Pheasants on Horseback
‘Tis the season to be jolly, tra la la la la la la la la… I can’t sing but I can’t help myself bursting into song and feeling the festive spirit as I am writing this recipe. These little numbers are simply fantastic, not only served as a canapé or snack, but as part of all the trimmings with your Christmas feast (or any roast for that matter).
The game season is in full swing and hopefully everyone has enjoyed a pheasant or two so far this season. They are easy to come by and if like me you prefer to cook the breast and legs separately, then this recipe is an ideal one to use up the pheasant legs that have accumulated during the season.
You will be pleasantly surprised how much meat is on a pheasant’s leg, quite a lot once it’s cooked well and you flake the meat from the bone. The leg meat can be quite dry and mixing it with the drunken prunes and sausagemeat, turns it into delicious succulent little snacks.
The reason I call these ‘pheasants on horseback’ is because ‘devils on horseback’ are prunes soaked in either brandy or Armagnac, then wrapped in bacon. In this case, I have gone a step further and combined the drunken prunes with the cooked pheasant meat, and there you have it, ta da!
All those years of being in the company of my mother’s boring pre-Christmas dinner parties has finally paid off, as the inspiration for these came from one of those tedious chores of sitting by the kitchen table wrapping prunes in bacon.
They say that retro classics are back, in this case with a breath of new life.
- 100g dried stoned prunes, chopped
- 50ml Armagnac or brandy
- 4 pheasant legs, about 140g each
- 50ml rapeseed oil
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
- 1 banana shallot, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 50g celery, finely diced
- 200g Cumberland sausagemeat
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mixed herbs (chives, chervil, parsley, sage)
- 12 rashers smoked streaky bacon, cut in half widthways
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.
Put the chopped prunes into a small bowl, pour over the Armagnac and stir, then leave to soak while the pheasant legs are cooking. The longer you leave them to soak the better. (I use prunes soaked in Armagnac quite a lot over the festive period and I have a Kilner jar filled with chopped prunes in Armagnac or brandy, whichever one is available at the time. I keep this in the fridge and when needed, I take a spoonful from the jar.)
Place the pheasant legs in a roasting tin; pour over half of the oil and season with salt and black pepper. Roughly chop the thyme leaves and scatter over the pheasant legs. Roast in the oven for 25–30 minutes or until the skin is golden brown and crisp and the meat is soft, flaky and cooked. Remove from the oven and let the pheasant legs cool for 30 minutes before flaking the meat from the bones. Discard the bones and skin.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a small saucepan over a low heat, add the shallot, garlic, celery and salt and black pepper, cover and sweat until cooked and completely softened – this should take 8–10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Put the flaked pheasant meat into a mixing bowl, together with the cooled shallot mixture, the sausagemeat, chopped herbs and soaked prunes and Armagnac and mix until well combined. Divide and roll the mixture into 24 even-size balls and then shape each one into a ‘sausage’ about 2cm in diameter. Wrap one piece of streaky bacon around each ‘sausage’ and secure with a cocktail stick. Place them in a roasting tin and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before cooking. This will firm them up and prevent them from falling apart whilst cooking.
Once rested, preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 again. Cook the pheasants on horseback in the oven for 12–15 minutes or until the bacon is golden brown and crisp and the sausagemeat mixture is cooked all the way through. They smell delicious as they are roasting. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let them rest for 5 minutes before arranging on a plate to serve.
Makes 24 (to serve as a canapé, or serves 8–12 as part of the Christmas meal)
These can be made a couple of days in advance. Simply make and assemble the pheasants on horseback as directed (but don’t cook them), keep them in an airtight container in the fridge until needed and cook in the oven as directed just before serving.