- 3 plump hen pheasants, oven-ready
- 2 tsp juniper berry, crushed
- 1 dried bay leaf, crumbled (or finely sliced, if fresh)
- a pinch of dried thyme
This popular herb grows in Europe, especially the Mediterranean, and is a member of the mint…
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed and roughly chopped
- groundnut or vegetable oil
- 100g thinly sliced pancetta
Pancetta is Italian cured pork belly - the equivalent of streaky bacon. It has a deep, strong,…
THE DAY BEOFRE: Take a pheasant, fully extend one of its legs, and cut through the skin attaching it to the breast. Note where it's hinged to the carcass and sever between the two joints. Repeat with the other leg. Turn the bird over on to its breast and cut away the backbone where it's attached to the breast. Poultry shears are best for this, but strong scissors or a knife will do. Reveal the wishbone and cut it free, then break away as much of the carcass as you can, leaving the whole two-sided breast (the crown) intact. You will need to sever two more little joints to free the crown entirely and trim off a few flappy, fine ribs from below the breasts, then remove any yellow fat, bits of skin, shot or bloody parts from the crown itself. Repeat with the other two pheasants, then wrap each crown in cling film and put in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 140C/gas 1/fan 120C. Tidy up the legs, then wipe them with damp kitchen paper. Pack the legs skin-side down into a roasting tin or baking dish just large enough to take them in a single layer. Strew with the juniper berries, herbs, garlic and salt and pepper, then pour in enough oil to barely cover. Roast for about 2 hours or until very tender, turning the legs halfway through.
When the legs are cooked, remove them from the oven and leave to cool immersed in their cooking fat before refrigerating (still in the fat) overnight.
IN THE MORNING: When you are ready to finish the cooking, bring both crowns and legs to room temperature, and preheat the oven to 230C/gas 8/fan 210C. Season the crowns well with salt and pepper. Cut the wodge of pancetta in half widthways, separate the half slices, then drape them across the crowns to cover them completely. Scrape off all the gubbins from the legs and discard.
Put the crowns in a roasting tin, leaving enough space for the legs, and roast for 12 minutes. Add the legs and roast for 8-15 minutes more, depending on the size of the birds and how you like your game cooked. Leave the pheasants to rest in a warm place for 5-10 minutes before slicing the whole breast off each side of the crowns and serving with the legs and pancetta.
Getting aheadYou can get the pheasants jointed and the legs roasted up to 3 days beforehand. If you are going to refrigerate the legs for longer than 24 hours, pack them together with the fat in a large plastic bag.