Poached Pheasant with Celery
Celery has a wonderful affinity with poultry and game and the two have often appeared together in English recipes over the centuries. This recipe is what I would call old-fashioned comfort food. It has the purest of flavours, as the juices from the pheasant and celery combine to make a wonderful, light creamy sauce.
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This recipe is taken from Delia Smith’s Winter Collection.
First of all, remove any tough outer stems of the celery and trim the root minimally but leave most of the base on. Then cut the tops of the celery about 3 inches (7.5 cm) up from the base and set aside the base half, reserving about 10 of the prettiest leaves for later. Next, wash the other stems from the top half, chop them roughly and place them in a saucepan.
Now add all the stock ingredients, including 2 pints (1.2 litres) water, along with the wings of the pheasant. Pheasant wings can be removed very easily – all you do is insert a small knife at the point where the wing is attached to the bone, push your thumb into the incision and feel the little ball-and-socket joint, then use the knife again to cut the ball away from the socket. Repeat with the other wing, then bring everything up to simmering point and simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the lower part of the celery in half vertically (including the base), then into quarters and finally into eighths. Wash the sections carefully, keeping them attached to the base. Now peel the shallots. When the stock has had its 30 minutes, place a large sieve over a bowl, line it with a single sheet of kitchen paper and strain the stock through it, then return the strained stock to the saucepan. Season the pheasant and lower it into the liquid. Bring it very gently up to simmering point, then put a lid on and let it simmer for 20 minutes.
After that, add the shallots and time it for a further 15 minutes, then add the celery and give the whole thing another 15 minutes. Then remove the pheasant to a warmed dish and use a draining spoon to transfer the vegetables to join it. Cover everything with foil and keep warm.
Now boil the liquid left in the pan without a lid until it has reduced to approximately 10 fl oz (275 ml), or a third of the original volume. Then, once again, line the sieve with a single sheet of kitchen paper, place it over a bowl and give the stock a final straining.
Next, make the sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan, adding the flour and cooking it (stirring all the time) until the mixture turns a pale straw colour – this takes 3-4 minutes. Then, starting off with a wooden spoon and finishing with a whisk, add the stock gradually and whisk until you have a smooth, glossy sauce. Simmer the sauce very gently for 5 minutes. Add the cream and check the seasoning.
Then make the garnish: heat up ½ inch (1 cm) of groundnut oil in a shallow pan. Whisk the egg white till just frothy, then dip about 10 of the celery leaves first in flour, shaking off the surplus, then in the egg white and briefly fry them in the hot oil for about 10 seconds till pale gold. Then drain them on kitchen paper.
To serve the pheasant: put the bird on its back, take a sharp knife and run the blade down the breastbone and along the wishbone, keeping as close to the bone as you can. Using the knife as a lever, gently pull the breast away from the frame.
Now insert your fingers along the rib cage and you'll find you can ease the leg and thigh away from the bone. Trim the bits of skin off, and repeat with the other side.
Now cut each half in half again and serve them on warmed plates with the vegetables, the sauce poured over and garnished with the celery leaf fritters.
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A superb recipe for entertaining, this brings out the full flavour of pheasant, one of Britain's most underrated ingredients to be enjoyed in autumn and winter, during the game season.
A great recipe to make ahead, this one makes the best use of older birds which respond beautifully to braising with, in this case, a lovely rich Madeira sauce.
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