Ken really enjoyed this recipe. Despite my phobia of eating wild game, I actually thought the pheasant was good. However, I thought the leeks overwhelmed the stuffing.
I originally planned to make this Sunday night, but we moved it up to Wednesday so we wouldn't have to freeze and thaw the birds. I think that was a mistake, because getting home from work and trying to get this on the table at a reasonable hour made me feel a little rushed. While I was cooking, I had to fight the urge to add lemon and garlic to the recipe. I probably should have given in - the citrus might have helped balance the leeks. I also felt compelled to add flour to the sauce to create gravy. It would have been smart to ignore that urge, because we ended up with lumpy sauce . . .
Pheasant with Leek and Pecan Stuffing
2 young pheasants, thoroughly defrosted if frozen
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
3 cups chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) unsalted butter
10 medium-size leeks, white part only, well rinsed and thinly sliced
6 cups crumbs from good-quality white bread
2 cups toasted pecans
1 cup finely chopped fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
4 strips of pancetta (about 4 oz.) (I used prosciutto)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1. Rinse pheasants thoroughly inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Chop the neck, heart, and gizzard (save liver for another use).*
2. Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Brown the neck and giblets well in oil, turning frequently. Add the onion, carrot, and 1 tsp. marjoram. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.
3. Uncover the pan, add thyme, bay leaf, parsley, and stock, and season with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Strain the stock, discarding solids, and reserve.
4. Melt butter in a skillet over low heat. Stir in sliced leeks and cook, covered, until the leeks are very tender, about 30 minutes.
5. Toss the leeks, including their butter, with the bread, pecans, chopped parsley, and remaining 2 tbsp. marjoram. Season lightly with salt and generously with pepper. Toss again. If the stuffing seems dry, add 1/4 cup of reserved broth.
6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stuff the pheasants loosely and drape the breasts with pancetta. Tie in place with kitchen twine and set the pheasants in a shallow roasting pan.
7. Set the roasting pan on the center rack of the oven and bake for about 1 hour, basting occasionally with any juices that accumulate (or with broth if no juices accumulate). Halfway through cooking, I added 2 strips of bacon to the top of each pheasant, because no fat or juices were accumulating from the pheasant or the prosciutto. The pheasants are done when the thighs, pricked with a fork at their thickest part, dribble clear yellow juices. Remove pheasants from the oven, cover with aluminum foil and keep warm.
8. Pour excess fat out of the roasting pan (wild pheasants are not likely to have excess fat . . . ). Pour reserved stock and heavy cream into the pan and set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring and scraping up any browned bits, until the sauce is reduced by about 1/3. Taste and add seasoning (salt/pepper) if necessary.
9. Carve the pheasants and arrange meat on a platter. Mound stuffing in the center and drizzle the meat and stuffing with a few spoonfuls of the sauce. Serve immediately, passing remaining sauce in a gravy boat.
* Ken had already removed the giblets, hearts and necks, so I skipped this step.
I think this recipe was created for farm-raised pheasant, because wild pheasant has very little, if any, fat - so I had no "accumulation" in the roasting pan. If you make this with wild pheasant, you might want to add some butter or olive oil to the pheasant.