Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Roasted pheasant with confit leg, salt baked celeriac, porcini barley and chanterelles

Over Christmas and New Year I spent some time in Scotland with Katie’s family. They live in beautiful rolling farmland in Perthshire, where you can spend days living on nothing but endless tea and pound cake sat by a roaring fire. Going on walks you can hear yourself think, and nights are lit by blinding stars. Her family are the closest imaginable, and as cousins instantly inseparable after months or years apart. A very lucky thing. 

During my stay an ambition was achieved. A shoot was organised on their land and I was asked to be involved. Katie was terrified. These things are bound with tweed-wrapped tradition, where the men and hounds leave at dawn to bloody the land while the wives whip up the perfect meringues and pies, and decant the whisky for their return. The thought of unleashing her naïve city-dwelling boy onto all of this without her protection caused a chill. But she shouldn’t have been worried. In a forest of plus-fours and tartan socks I stuck out with my old anorak and skinny jeans but they were all very kind, and a storming day was had. Although my role as one of the beaters was far from the business end of the shoot, I was thrilled to be part of it and I left with an unexpected case of gun envy. I must go shoot some clays soon… 

Although in that case the pheasants were accounted for, it inspired me to try and cook some for myself before the season ends. I love the connection between the land and the table, and it wouldn’t have felt complete without making a dish out of the experience. Happily I was able to return from Borough Market with a plump and extremely reasonably priced brace under my arm. 

The rest of the recipe planning was a formality, and also very traditional. Game is the perfect partner for strong, earthy flavours. Irony always has a way with these things, and like how rabbit and carrots go hand in hand, so do pheasants and grain. I’ve only really got into cooking with barley since meeting Katie, and a wonderfully versatile ingredient it is too. In this recipe it is almost made like a risotto, soaking up those deep mushroom flavours. 

Baking the celeriac in salt certainly considerably lengthens this recipe, but if you have the time it is worth it. I hadn’t used this technique before, and was dubious about any dramatic changes in flavour compared to a traditional mash or puree. But the way that the salt seals the vegetable to cook in its own juices enhances the sweetness, and I love the theatre of cracking into the giant sphere. I will definitely be trying this out with other root vegetables. 

Serves 2 


For the pheasant: 

1 pheasant, legs removed and kept for confit, wishbone removed and all trimmings kept for sauce 
50g butter 
A few sprigs of thyme 
Olive oil 
Salt and pepper 

For the sauce: 

All of the trimmings and giblets from the pheasant 
1 clove garlic, finely sliced 
2 shallots, finely chopped 
1 tsp fennel seeds 
5 sprigs of thyme 
100ml brandy 
500ml good chicken or pheasant stock 
20g butter 
Olive oil 

For the barley: 

100g pearl barley 
1 shallot, finely chopped 
1 garlic clove, finely chopped 
2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, picked 
3 tbsp dried porcini, soaked and finely chopped 
Splash of white wine 
Approx. 600ml good chicken stock 
20g butter 

For the salt-baked celeriac: 

1 medium celeriac 
4 egg whites 
800g table salt 
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked 
A dash of double cream 
10g butter 

For the confit pheasant leg: 

2 legs from the pheasant 
3 garlic cloves 
5 sprigs of thyme 
6 peppercorns 
4 tbsp coarse salt 
500g duck fat 
20g butter 

For the chanterelles: 

12 chanterelle mushrooms, trimmed and brushed clean 

For the savoy cabbage: 

A couple of big cabbage leaves, sliced thinly 
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped 
20g butter 
Olive oil 
Splash of water 
Splash of white wine vinegar 

Prepare and cure the pheasant legs the day before cooking. Carefully remove the thigh bones, leaving the flesh in one piece so that just the drumstick bones remain. Place in a bowl and rub with the salt, garlic, thyme and peppercorns, then cover and refrigerate overnight. 

Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in boiling water for at least fifteen minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid; use this to boost the chicken stock for the sauce and pearl barley. Finely chop the mushrooms and set aside until you make the barley. 

Pre-heat the oven to 200⁰C (fan). 

To confit the pheasant legs, rinse the salt off and pat dry. Melt the duck fat in a small saucepan to 85⁰C then add the legs, garlic and thyme. Cook at that temperature for 1 ½ hours, making sure that the oil doesn’t boil. When cooked, drain and set aside for crisping up. 

To make the salt crust for the celeriac, thoroughly mix the salt, egg whites and thyme leaves in a bowl until they form a dry paste. Place the celeriac on a baking dish and coat with a thick layer of the salt paste, making sure there are no gaps. Bake in the oven for 2 1/2 hours. 

To make the pearl barley, heat half of the butter in a saucepan. Gently fry the shallot, garlic and thyme on a low heat until soft, then add the chopped porcini and continue to cook for another couple of minutes. Turn the heat up slightly and pour in the barley, stirring until the grains are coated. Add the wine and allow it to be absorbed before adding the first half ladle of stock. Stir frequently and only add more liquid when needed. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the barley has increased in size and is just al dente. The liquid should be reduced and sticking to the grains. Set aside for finishing later. 

For the sauce, heat up some oil in a frying pan or skillet to a high heat. Season the pheasant trimmings and giblets and fry quickly until well browned on all sides. Add the garlic, shallots, fennel seeds and thyme and colour. Add the brandy and carefully flambé until all of the alcohol has burned off. Pour in the stock and continue to cook until only about 150ml of thick liquid remains. Strain into a small saucepan and set aside. 

When the celeriac has been in the oven for 2 1/2 hours remove from the oven. Keep warm while you prepare the pheasant. 

Heat a non-stick frying pan to a high heat and add a little olive oil. Season the pheasant crown well all over and cook for 2 minutes on each breast, until well browned. Transfer to a small oven dish and smother with the butter and thyme sprigs. Put in the oven for 15-17 minutes, so that the meat still remains a little pink. Baste the meat with the butter every 4-5 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. 

While the pheasant is in the oven prepare the celeriac. Crack open the salt crust and slice the top off. Pass the soft inside through a sieve into a bowl, then season and mix with the cream and butter. Keep warm until you plate up. 

When the pheasant is resting, finish off the other elements of the dish: 

Sautee the garlic for the cabbage in the butter over a medium heat until tender, then add the cabbage, seasoning and water and cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the white wine vinegar.

Re-heat the pan used to sear the pheasant and add the butter. Fry the confit legs over a high heat, basting frequently with the butter until crisp and golden. When the legs are nearly cooked add the chanterelle mushrooms and cook for a further minute. 

Reheat the sauce and pearl barley, stirring a small knob of butter into each until emulsified. 

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the rested pheasant breasts from the bone and slice each one into three pieces. 

To plate up, spoon a mound of the celeriac onto each plate and some of the pearl barley next to it. Position the pheasant leg and breast pieces on top. Arrange small piles of the cabbage and some chanterelles around the meat, then spoon over some of the sauce.


  1. Sounds incredible. Loving all of it. Even though I really like pheasant I've never had it with barley. Something I'm especially keen on right now. You've ended up effectively cooking an orzotto, the Trieste version of risotto. It's delicious just by itself!

  2. Thanks Johnny, that's very kind. Have just checked out your blog, some amazing looking stuff on there. Nice one!