Scott Paton, head chef of Àclèaf in Plymouth, reveals his seasonal hero ingredient and shares a few tips on how to prepare pheasant at home
Not enough people eat pheasant, which is a great shame because it’s delicious, great value and a sustainable meat. As the cost of living continues to rise, the game bird is a brilliant swap for chicken: you can get a free‑range, organic pheasant for around £4, which is at least half the price of the chicken equivalent. They’re abundant in the South West, so it’s also an easy way to reduce food miles.
How to source pheasant
Pheasant comes into season around mid‑October, but it’s best to wait to source one until after the first frost as, by then, the birds will have fattened up for winter.
You should be able to buy them at your local butchers or good farm shops. Some butchers hang the birds, which results in a gamier meat, but I prefer a less powerful flavour so I cook them fresh.
When I worked at The Jack in the Green near Exeter, after service the local gamekeepers would drop in around 100 pheasants which we’d swap for a good few glasses of whisky. We’d prepare them that evening and have them on the menu the next day.
How to prepare pheasant
Ask your butcher to prepare the pheasant as plucking feathers can get messy. For first timers, I wouldn’t recommend cooking a whole bird as it’s tricky to stop the meat drying out. Instead, ask for the breasts, thighs (deboned) and any trimmings.
How to serve pheasant
Pick up some delicious local sausages while at the butchers and use them to stuff the thighs – you can also use the trimmings. Poach the stuffed thighs and then serve them with the pan‑fried breast (see below) and a whisky and mustard sauce.
Fry the breasts in a hot pan with some butter and aim for a very slight blush in the centre – this should only take a minute or so on each side as they’re generally quite small. It’s most important to leave them to rest for a while before serving.
I’ll be doing something similar at Àclèaf this winter. I’ll flatten out the breast like a schnitzel, layer it with the thigh meat, homemade pheasant sausage and oats. I’ll roll that up and then poach and roast it. It’ll be served with lentils flavoured with pancetta, pheasant bones and fresh herbs.