Pheasant Thighs with Roasted Garlic and Parsley Root

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Don’t get all hung up on the parsley root, although if you can find it use it. Parsnips are an excellent substitute, but so are carrots of any color, turnips, rutabagas or celery root. Or use a variety. Ideally you will have skin-on thighs here, but this recipe works with skinless thighs, too. Obviously chicken thighs are a good sub if you don’t have pheasant, but turkey — wild or domesticated — works, too, as would the thighs off a ruffed grouse.
 
A word on the pheasant thighs. Note that there are no drumsticks here. This is because you really can’t just sit and eat a pheasant drumstick — there are just too many tendons, which will not break down ever. That’s why I always separate thighs from drumsticks on pheasants and turkeys. If you haven’t done this, my advice is to separate the thighs and drumsticks before you cook them, and, when everything’s tender, fish out the drumsticks, pull off all the meat and put it back in the braise. Keep the thighs whole; they’re easy to deal with at the table.
 
The one thing not to skimp on is the roasted garlic. Yes, you want two whole heads. Don’t be scared; the flavor sweetens and mellows once the garlic has been roasted. If you don’t know how to roast garlic, read this tutorial.
 
Serve this dish with a full-bodied white wine such as a Cotes du Rhone, Chardonnay, Viognier or an off-dry Riesling. For beer, go with a crisp lager or a pale ale.
 
Incidentally, once made this will keep in the fridge for a week.
 
Serves 4.
 
Prep Time: 45 minutes, to roast the garlic
 
Cook Time: 2 hours
 

Ingredients

  • 2 heads of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 to 2 pounds of pheasant thighs
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons of pheasant fat, chicken fat or butter
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly root to tip
  • 1 pound of parsley roots (or other roots), peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1/4 cup of minced parsley, for garnish
  • Zest and juice of a lemon
  • Black pepper to taste

Method

Start by roasting the garlic. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Slice the top quarter off the heads. Nestle them into some foil and drizzle the olive oil into the cut ends. Close the foil and set in the oven to roast until browned and soft, about 40 to 50 minutes. When the garlic is done, drop the heat to 325°F.
 
Meanwhile, make a quick stock from the greens and peelings from the root vegetables and parsley. Chop the stems of the parsley you’re using to garnish, and add them to the peelings of the roots, along with the tops if you have them. I like to add the fronds from a fennel bulb too, but it’s not strictly necessary. Cover everything with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Drop the heat to a simmer and cook gently while the garlic is roasting.
 
While all this is going on, brown the pheasant thighs in the pheasant fat (or butter) in a large Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot. Salt them as they cook. Once the pheasant has browned, set it aside for the moment and saute the onion over medium-high heat until the edges brown. Salt the onion as it cooks too.

When the garlic is ready, remove it from the oven and let it cool a bit. Put the root vegetables in the Dutch oven with the onions and squeeze out the garlic into the pot. Set the pheasant skin side up on top of everything. Strain the stock and pour enough into the Dutch oven to come up to the level of the skin on the pheasant. Don’t submerge them. Sprinkle a little salt over everything.
 
Cover the pot, put it in the oven and simmer gently for 90 minutes. When the thighs are tender, uncover the pot and jack the heat up to 425°F to re-crisp the pheasant skin. This should take about 15 to 20 minutes.
When you are ready to serve, take the Dutch oven off the heat and add the minced parsley, lemon zest and juice, and grind some pepper over everything. Serve with crusty bread, potatoes or rice.

A member of both Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Hank Shaw is a hunter, cookbook author and award-winning writer. His website is Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (www.honest-food.net). He lives near Sacramento, CA. 

Photo by Holly A. Heyser