A bird in the hand…

Pheasants are not the sort of thing most people keep in their freezers and we wouldn’t have them either if it weren’t for Steve’s Dad’s love of hunting and his generosity. He’s given us more game meat than we know what to do with and we may need to purchase a larger freezer next year when he retires. Of course, we also need to invite more of our friends to dinner so they can help us get through our frozen cave of meat. It sounds like it’s time to plan a dinner party!

Pheasants are not the easiest birds to cook with. In fact, wild pheasant is a pain in the ass to prepare well. They’re wild birds with very lean meat, lots of bones and leg meat that is virtually impossible to separate from the dozens of tiny tendons holding the bird’s drumstick together. Steve took most of the meat he could get off the bones and put it in the food processor along with a variety of herbs and spices. He chopped the mixture into a course, fresh sausage and browned it in olive oil. The large cooked crumbles of “sausage” dotted the pizza crust accompanied by thin slices of fennel, chopped kale and a generous scattering of goat cheese.

The next day, Jason took what was left of the pheasant meat and bones and made a nice pressure-cooked stock. We read the Cook’s Illustrated suggestion of finely chopping the vegetables in a food processor, and also grinding the meat, before making stock. Modernist Cuisine, the new six-volume cookbook by Nathan Myhrvold, suggests using a similar method of pressure-cooking stock. It was time to give it a try. So, after chopping the vegetables and then grinding up the pheasant meat, Jason browned the bones in the pressure cooker with a little olive oil, tossed in the meat to cook a little, then added the vegetables and enough water to cover everything. He sealed the lid and for the next 45 minutes, that familiar little ssssss from the pressure cooker was music to his ears. After cooking was complete, he turned it off and let the whole thing cool down before unsealing it. The stock was clear and beautiful. A very nice consommé.

Preparing to make the stock.

He also tried this method with the left over veggie clippings we keep in the freezer, and the carcass of a rotisserie chicken from a recent dinner out. We had the pleasure of dinning with our good friend Kathy the other night while she was in town and took her to Limon Rotisserie, one of our favorite restaurants in the city. Not only is the restaurant’s food excellent, the staff of hot guys serving would make any gay man, or straight woman, blush and flirt, but we digress. Anyway, asking to keep the bones from the chicken carcass isn’t a common request at the restaurant. We usually only keep them when we get take out. The owner, who was waiting on us, looked a little perplexed by our request to box up the bones until Jason mentioned that we make a great chicken stock with them. With all the herbs and spices rubbed on the chicken before roasting, it would be a waste to just throw the bones away without getting all that flavor from them.
The Limon chicken stock turned out very nicely in the pressure cooker too, and it took a lot less time than boiling everything for hours. The stock was a little cloudy though and we think the vegetable clippings absorbed a lot of the water. We didn’t finely chop the veggies before adding them to the pot. No matter, the stock has a lot of great flavor and we have a rich stock for the next great soup or sauce.

Pizza Dough

Pheasant Sausage

Leftovers are just as good.

1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 lb pheasant meat
3 tbsp olive oil

Heat a small sauté pan over medium flame, add dry spices and carefully toast until fragrant. Do not let them brown. Remove from heat and pour into a mortar. Add salt and grind mixture into a fine powder.

Add pheasant and spice mixture to the bowl of a food processor and process with the chopping blade until ground into a fine mince.

Heat a skillet over medium flame and add olive oil. Once oil has heated, add pheasant “sausage” to the pan and cook while breaking the mixture into small pieces. Cook, stirring frequently, until pieces begin to brown. Remove from heat and set aside to use or to cool before refrigerating.

Assemble Pizza

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, rough chop
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced with a mandolin
1 small bunch kale, any variety
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled into large pieces

In a small sauté pan gently heat the olive oil and garlic until starting to sizzle. Remove from the heat to cool.

After stretching the dough to fit onto a baking sheet, brush with the garlic infused olive oil. Equally distribute the fennel slices, topped by the kale, then the pheasant sausage and goat cheese. Bake in a 450-degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned on top and bottom.

Pheasant stock

2 pheasants, bones and leg meat
1 medium onion
1 large carrot
1 large celery rib
1 bay leaf
½ tablespoon whole black pepper corns
¼ teaspoon salt

Remove as much meat from the bones and pulse in a food processor until the consistency of ground meat. In a pressure cooker add the oil and heat the pan. Add the bones and brown. Add the ground meat and cook stirring constantly, until browned. In the food processor add the onion, carrot and celery. Pulse until finely chopped. Add to the pan along with the bay leaf, pepper corns, salt, and enough water to cover. Place the lid on the pressure cooker and under low pressure cook for 45 minutes. Allow the to cool before removing the lid. Strain the stock and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for two months.

Chicken & Veggie Carcass Stock

4-6 cups chicken bones and/or veggie scraps
bay leaves
whole peppercorns

We’ll collect chicken carcasses and veggie clippings in the freezer until the container is overflowing. Once the container is full, about four-six cups of whatever items you have, add to the pressure cooker and cover with water. Add a large pinch of salt, a small palm full of black peppercorns, and a few dried bay leaves. Cook with low pressure for 45 minutes and than let cool without releasing the pressure. Strain the stock and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for two months.

An Elegant Broccoli Soup

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day. A beautiful green broccoli soup.

Veggies tend to build up in our refrigerator. With the very best of intentions, we subscribe to a CSA produce box that arrives every other week. In the off weeks, we wander over to the Sunday farmer’s market to supplement. Certain that we will gorge ourselves on fresh produce, we accumulate food we know we should be eating. Once in a while we fall out of cycle because of meals out or travel and all our good intentions catch up with us.

We recently received a beautiful head of broccoli in our farm box that, after a week in the fridge, needed attention before it faded and became compost. Jason recommended soup and since we had a fresh batch of chicken stock on hand, it was the perfect solution. Mind you, the chicken stock was made from the leftover bones and carcass of a roasted chicken from Limon Rotisserie which means the resultant stock was ultra savory. But while the Limon bones aren’t something everyone has access to, you can make extra savory soup broths by simmering lots of aromatic vegetables, fresh and dry herbs and plenty of spices. With just the right amount of sea salt, a decent broth can be made extraordinary.

So, the leftover broth went into a soup pot where it was brought to a simmer on the stove. Once hot, we added the broccoli stems to cook before adding the florets which can lose their color if cooked too long. With this soup, we let the stock and stems cook down to concentrate the flavors. In went the florets and a little water before covering the pot to bring it back up to temperature. The broccoli needed to cook long enough to become tender without turning khaki. It probably took about 10 minutes for it to soften enough before going into a blender where it was pureed until smooth. My first instinct was to strain the puree through a fine mesh sieve, but I wasn’t happy with the consistency of the watery soup it produced so I added the pulp back to the pan along with the liquid. The puree was fine enough that there were no unpleasant fibers in the finished soup so why waste the nutrient dense broccoli?

While tasty, the soup seemed to be missing something and for a minute I considered adding vinegar or lemon juice, both of which would have been fine, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. Then it hit me – BUTTER! Not just any fat would do. Extra virgin olive oil would certainly add flavor, but it was the wrong flavor for this delicate vegetable soup. No, this needed what any good professional kitchen would consider indispensable and that’s plenty of sweet, unsalted butter. So, back into the blender the soup went. Still steaming hot I separated it into two batches and then blended each with two tablespoons of butter. The finished soup was velvety and rich without being oily. It was perfect!

Broccoli Soup

6 cups savory chicken or vegetable stock (or a combination of broth and water)

1 large head broccoli, stems and florets separated

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring the stock to a boil and add the stems of the broccoli. Cook for about 10 minutes than add the florets. Cook for another 10 minutes. Transfer ½, or so, of the soup to a blender and puree until very smooth. Add two tablespoons of cold butter and continue to puree for another minute. Transfer to a new pot and do the same with the remaining broccoli and stock. Warm the soup slightly before serving.