This is my favorite time of year—when the air turns just as crisp as the falling leaves. Sunlight has a softer quality to it, almost as if filtered through olive oil. For us bird hunters, all these signs mean just one thing: pheasant season is finally here.
Whenever possible, I believe plucking every bird is a worthwhile endeavor, as the skin seals in juices and flavor while roasting.
Dry plucking requires time and patience, and perhaps a blow torch to singe smaller leftover feathers. There is also the option of dunking birds in steaming water and paraffin wax, then cooling under cold water and plucking.
Brining is also an important step, since soaking proteins in a salt-water solution for at least 24 hours reduces moisture loss during cooking by up to 15 percent. The end result is one succulent, flavorful bird.
The sweet brandy apple glaze is a hint of autumn desert during dinner. Apply as liberally as you choose, but make certain to save room for pumpkin pie.
Makes four servings.
1 whole pheasant, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds, skin on.
1 1/2 gallons water
1 cup non-iodized salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup black pepper
7 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 large bulb of garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
2 honeycrisp apples, sliced
1 lemon, sliced and juiced
4 ounces fresh ginger, smashed
Brandy apple glaze:
1 Tablespoon butter
1 cup shallots, julienne
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly minced garlic
1 1/2 ounces brandy
1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup apple cider
3 tablespoons apple butter
2 tablespoons honey
4 teaspoons salt
To roast pheasant: Once pheasant has sat completely covered by brine in fridge for 24 hours, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse pheasant, pat dry. If possible, truss bird. Lightly salt and pepper all sides. Cook pheasant, breast side up, at 450 degrees for 25 minutes, turn oven down to 350 degrees. Cover breast side of pheasant with sliced apples from brine. Cook for another 40-50 minutes. Check for an internal temperature of 160 degrees before removing.
To make glaze: Start once pheasant is inserted into oven. Sautee shallots and garlic in butter on medium heat until shallots are soft and slightly browned. Deglaze with brandy, add vinegar, simmer for one minute before adding remaining ingredients. Cook on medium to medium-high for approximately 35 minutes or until liquids have reduced to one third. Stir often. Turn heat to simmer, and continue reducing until glaze acquires viscid texture and dark brown color (approximately another 10 minutes). Keep on low until ready to serve.
To serve: Let roasted pheasant sit for five minutes. You may choose to remove apples or keep them atop skin. As well, you have the option to glaze pheasant as it cools, or wait until it is carved to drizzle glaze overtop individual servings.