    To think I ate all that amazing meat that was treated so poorly by my standards today almost makes me ill, yet for some reason I have to have some sort of deep appreciate for Campbell CoMS. Thanks for taking me back Hank. I only hope should I come across some antelope or mule deer backstraps in the future that I will treat them with much more respect.

  14. I agree that the food we used to eat no longer seems to taste the same as we remember. Also our digestive system changes as we mature. However, if a person is going to make this recipe they have to use that particular canned soup and no other as it won’t cook up properly. I tried using organic cream of mushroom soup and it didn’t work! I believe it is all those chemicals used in the Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup that makes it taste so good and also gives it the consistency needed. Go figure! I guess once in a blue moon it won’t hurt to eat that stuff.

  15. But damn… it sure does look good. I think I am getting a few whiffs through the internets! Think I will give it a go, as it will be perfect – comforting and homey – after a wet day in the blind.


  16. H – Did your mom try making homemade cream of mushroom soup? I suspect she did but that would be my first instinct. I don’t think I can buy the canned stuff. You are brave. But I have 6 pheasants and this recipe would be a nice change for at least one meal. tj

  17. This recipe looks wonderful! I just cooked your Chilindron Stew yesterday and it’s fabulous! I’m asking myself, since I don’t have any pheasant in the game freezer, what about rabbit? Yep, I think I’ll try it with some rabbit. 🙂

    thanks for posting ..

  18. Well, this five-day rain event for SoCal is just begging for a belly buster of a meal (and I’ve got plenty of pheasant to eat up). I think I’ll make this up before we head out for the State High School Championship football games tomorrow. Thanks for the idea.