Pheasant and Polenta
A medley of wild mushrooms, cooked separately to keep their own character is a woodsy garnish for the tender pheasant; creamy polenta flecked with Cheddar cheese completes the presentation. The stock may be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered. The sauce, polenta, and mushrooms may all be made up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated.
- Pheasants - 4, about 2 pounds each, feathers and innards removed
- Pheasant Stock
- Onion - 1, quartered
- Carrot - 1, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- Celery Stalk - 1, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- White peppercorns - 8
- Fresh Parsley Stems - 6
- Reserved carcasses and wings from pheasants, above
- Milk - 3 cups
- Unsalted Butter - 2 tablespoons
- Cornmeal - 1 cup
- Cheddar Cheese - 3/4 cup, grated
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Grated Nutmeg - 1/2 teaspoon
- Shallots - 4, minced
- Dry White Vermouth - 1-1/2 cups
- Star Anise - 1
- Grated Orange Zest - 1/4 teaspoon
- Stems from shiitake and oyster mushrooms, below
- Pheasant Stock - 4 cups, above
- Cornstarch - 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 teaspoon water
- Wild Mushrooms
- Olive Oil - 2 tablespoons
- Shiitake Mushrooms - 8 ounces, stemmed (reserve stems for sauce)
- Rendered duck fat or vegetable oil - 2 tablespoons
- Morel Mushrooms - 8 ounces (2-1/2 cups), or sliced Portobello mushrooms
- Clarified Butter - 2 tablespoons
- Oyster Mushrooms - 8 ounces, stemmed (reserve stems for sauce)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Olive Oil - 4 tablespoons
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Peas - 1/4 cup, or 1/2 cup chopped green beans
- Ripe Tomatoes - 1 small, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
To prepare the pheasants: Remove the heads at the base of the neck, if attached. Remove the feet at the first joint with a cleaver, then remove the wings from the body with a sharp knife. Cut off the breasts and thighs, cover, and refrigerate. Set the carcass and wings aside.
To make the pheasant stock: Combine the onion, carrot, and celery in a heavy pot with the peppercorns and parsley stems. Add the pheasant carcasses and wings, then add water to cover, about 3 to 4 quarts. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming the scum from the surface as the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 to 4 hours; there should be 4 cups of stock remaining. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve lined with cheesecloth, discard the solids, and set the stock aside.
To make the polenta: Place the milk and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal, stirring vigorously. Stir for 5 minutes over low heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the Cheddar cheese, stirring until incorporated. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
While the mixture is still warm, spoon it into eight 4-ounce ramekins. Refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until the polenta sets.
To make the sauce: Place the shallots, vermouth, star anise, zest, and mushroom stems in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and cook to reduce by half. Add the pheasant stock and reduce by half again. Whisk in the cornstarch and water mixture, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Set the sauce aside and keep it warm.
To cook the mushrooms: Place the olive oil in a large saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shiitake mushrooms and saute for about 3 minutes, or until they are tender and brown. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and place in a pie pan. Wipe the oil out of the pan with paper towels and add the duck fat or oil. Return the pan to the heat and saute the morels or Portobellos in the duck fat for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and place in a separate pie pan. Wipe the pan out again, add the clarified butter, and saute the oyster mushrooms very briefly over high heat, about 30 seconds. Remove the oyster mushrooms from the pan and place in another pie pan. Season all the mushrooms with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Unmold the polenta ramekins, place in a large ovenproof pan, brush the polenta with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and set aside.
Season the pheasant breasts and thighs with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pheasant pieces, skin-side down, and sear for 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the pheasant pieces with tongs and cook another 3 minutes, or until rare to medium-rare. Transfer the pheasant to a roasting pan and place in the oven for another 4 to 6 minutes. At the same time, place the polenta in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until heated through. Remove the pheasant from the oven and let sit in a warm place to rest for 5 minutes before carving. Reheat the sauce over medium heat, if necessary, and place the mushrooms in the oven to heat. Meanwhile, cook the peas or beans in a small saucepan in lightly salted water for 3 to 5 minutes, until just tender. Drain and set aside.
To serve: Put a polenta mold in the center of each warmed serving plate. Slice the pheasant breasts on a slight diagonal and arrange in a fan on one side of the polenta on each plate. Spoon the warm sauce around the meat, place 1 thigh on each plate, and add the mushrooms. Distribute the peas or beans and tomato evenly among the plates.