Pheasant Forestiere with Wilted Wild Watercress
Saturday the 24th October 2009 was marked in my calendar with big red letters. A few of us like minded foodies booked a day’s wild food foraging with Polly from Food Safari. Like excited little kids we set off early in the morning armed with wellington boots, camera, basket, sharp knife, wet wipes and a warm jacket and before I forget the forager hand book was my reading material for the journey.
It was our second Food Safari adventure with Polly and we were very pleased to see how many people turned up for this event. Polly arranged for Valerie Jordan from the Tasty Mushroom Partnership and Jacky Sutton-Adam from Wildfoodie to join us on our expedition. We gathered at a secret idyllic location in Suffolk , it was a perfect morning,with some light drizzle but then it cleared up as we were foraging for mushrooms, chickweed, ground ivy and wild watercress. Later in the day when we sat down to a tasty mushroom lunch, the heavens opened up , perfect timing indeed.
We were incredibly excited about the quantity and most importantly the variety of edible mushrooms that we found. Valerie our expert mushroom lady made us laugh with her LBJ’s, it stands for little brown jobbies, those non- edible brown ones that you find just about everywhere. Valerie’s best bit of advice for the day was “if in doubt leave it out”, trust me it really makes a lot of sense. We were lucky enough to find Fairy ring mushrooms, field mushrooms, puff balls and beefsteak fungus all edible varieties but then there were just as many non- edible ones too.
At the end of the day Polly sent us home with a pack of Peter Jordan’s (Valerie’s late husband) Mushroom Foray Guide, they are a neat and very handy pack of cards that easily slip into your pocket. These cards are easy to read with clear photographs and a very simple colour code that show if they are safe or poisonous.
I knew that there would be at least a few items that I would be able to take home and cook. As I did not know what we would find I could not plan any recipes in advance, which made this day even more exciting. Along with Jacky I found some wild watercress in a dried up water plain, it was still a bit boggy so yes, we sank in the mire. But I was pretty pleased with the find, the wild watercress looked like big green hands, pretty cool! Jacky’s sound advice was that you should always boil wild herbs and foliage, as if cows had been grazing in the fields you could pick up a nasty liver disease.
Later on we relocated to another field where we found a lot more field mushrooms and fairy rings. We could clearly see how the mushrooms grew in rings and it was most bizarre to see how the inner grass circle was a vibrant bright green in comparison to the brown outer circle of the mushroom ring.
As we drove home I was wracking my brain thinking of what I could cook with my hearty basket of mushrooms. Later on that evening it came to me, as its game season, to cook a pheasant forestiere with wilted watercress and the creamy mushroom sauce would compliment the rich gamey pheasant meat perfectly.
As I’m writing down my lovely memories of this brilliant day, surrounded by like minded people from all different walks of life, all I could hear is Valerie’s words, “if in doubt leave it out”! Mushroom picking is not something I would do on my own as I do not have the expert knowlege. Jacky a wise woman reminded us kindly of the foragers code….I shall write about that in my next posting.
- 1 pheasant about 500g
- 2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
- 50g unsalted butter
- 150g small round onions or shallots, peeled
- 150g celery, diced
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 150g mixed wild mushrooms and field mushrooms
- 100ml sherry or white wine
- 50ml brandy or cognac
- 250ml chicken stock
- 100ml double cream
- 1tsp freshly chopped thyme
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 50g wild watercress, washed
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Prepare the pheasant by removing the legs and the breast meat from the bone. Discard the bone and wrap one slice of smoked streaky bacon around each pheasant breast.
Peel the onions, do not cut the root part too deep as the onions will fall apart. Dust the mushrooms and slice them about 1/2 cm thick. Prepare the celery and garlic.
Season the pheasant legs and heat a large oven proof casserole dish with half of the butter. Sauté the pheasant legs and breast until golden all over in the nutty brown butter, transfer to a plate.
Return the casserole dish to the heat and melt the rest of the butter and once the butter starts to foam and turn brown sauté the onions, mushrooms, celery and garlic until golden add seasoning.
As the onions start to turn darker brown, deglaze the pan with the brandy and cook until the brandy become sticky and coating, add the sherry or wine and cook until sticky and coating.
Return the browned meat to the casserole dish and add the stock, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer, once boiling place the lid on top and place the casserole dish in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.
While the casserole is in the oven, bring a small saucepan with salted water to the boil and blanch the wild watercress for two minutes in the rapid boiling water, refresh in icy cold water, drain and set aside.
Once the casserole is ready remove from the oven and remove the lid and return the casserole to a low heat, add the cream and simmer to the correct consistency, add the fresh thyme and blanched watercress and adjust the seasoning if needed. It's optional to remove the meat from the casserole dish once it comes out of the oven, set the meat aside to rest whilst finishing the sauce by adding the cream bring it back to the boil, simmer until slightly thickened and add the thyme and blanched watercress and serve with the pheasant breast and leg meat.
Food Fanatics Tip
The watercress is entirely optional, replace with spinach or curly kale. If you do not have the pheasant then use either rabbit, partridge or chicken thighs.