Braised Pheasants in Madeira
Because older birds are not tender enough to be roasted, they are excellent slowly braised and tenderised in a beautiful sauce.
The advantage of a little age is, of course, a lot more flavour, so this is probably one of the nicest pheasant dishes of all. It also improves if you make it the day before you need it and re-heat gently before serving.
This recipe is taken from Delia Smith's Christmas Serves 4-6. See questions Lindsey has answered on this recipe at the end of the method
Make the stock: wash the necks and giblets then place them in a medium-sized saucepan with 1 pint (570 ml) water and add all the stock ingredients.
Bring everything up to the boil, skim off any scum that rises to the surface, then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer. Put a lid half on the pan and simmer for 1½-2 hours. After that, strain the stock to use for the sauce. If you haven't managed to persuade your supplier to do it for you, begin by jointing the pheasants. This you do with your very sharpest knife as follows: hold the pheasant with the breast-bone uppermost, make a small incision at the back end, then turn the pheasant up, neck end down, in a vertical position, insert the knife where you made your cut and cut right down to the neck end. Then open the bird out flat, skin side down, and cut all along the backbone.
Now turn each side skin side up and pull each end, stretching the whole thing out as far as you can. This will reveal a line which naturally separates the two joints, so simply cut along this line. Do the same with the other half and you will have four joints.
Begin cooking the joints of pheasant by seasoning them with salt and pepper and frying them in butter and oil until they have taken on a good golden brown colour. As they brown, transfer them to the casserole. Then, in the fat remaining in the pan, fry the shallots until golden brown and also remove them with a slotted spoon to a plate. The bacon should be de-rinded, cut into 1/3 inch (7.5 mm) cubes and browned as well. Then remove these to join the shallots and leave aside for later.
Now add the thyme, bay leaves and chopped garlic to the pheasant and pour in 10 fl oz (275 ml) of the stock, the wine and Madeira. Bring everything to simmering point, then keep the heat low so that the contents just gently, almost imperceptibly bubble. Put on a tight-fitting lid and cook on top of the stove for 45 minutes. After that add the small whole mushrooms, the bacon and shallots, and spoon some of the juices over them. Then put the lid on, bring everything back to a gentle simmer and simmer for a further 45 minutes or until the pheasant is tender when tested with a small skewer.
To finish the sauce, mix the softened butter and flour to a smooth paste. Then, using a slotted spoon, remove the pheasant, bacon and vegetables from the casserole to a warmed serving dish and keep warm. Bring the liquid up to a fast boil and let it bubble and reduce by about a third.
Next add the butter and flour mixture, using a wire whisk to distribute it. Then, as soon as the sauce comes back to the boil and has thickened, pour it over the pheasant, bacon and vegetables and serve; or cool, refrigerate and re-heat gently the next day. Although imported new potatoes are not very flavoursome, in the winter months they are an ideal accompaniment to something very flavoursome like this and a few snipped chives sprinkled on them improves their flavour.
A little steamed broccoli or tiny button sprouts would also be a good accompaniment.