Standing in the fields at Joshua Creek was a special kind of experience. There is a mystical quality in the rooster pheasant as he shoots into the air like a feathered arrow, in all his green and red and purple, and speckled brown-black. The long spike of his tail feathers taper for aerodynamic flight and he leans to his side and paints the wind. You hesitate when you see the rooster, because you are in awe of his faultless beauty.
Sometimes the rooster doesn’t fall. Sometimes he will keep flying because he is a rooster and he is mysterious and will leave only a single feather floating to the ground for you to ponder. That is why you hunt the rooster. Because you must earn him. For wild pheasant hunting, you must walk sometimes for eight hours to earn him, and you must hurt a little, and sometimes you must hurt a lot. You must spend time respecting him before he will relent and fall. And even after he falls, lest you become too proud, he will sometimes disappear, where even the dogs must search for hours until they finally find the scent and drop him in your hands, smooth and handsome.
The meat of the pheasant is just as beautiful tasting. It is slightly sweet, and very tender. But it can also taste tough and chewy if it isn’t cooked properly. For example, you must always keep the breast meat away from moist heat.
The legs however do well in moisture, and so braising is a perfect technique for them. I like to add vegetables that have a little crunch and color, like cabbage, or kale, or even some shaved Brussels sprouts. Color and texture are an important thing to remember along with flavor — I call it the trifecta to a perfect meal. Something sweet is also always nice with pheasant, because the meat itself is slightly sweet. Crushed grapes, currants, a dash of brandy or whatever captures your imagination. And in the end, butter will keep things supple and lemon juice will brighten it to keep it fresh.
Give this a try sometime, this dish is magic.
“Braised Pheasant Legs with Cabbage and Grapes”
Recipe photo by Terry Allen.