Pheasant Ham

What happened was this. My hostess said “Would you like some pheasants?’ ‘Why, yes,’ I said, and picked up a brace. They looked very handsome in their feathers. ‘Please take some more,’ pleased my hostess. “How many?’ I said. ‘As many as you like,’ she said. ‘No one wants them.” And that seems a damn shame to me. What’s the point of shooting them, if not to eat tem? It’s more than a shame, it’s a scandal, but that’s another matter.

Anyway, I ended up with a dozen pheasants, which I hung for a decent period in my garage before I set about plucking them. About halfway through my spirit and patience failed me, and I skinned the rest. A skinned pheasant isn’t quite as tempting to the eye as the plucked variety, and anyway, I didn’t have enough room in my freezer for them. So I dissected the carcasses. The thighs did go into the freezer; the legs went into the stockpot, along with the main body of the bird, after I had removed the breasts.

And the breasts – well, I turned them into pheasant ham. This was an idea I nicked from the timeless Cuisine Gourmande by Michel Guerard. In it there’s a recipe for duck ham, and I thought, if you can do duck, why not pheasant? I did, and, do you know, it’s pretty damn good. I slice the breasts and use them to deck out salads (see pic of pheasant ham with puntarelle, orange and olive oil) and as nibbles. It makes for as interesting a talking point as it does a tasty morsel.

I’ve given a recipe for 8 breasts, but you can do them in any number, one to one hundred. It’s almost the end of the shooting season, and pheasants should be very cheap. If you’re going to use a load of salt every time you make pheasant ham, you might as well get a few done at the same time.

NB. There’s no need to go fancy with the salt. It makes no difference to the curing what you use. Therefore, the cheaper the better.

8 breasts
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp juniper
2 tsp black peppercorns
½ star anise
4 bay leaves
1 kg + salt

Thoroughly crush all the spices in a mortar. Chop up the bay leaves quite finely. On a non-reactive tray or one covered with foil spread a good layer of salt (about 5mm thick). Sprinkle half the crushed spices and chopped bay leaf over it. Lay the pheasant breasts on top. Sprinkle the remaining spices over the beasts and then cover with the remaining salt. They must be well covered, looking like hills with a good fall of snow on them. Leave in a cool place for 24-36 hours. Rinse off the salt very thoroughly, but try and leave some of the crushed spices sticking to the breasts. Dry. The hams are ready to use right away; or you can wrap them in muslin and hang them somewhere cool and dry to age some more; or you can wrap them in cling film and freeze for future use.

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7 thoughts on “Pheasant Ham

  1. Good idea. I’ve done this with duck and pigeon with great success. But I am curious why you are suggesting such a huge amount of salt which will mainly be wasted?

    Let’s say you have 500g of breast meat and you’d like a final salt concentration in your product of about 5% (this would both be palatable and help preserve the meat). You therefore only need about 25g of salt to enter the meat in total. As curing is not an entirely efficient process and quite a bit of water will be drawn out of the breasts you might consider adding about double that, say 50g of salt in total. Then you don’t have to worry too much about how long the breasts stay in the cure (at least 2 days but you could leave much longer). I would do this in a zip lock bag and turn regularly, or vac pack to ensure good contact of cure with meat.

    Re: salt, although any salt will “do” for curing I’d try and avoid commercial salt with anti-caking agent in or iodized salt. Both can apparently flavour the end result (I have never tried!). I prefer to use pure sea salt (very cheap from a butcher’s supply shop) but rock salt is also fine.

    1. Clearly, you’ve approached the whole business with a rather more rigorous mind than mine. I like to have a proper layer of salt top and bottom. And I don’t like to leave them in the salt for too long, or they become too dessicated and the flavour of the spices too strong.

      1. Yes, I’m afraid I have spent far too much time worrying about curing!

        I guess the fundamental point I am making is that by controlling the amount of salt you use, you get more control over the process. Using an excess of salt creates a super-saturated brine from the water in the meat and you are then dependent on getting timing spot-on else you end up with an under- or more likely over-cured product. Add in other variables such as meat thickness, different curing temperatures, different salts (e.g. large flakey crystals versus ground) etc. and it becomes difficult to write a method that works well for everyone.

        Anyway, hope you don’t mind me intruding on your blog. Keep up the good work!

  2. I made some duck ham last summer and it went down very well, better in fact than the chilled pea and parmesan soup I made to serve with it. This sounds like a great idea, will certainly be giving it a try. Does your hostess have any more pheasants going spare…?

  3. Where I live they have shoots a dozen or so times a year, charging the hunters 30 pounds for every bird they shoot. The birds are then sold to a middle man for about 50p each – those that I don’t pounce upon, that is (on the advice of the gamekeeper, always now the females, and preferably nearer the beginning of the season). But, goodness, they are a fag to pluck. I usually get bored around about the fourth, and skin the rest of them which limits you in terms of cooking, so this is an excellent idea. I think Nick, above, might have a point about the salt, too. If my experience of making confit de canard is anything to go by, you can actually use too much salt, even if you wash the meat well after curing. Any tips for successful curing for confit?

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