Simon Hopkinson shares his childhood memories of pheasant – and a recipe which demonstrates how differently he sees things as an adult.

I will always remember my mother’s face when her father (always Big Bompa, to me and my brother), having recently remarried after the early death of my grandmother, answered her question of ‘So, Daddy, what are you, Mary and June [her stepmother and stepdaughter, respectively] having for your Christmas lunch together this year?’, as follows.

‘Oh, well, darling,’ he whispered, blushing a little. ‘Mary does enjoy a roast pheasant or two, at this time of year, as she’s always thought that turkey can be a little dry.’

‘Oh, how lovely,’ trilled Mum, clearly not thinking lovely thoughts at all.

This would have been in the early 1960s or thereabouts. A brace of pheasants, then, would have cost a pretty penny or two and would have been seen as gracing a toff’s table, rather than that of a kind and decent fellow who worked in a bank in Manchester.

Our Bompa was, without question, the most generous, loving and emotionally gifted grandpa one could ever wish for. However, from time to time, he could quite manifestly be the most hilarious snob. ‘Mary prefers to purchase her birds from a special farm in the Cheshire countryside, which has been highly recommended,’ he said, with a modicum of misguided pride, perhaps.

‘Well, we all love our turkey, thank you Daddy,’ said Mum. ‘Bruce and the boys wouldn’t consider anything else.’ A mild ticking off for Bompa, there, I think.

A roast pheasant remains a special festive lunch for two, without doubt, but also at any time during the shooting season. Whether it’s served traditionally with bread sauce, game crumbs and a deeply savoury gravy or as in the following delicious recipe, with braised little gem lettuces and bacon, this bird is always a treat as far as I’m concerned.

It may not be the rarity it once was, but nor is it as expensive as it used to be. A short trip to a good supermarket, these days, rather than a bucolic run out into the English countryside, is all that’s needed. Poop poop!

 

Simon Hopkinson’s roast pheasant with bacon and braised lettuce

Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 1 dressed pheasant
  • 25g softened butter
  • 3–4 sprigs thyme
  • 6 thin rashers unsmoked streaky bacon
  • A generous splash of Madeira 75ml white wine
  • 100ml chicken stock
  • 4 small little-gem lettuces, trimmed

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/gas mark 6. Smear the pheasant with butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and tuck the thyme inside the cavity.

Place it in a roasting dish and drape with the bacon rashers so they completely cover the bird. Roast for 20 minutes or until the bacon is golden and crisp.

Lift off the bacon and set it aside on a plate, baste the bird well and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Remove the pheasant and leave to rest on a plate, then remove the breasts as two whole joints with a sharp knife. Add to the reserved bacon.

Tip off most of the residual fats and pour in the Madeira and white wine. Add the stock, together with the thyme sprigs from the cavity.

Bring to a simmer and reduce by about half. Put in the lettuces, cover with foil and cook for about 15 minutes, turning them over once.

Remove the foil and push the lettuces to the side of the tin to make room for the pheasant breasts. Tuck the reserved bacon rashers around them and quietly reheat the assembly. A dish of creamed potatoes makes an ideal accompaniment.