Use up old apples in this sustainable wild game casserole

·4 min read

A sweet-yet-sharp apple is the perfect accompaniment to wild game, and has a similar season from autumn to midwinter, when stored apples start to fade and the shooting season ends. An old apple still makes great cooking, though, and in today’s recipe I saute them with thyme and butter, then spoon over creamy braised pheasant.

Like apples, pheasant is a humble ingredient that’s often wasted. Savills’ 2018 Game Meat survey found that only 48% of game shot on shoots is taken by game dealers, and suggested that a sustainable market needs to be created for this surplus meat. Game is nutritious and, from a good butcher, inexpensive, too.

Pheasant Normandy with apples

This classic French dish marries two humble and often wasted ingredients in a harmonious stew. The rich, creamy sauce and umami-savoury meat are cut and complemented by the sweet, tart sauteed apples, which finish the dish. A Countryside Alliance poll found that 85% of consumers had never bought pheasant or partridge, but a high percentage were up for trying it, not least because this game meat is economical, nourishing and delicious. Both birds have a subtle flavour and make a great introduction to wild meat, though the dish can, of course, be made with chicken or other poultry, if you prefer.

Cider brandy is a wonderful aperitif, and adds a real depth of flavour to this dish, but it’s by no means an essential ingredient. If you don’t fancy drinking cider brandy or calvados, and don’t want to buy a bottle for this recipe alone, the cider alone will suffice; otherwise, deglaze the pan with another spirit such as brandy, whisky or vodka. (When I first made this, I didn’t have any cider brandy to hand, so used whisky instead, and it was delicious.)

I’d suggest serving this with mashed potatoes and/or crusty bread. If you want to step your mash up a notch, boil some celeriac and/or jerusalem artichokes until soft, blend to a puree and stir into your mashed potatoes with plenty of butter and seasoning.

Serves 2

For the stock
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large pheasant
, jointed into 2 legs and two bone-in breasts, including the giblets
1 onion, peeled and grated
1 carrot
, grated
1 stick celery
, grated
3 garlic cloves
, peeled and grated
6 parsley stalks
3 bay lea
1 tsp juniper berries

For the casserole
2 rashers smoked streaky bacon, cut into lardons
3 shallots, peeled and halved
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp dijon mustard
50ml cider brandy
, or calvados or other spirit (eg, brandy, whisky, vodka)
500ml cider
250ml pheasant stock
(see above and method), or chicken stock
50ml double cream
20g butter
2 apples
6 sprigs thyme

To serve (optional)
Jerusalem artichoke and potato puree, or mashed potatoes, crusty bread, winter leaves

First make the stock. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, then add the pheasant carcass, heart, gizzards and any other offcuts, season well with salt and saute for 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until coloured on all sides. Add water to cover, bring up to a simmer and scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. At this point, if you have a slow cooker, transfer the pan’s contents to that and cook for four to eight hours on a low, trembling simmer; otherwise, simmer gently on the hob for at least two hours, and four ideally.

Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley stalks, bay leaves and the juniper berries, simmer for another hour, then strain through a cheesecloth or/and fine sieve and leave to cool. The stock will now keep, covered, in the fridge for up to five days.

In a large casserole dish, saute the lardons and halved shallots on a medium heat until browned all over, then lift out and put to one side. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and the pheasant legs and breasts, then brown on all sides. Add the cider brandy, deglaze the pan, then return the lardons and shallots to the pot with the mustard and cider. Bring up to a simmer, cook for three minutes, then add the stock. Bring back to a simmer, lift out the pheasant breasts, then cover the pan and simmer the legs for an hour to 90 minutes, or until tender.

Lift out the legs, turn up the heat and reduce the liquid by half. Stir in the double cream, return all the meat to the pan, return to a simmer and cook for five minutes. Take off the heat, cover and leave to rest.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Cut the apples into wedges (core them, too, if you prefer), then saute with the thyme until golden brown. Scatter the apples and butter over the top of the pheasant and serve from the pot, with mash or puree, wilted greens and good crusty bread.

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