Dressed to fill. No longer pretentious and over-preened, pheasant takes center table in humble homes.
`PERHAPS Madame would care to enjoy our Pheasant Under Glass? Hm?'' What is it about pheasant that carries an inherent snob appeal? Although it still appears occasionally in some of the older, more tony eating establishments, Pheasant Under Glass, or more correctly, Pheasant Under Bell - or, to be completely pompous, Faison Sous Cloche - has for the most part gone the way of spats and whalebone corsets.
The good news is that the gaudy little game bird is no longer only found in restaurants where the menu is French and the prices are outrageous.
The common ring-necked pheasant is a naturalized citizen. Originally from China, it arrived first in the little town of Willamette Valley, Ore., in 1881. Subsequent plantings (the term used to describe capturing birds and releasing them in another spot) established the handsome bird across the corn belt from coast to coast.
Today, pheasant has again come back to roost on the dinner table, not under glass but under more humble and unpretentious trappings.
Lester Halteman, who runs Halteman's & Sons at the popular Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, has seen the pheasant market take off and fly.
Since 1927, Halteman's has offered fresh meat and game to a growing, appreciative local clientele. Both Lester and his wife work the counter in the busy market.
Of the game birds Halteman's carries, pheasant sells most, followed by guinea hen, quail, Muscovy duck, then mallard ducks.
Wild pheasant may have a bit more flavor, but store-bought, farm-raised birds have at least one advantage over their hunted cousins. Wild birds can be more than 10 years old and consequently a little tough on the tooth, and should be hung several days before being cooked. The general rule with upland game birds is the younger the bird, the more tender.
Domestic pheasant are usually killed when they are between five or six months old. A few days in the refrigerator will bring out a slightly more gamey flavor, if you wish.
Farm-raised pheasant are more frequently available these days, but they are still not cheap. At Halteman's, pheasant run about $5.89 a pound. Guineas go for $2 less.
Pheasant, like most upland game birds both wild and farm-raised, is low in fat, and consequently has a rather dry flesh. To compensate, a fashionable little white waistcoat of salt pork, fatback, bacon, or even caul fat is often tailored around the bird's breast. This adds both fatty moisture and a bit more flavor to the bird.
In Cohasset, Mass., south of Boston, Steven and Leslie Brigham run Pheasant Hill Farms. ``It's something I've always wanted to do,'' says Mr. Brigham, talking about why he started the farm five years ago. ``I've always been an avid hunter and lover of the outdoors, so we tried it as an experiment.''
Pheasant is more or less seasonal, available from September to the end of March. According to Brigham, however, pheasant freeze very well. ``I've had birds frozen up to a year, and they were fine.'' But he adds that six to eight months would be a recommended amount of time. ``Just as long as they are carefully wrapped.''
The Brighams often serve their pheasant in what he calls ``hunter style.''
``Just pepper the bird inside, stuff with quartered apples, truss, season the outside with rosemary and maybe thyme or sage, lay a few bacon slices over the breast, and roast it,'' Brigham suggests.
Rather than using fat, Mrs. Halteman prefers to stuff pheasant with a small amount of her traditional turkey dressing, and roast it in a covered pan at 325 degrees F. for about 2 to 21/2 hours until the juices begin to run clear. She puts a cup of water in the roasting pan to start, and bastes the bird frequently. When done, she simply browns the pheasant under a broiler for a minute or two.
The leanness of pheasant makes it among the most tricky birds to cook. Overcooking is what you want to scrupulously avoid.
Some professional chefs, like Emmett Fox, executive chef of The Wild Goose Restaurant in Boston's busy Faneuil Hall, prefer to cook pheasant breasts separately. Mr. Fox first bones the breasts, leaving the skin on, flattens them, and lightly saut'ees them in equal parts of hot clarified butter and peanut oil, then pops them breast side up,into a 400-degree F. oven for 12 to 15 minutes to cook. The legs are saved for confit and pheasant sausage.
For the casual home cook, it may be better not to experiment too much on something as expensive and novel as pheasant the first time around. Rather, it may be best prepare the bird simply and use all that imagination on a grand and pretentious presentation. A brace of pheasant as a centerpiece is a vibrant and exciting vision.
If you choose to stuff pheasant, you may use any family favorite dressing for poultry -- less of it, of course -- and a few smashing side dishes. Wild rice stuffing and p^at'e de foie gras often accompany pheasant. Seasonal vegetables are also popular -- cabbage, turnips, Brussels sprouts. An orange-skin basket of cranberry sauce adds a bit of autumn color. Roast Pheasant
Choose a young bird between two and three pounds. Set heart, liver, and gizzard aside for future use, unless you plan to incorporate them in your stuffing.
Wash pheasant in cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Rub breast with soft butter or mayonnaise and sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff with your favorite dressing, if you wish, and truss.
Wrap breast with a thin layer of fat back, slices of bacon, or salt pork and tie fat with string. Set pheasant on rack in roasting pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and roast stuffed bird about 40 minutes; an unstuffed bird, about 11/2 hours. Baste occasionally.
Pheasant is done when thigh juices just begin to run a light pink to clear. A stuffed bird will take a little longer to cook.
Remove larding fat before serving. Slice bird in half down the middle, or cut with poultry shears, or carve as you would chicken. One pheasant serves two. English Bread Sauce 1 cup milk 1 small onion 4 cloves 1/8 teaspoon mace 1/2 cup stale bread crumbs 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/3 teaspoon white pepper 1/3 stick melted butter 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Pour milk in top of heated double boiler. Stick onion with cloves and add to milk along with mace. Simmer 10 minutes.
Remove cloved onion and whisk in bread crumbs, then add remaining ingredients. Cook an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Thicken with two tablespoons heavy cream before serving.
Whatever you do, be sure to save pheasant carcus for a game stock. Use it in soups or as a liquid in any future game stuffing. Roast Game Stock 2 pheasant carcasses with giblets and necks (not livers) 1 onion quartered, with skin left on 1 carrot, chopped 1 celery rib, chopped 3 bay leaves 1/4 teaspoon thyme, salt and pepper
Put all ingredients in large stock pot. Add cold water to cover 3 inches. Bring to boil.
Skim off any scum. Partly cover, reduce heat, and simmer 2 to 3 hours. Strain, cool, and freeze for future use.