Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Roadkill pheasant with wild greens

  The concept of eating roadkill is something that really repulses most people, but wrongly so I think.  Of course, I'm not suggesting that you go out armed with with a spatula and start scraping squirrel pancakes off the road, that really is repulsive.  But just because an animal is dead by the side of the road does not necessarily mean it has succumb to maggot infestation or has become breakfast, lunch, and dinner for carnivorous creepy crawlies.  

You do need to apply a bit of common sense here though, if you are in any doubt that the animal in fact died from disease and not from an injury sustained from a vehicle, like a rabbit with myxomatosis, for example, then steer well clear, it's simply not worth the risk.  

In terms of telling how old the animal is, again a bit of common sense and a good smell should do the trick - if it smells rancid and has clearly been partially eaten by other animals that have got there before you, then leave it alone - it has passed it's sell-by date.  This pheasant, however, was still warm when I found it, so must have been killed very recently = good for the pot. 

A pheasant will feed two people, as I was cooking for four I had to buy another pheasant from the butchers. 

I casseroled the pheasant with fennel, butter beans and a cider/vermouth sauce and served it with a creamy mash and two wild greens; Three-cornered Leek (Alium triquetrum) and Smooth Sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus). 






Quick way to prepare a pheasant:

Plucking takes a while and is a fiddly business, not to a mention a messy one too - not something you'd want to do indoors!  This method is far quicker, and although it won't leave you a whole bird with skin on, it will allow you to get at the breast and leg meat within a matter of seconds.  The aim is to pull the body and legs away from the wings and back feathers. 

1. Flip the pheasant on its back, head facing forwards
2. Stand on wings, getting your boots as close to the body as possible (so you're on top of the wing joints)
3. Pull up on the feet (this sometimes requires a bit of force)
4. Continue pulling upward until you are left standing on the wings with the body/legs in your hands
5. Voila! Flip the pheasant over and you'll find you have easy access to breast / leg meat




A fantastically quick way of getting to the pheasant meat

Wings and back feathers after pulling the body off of them

Three-cornered Leek / Three-cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum):

This is one of my favourite wild greens, it can be used raw finely chopped in salads and salsas, steamed, boiled, blitzed and turned in to pesto, as a base for soups, the list goes on.  Three-cornered Leeks prefer milder climates and are found mostly in the south of England, particularly the south-west - when was at university in Exeter I found them in every other hedgerow and even in abundance on campus.  I'm lucky enough to have these near me at home in Kent also, this map gives a rough guide on geographical prevalence:

http://www.brc.ac.uk/plantatlas/index.php?q=plant/allium-triquetrum


Identification:

The clue is in the name; 'three-cornered' - the main identification feature for this plant is the triangular cross-sectional shape of the leaf. The face of the leaf is flat, but the back has a central raised ridge running down it, thus creating a triangular shape.  When broken, it has a garlic-y smell, like a milder Ramsons (Wild Garlic), and of course a garlic-y taste.

Beware: do not get these confused with poisonous Bluebells or other such plants - these all have flat leaves - it's not a Three-cornered Leek unless it has three corners!




Triangular cross-sectional shape

Raised ridge along the back of the leaf

Smooth Sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus):

Probably presumed to be just a weed by most, this is a actually a great edible plant, and very abundant too.  It has a bitter taste when raw, but the cooking process gets rid of this.  The Latin name oleraceus means 'hollow (referring to the stem), edible vegetable', so there you have it, proof that whoever was responsible for the nomenclature also appreciated it as a foodstuff.

Identification:

Although it appears to have prickles at a first glance, the leaves are in fact lobed and prickle free. When young, the leaves have a matte greyish green colour to them, but when the plant matures it produces a milky stem with larger, glossier leaves that clasp the stem with arrow-like lobes.  This plant frequents disturbed / waste ground - from your flower bed to the side of the road / footpaths.






As this was the first time I'd cooked this dish and it was a bit of an experiment, not everything turned out as I'd hoped. This is not to say it wasn't tasty, it was, but it could be better, so the recipe listed below is the updated and improved one.  I opted for the shove it all in a pot and cook approach, but the cooking time for the fennel / beans and pheasant is different - these are two of the improvements;

1. Roast the fennel and butter beans alone until cooked and starting to caramelise 
2. Limit pheasant cooking time to an hour maximum - any more and it'll turn tough and dry


Ingredients (serves 4):

- 2 pheasants
- 3 fennel bulbs
- Tin of butter beans
- Cider
- Vermouth
- Plain flour
- Olive oil
- Salt / pepper
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- Potatoes
- Butter
- Cream
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- Wild greens


Cut the breast meat in to chunks and leave the leg/wing meat on the bone.  Cover the pheasant with seasoned flour and brown off in a pot with a dash of olive oil, leave to one side.  In the same pot, add the roughly chopped fennel, butter beans and a generous splash of vermouth and roast at 180ÂșC until the fennel starts to caramelise.  At this point, add the pheasant back in along with a bottle of cider and cook for 45mins / 1 hour - check the pheasant regularly to make sure it isn't overcooking.

Whilst the pheasant is cooking boil the chopped and peeled potatoes in salted water until soft and mash with butter, a splash of cream and salt and pepper.

When the mash and the casserole is ready, quickly boil / steam the wild greens - if boiling they need only a minute or so, if steaming they'll need a few minutes longer. 








Although it looks a tad rough round the edges, the combination of the fennel, butter beans and pheasant in the casserole was very nice indeed.  The vermouth / cider sauce took on an almost creamy consistency and was full of flavour.  Fancy food this is not, but for a cold winters day it hit just the spot, despite the pheasant being slightly overcooked and the fennel not quite cooked enough for my liking. 

As and when I find my next roadkill pheasant I will certainly be experimenting with this dish further.




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