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.
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.