Birds of a feather

Bart Beek | VOLUME 31, ISSUE 2

Fancy something special for dinner? Try these game bird recipes – they’re surprisingly simple to prepare and bursting with flavour.

Roasted pheasant, garden greens and raspberries

Pheasants are very lean, so it’s important to keep the meat moist when roasting. I fill the cavity with mandarin slices, garlic, onion and herbs, and turn the bird halfway through the roasting time.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves: 4

1 pheasant, washed and dried

1 mandarin, sliced, with skin on

2 golden eschallots, peeled and sliced

4 cloves garlic, sliced

2 x 10cm stems rosemary

1 tblsp unsalted butter

1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil

Salt flakes and freshly milled black pepper

1 brown onion, sliced 1 cm thick

1 carrot, washed and sliced

1 stick celery, chopped

½ cup dry white wine

4 tblsps redcurrant jelly

300g green peas

120g green beans

1 bunch broccollini, trimmed

4 broad bean pods

½ cup raspberries

8 nasturtium leaves

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.

Combine the mandarin slices, eschallots, garlic, rosemary, and a little seasoning. Stuff the cavity of the pheasant.

Heat a skillet and add the butter and olive oil. Sear the pheasant on all sides until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the onion, carrot and celery to the pan and sauté until lightly brown. Tip into a roasting pan and place the pheasant on top. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, turn the pheasant over and roast for another 15 minutes, until the breast temperature reaches 64°C.

Remove the pheasant to a warm tray, cover with aluminium foil and rest for 20 minutes. When ready to serve, carve into eight portions.

Remove the onions from the roasting pan and keep warm. Place the pan with the remaining roasted vegetables onto the heat and stir in the white wine. Bring to a boil, stirring well, and reduce by half. Add the redcurrant jelly and boil until almost syrupy. Strain, and skim away the oil.

Boil the peas in salted water for one minute. Drain, blend into a thick puree and season.

Boil the green beans for several minutes until almost tender, then add in the broccollini and boil for 30 seconds. Drain and set aside.

Remove the broad beans from the pods, boil the beans for 30 seconds, and shell them.

Place a portion of the pea puree onto a warmed plate. Top with several pieces of pheasant, the roasted onion pieces, green beans, broccollini and broad beans. Finish with a spoon of the glaze, several raspberries and nasturtium leaves.

Char-grilled spatchcock, tomato duo, parsnip and olives

Also known as poussin, spatchcock is a young chicken, usually around six weeks old, that weighs about 500g. They’re succulent with a tender flavour, so a strong marinade or dry rub will give fantastic results. To butterfly them, cut out the backbone and the breastbone with poultry shears or a sharp knife and press down to flatten. You could ask your butcher to do this for you, or show you how.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4

2 medium spatchcocks, butterflied

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

3 cloves garlic, crushed

½ lemon, zest and juice

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tblsp rosemary leaves, chopped

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

Salt flakes and freshly milled black pepper

4 baby parsnips, peeled, split and cored

8 sprigs lemon thyme

1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tblsp balsamic vinegar

1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil

Salt flakes and freshly milled black pepper

2 bunches trussed cherry tomatoes

½ cup semi-dried tomatoes

½ cup kalamata olives, split

12 sprigs baby parsley

Combine together the chilli, garlic, lemon zest and juice, fennel seeds, rosemary, olive oil and seasoning. Rub well all over the spitchcocks, cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Season the parsnips well, add the thyme sprigs and olive oil and roast in the oven for 20 minutes at 180°C, or until golden and tender.

Combine the balsamic vinegar with the olive oil and seasoning. Coat the tomatoes well and bake in the oven at 180°C for six minutes. Keep at room temperature.

Grill the spitchcock over a bed of hot charcoal, turning often to prevent burning. Once cooked, cover and rest for 10 minutes.

Cut the spitchcocks into sections and place a Maryland and a breast portion onto a plate. Top with two roasted parsnip halves, several semi-dried tomato halves, some roasted tomatoes and the olives. Finish with a little of the balsamic juices from the tomatoes, and the parsley.

Roast quail, farro, spinach, grapes and garlic butter

Quail are one of the smallest game birds, weighing around 150gm. Be careful not to overcook them as they will become dry, and truss the legs with butcher’s string to keep the breast moist. Farro is one of the oldest hulled wheat species and is prepared by boiling until soft, but with a slight inner crunch.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4

4 x fresh quails

Salt flakes and freshly milled black pepper

1 tblsp unsalted butter

1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil

1 cup cracked farro

2 tblsps unsalted butter, softened

½ cup parsley, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 cups baby spinach leaves

½ cup dark grapes, cut into halves

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the farro. Boil for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain, season well and set aside in a warm place.

Make the garlic butter by combining the butter, parsley, garlic and some seasoning.

Pre-heat the oven to 210°C.

Wash and dry the quails. Season well and truss the legs with butcher’s string. Heat a frypan and add the butter and olive oil. Sear the quails until brown all over, spooning over the butter as it browns.

Place the quails onto an oven tray. Roast for 15 minutes or until just cooked – to test, insert a skewer where the thigh joins the breast. The juices should run slightly pink. Remove from the oven and rest in a warm place for five minutes. Retain the pan juices.

Place a portion of the farro onto a warmed plate. Sear the baby spinach in a warm saucepan with a little olive oil for 30 seconds, season, and place onto the farro. Top with a whole roasted quail. Melt the garlic butter and baste the quail all over. Moisten the grape halves with the quail pan juices and add to the plate.

Duck breast has a higher proportion of fat to meat than most feathered game, so most of the fat needs to be rendered out, making the skin crispy and delicious. Finish the duck in a hot oven and rest it before serving.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 12 minutes

Serves: 4

4 duck breasts

Salt flakes and freshly milled black pepper

1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil

100g Swiss brown mushrooms

70g chanterelle mushrooms

8 baby corn cobs

½ cup pinot noir wine

4 tblsps red currant jelly

24 baby beetroot leaves

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Place a cold heavy ovenproof frypan onto the heat and add the duck breast, skin side down, while the pan is still cool. As the pan heats up, the fat will start to render out from the skin. Keep cooking until the skin is crisp and golden. Turn over and brown the other side for one minute.

Turn back onto the skin side and place the pan into the hot oven for six minutes. Remove from the oven and place the duck breast onto a clean tray. Allow to rest, covered, for five minutes.

Heat a separate frypan and add a little olive oil. Quickly fry the mushrooms until just done. Season well.

Heat a small skillet and add a little olive oil. Grill the baby corn until slightly charred.

In a small saucepan, heat the duck juices with the pinot noir and bring to a boil. Allow to reduce until 60ml remains. Add half the red currant jelly and dissolve until smooth. Season the glaze.

Brush a little of the glaze onto a warmed plate. Top with two baby corn cobs and some mushrooms. Cut the duck breasts into thick slices and place onto the plates. Finish with several beetroot leaves, a little extra redcurrant jelly, the remaining glaze and some seasoning.