Longtime readers know I’m not much for New Year’s Eve. In recent years I’ve had to work on many of them, but even when it fell on a weekend, it just never seemed worth the trouble. For years now, our preferred celebration has been a better-than-average meal made at home, some good wine, champagne and a video on the telly. We kiss at midnight, marvel over the sound of celebratory gunfire in Detroit, and go to bed.
This year, Alan’s been attending some of the media events at the car companies, and came home with a request:
“I know what I want for Christmas dinner,” he said. “Pheasant.”
He explained that the Ford shindig he’d been at earlier in the evening had featured some cold roast pheasant on the buffet, along with some sort of fruit chutney, and boy, it sure was good. After determining that our Christmas guest wouldn’t eat pheasant at gunpoint, we decided it would maybe make a decent NYE entree. So I ordered one from the butcher and started exploring recipes.
We really aren’t meant to eat pheasant, I determined. No one can agree on how they should be prepared. Mark Bittman suggested whacking them up and cooking the various parts separately. Another said this is the ideal bird for brining. A woman at one of the holiday parties we attended said no, pressure-cook it. One recipe went with a slow roast with lots of basting, another with a short one in a very hot oven. That was Emeril Lagasse’s recipe. I’ve noticed several chefs, all men, suggest roasting duck and other game birds in blazing-hot ovens, claiming the heat works the way a sear does on a grilled steak — trapping the scarce fats inside; otherwise, you end up with a dessicated fowl.
I think men are the ones who promote this method because, by and large, they don’t have to clean their own ovens. Personally, I despise any temperature above 425 degrees on my home oven, except maybe for pizza. It gets everything so hot grease splatters throughout the oven, which creates smoke, which sets off every smoke alarm in the house, etc. But still: Pheasant. If I can’t trust Emeril, who can I trust? I dialed the heat up to 500, turned on the fans, and started it in a jacket of bacon, as instructed:
This whole process was supposed to take less than an hour, I remind you. After 15 minutes, I removed the bacon; just opening the oven started the smoke alarm shrieking. (Alan took it down and stuck it under some towels.) We took the bird out when it looked like this; a few tentative pokes suggested its juices were running clear:
But when we flipped it over to do a bilateral carve, it still had plenty of blood left in it. Back into the oven for another 15, and that did it. It made for a pretty presentation:
And how did it taste? Eh, OK. It was still too dry. Alan got down to the bones, but I stopped at the white meat. Not a terrible dinner, but far from my best work. If I ever meet Emeril, I will ask him to come clean my goddamn oven. His sauce was good, however, a red-wine-and-orange-juice reduction.
That’s a wild rice pilaf on the side, by the way, with some toasted pine nuts. A very harvest-season meal.
Lesson learned: Some things are best left to the pros. Next year: Salmon.
How was your new year celebration? I finally watched “Midnight in Paris,” which was perfectly wonderful.
I’m a lazy girl on the bloggage today, but Gawker did all my work for me, in their best-of-2011-reading roundup. A few things are behind paywalls, but there’s some great stuff here, all of which I missed the first time around, including the incredible true story of the collar-bomb heist from Wired, a fabulous rant/takedown of “Eat, Pray, Love,” and finally, a piece that introduces and explains Courtney Stodden for me once and for all, so that I never have to read another word about her, thankyaJesus. All three worth your time, and probably even more at the Gawker link.
And so it begins, this 2012. I’m hoping it’s a good one. For all of us. Even the pheasant.