When we’re at home on a Sunday we have started occasionally making a proper roast dinner, either at lunch or supper-time. It wasn’t a tradition I particularly grew up with – when I was a teenager, we were more likely to have a casserole or something like moussaka than an expensive joint of meat – and I used to think it was too much trouble to cook a roast just for the two of us. However, even though most recipes for Sunday lunch assume a cast of thousands, over time I have realised that if you choose the right roast and scale down the trimmings it is no more work than other things we cook and feels like a really special meal to mark the weekend.
I am very fond of bread sauce and stuffing, so when we saw pheasant on sale for a reasonable price I took this as an incitement to cook them too, especially as all the supplements are now full of Christmas recipes. That said, I used tried and tested recipes: the bread sauce is as I learned to cook it from my mother (based in the recipe in her old Revo cookbook, see blogs passim), while the stuffing is adapted from the recipe for Pork and Chestnut Stuffing in Elizabeth David’s Christmas. If you don’t know it, this book is the perfect antidote to the over-inventive, ever-richer ideas for Christmas food with which one is bombarded at this time of year – a calm, sane source of reliable recipes and advice.
Start with the bread sauce, as you need to infuse the milk:
1 echallion shallot or small onion
4 black peppercorns
60g fresh breadcrumbs
20g butter and/or 2 tbsps cream (optional)
salt and black pepper
grating of nutmeg (optional)
Fifteen minutes before the bird is ready to come out of the oven gently reheat the milk, stir in the breadcrumbs and sit over very low heat for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the crumbs have swollen.
When you’re ready to serve, fish out the clove-studded onion and bayleaf, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg if you like it (I do), make sure the sauce is hot, and stir in a slice of butter and/or a little cream (the Revo cookbook suggests margarine, but Mother generally used to add a couple of spoonfuls of single cream). These quantities should give left-overs for two, but don’t always if I’m around.
The stuffing can also be prepared ahead and then baked in the oven with the pheasant. I nearly always cook it in a separate bowl – it is easier to ensure that it is properly cooked, and to serve, and the quantities in this recipe give far more than would fit into a pheasant, as I wanted to have plenty left-over.
Pork, chestnut and prune stuffing
180g vacuum-pack of whole chestnuts
1 small onion
nut of butter
250g minced fresh pork
1 stick celery
salt and pepper
30g home-made breadcrumbs
6 soft prunes
leaves from two sprigs of thyme
Finely chop the onion and celery. Melt the butter in a heavy pan and cook the onion gently until it is golden. Add the minced meat and let it brown gently. Then add the celery and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the Marsala and let it bubble for a minute before covering the pan and simmering for 10 minutes. Roughly chop the prunes and break up the chestnuts, and add them to the pan with the thyme leaves. Take off the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs and beaten egg. Turn the mixture into a baking dish or pudding basin, press the mixture down and cover with a lid or piece of foil.
Bake with the roast at 200ºC/180ºC/Gas 6 for around 50 minutes.
Pot-roast pheasant with bacon
2 rashers streaky bacon
salt & pepper
1 small apple
oil to brown
60ml stock or white wine or vermouth
Heat the oven to 200ºC/180ºC/Gas 6. Our pheasant came ready-prepared with a couple of rashers of streaky bacon on the breast, but you may need to add these. Peel, core and chop the apple, season, squeeze over some lemon juice and cut a few chunks off the lemon. Stuff the apple and lemon into the cavity of the bird.
You could of course just roast the bird in an ordinary roasting tin, but we decided to pot-roast it to keep it moist. Heat a little oil in a solid casserole – we used the trusty old orange Le Creuset which was one of the first pans I ever bought when I came to London – and brown the bird. Add your chosen liquid and let it bubble for a moment. Cover and put into the pre-heated oven, together with the dish of stuffing, for 35 minutes. At this point, take off the lids from the bird and stuffing and set the timer for 15 minutes. Put the breadcrumbs into the bread sauce and put on the water for any vegetables (we had young turnips and green beans).
Our pheasant was perfectly done after 50 minutes – we let it rest while we finished the vegetables and bread sauce, and poured off the juices to use as gravy. Carve the pheasant into four and serve each person a breast and leg of pheasant, together with a spoonful of the lemony Apple stuffing, a rasher of bacon, bread sauce, stuffing, gravy and vegetables.
It was altogether delicious and incredibly satisfying. We didn’t have much room for pudding but managed to squeeze in small helpings of Nigella’s No-churn Chestnut Ice-cream – a luxurious but not too heavy end to a perfect Sunday dinner.