Pheasant Ragu Risotto with Shiitake Mushrooms and Arugula

Chris worked his magic and managed to get a couple of freshly caught pheasant from a co-worker.  He insisted on having his pheasant whole, and as such, they were delivered, full feathered and full bodied.  We hear there is a quick and easy way folks normally clean pheasant that results in two lovely breasts being pulled away clean.  Things were not going to be so easy for the Emertons.  

Neither Chris or I have ever defeathered any sort of fowl nor have we cleaned one.  I have done plenty of fish cleaning and after having done the pheasant, I can say it is really no more gruesome or gross.  The plucking of the feathers was tedious and not much fun but we got through it having found no real 'trick' to doing so.  It was definitely an experience that brought us closer to our food.  No happy shiny packages of perfectly butchered meat for this meal.
Now, what do I do with these pheasants?  I thought about it for a couple of days and there was no revelation.  In the end, I decided on a ragu.  Perhaps not the most thrilling way to go, but I thought because of how lean the pheasants were, braising them in a rich sauce might be the best option.

2 Whole Pheasants
2 Tablespoons bacon fat
1 Onion, chopped
2 Carrots, chopped
3 Ribs Celery, chopped
3 Garlic cloves, smashed
1 Tablespoon flour
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2/3 Cup Madeira
2 Cups medium body red wine
3 Cups chicken broth
2/3 Cup Madeira
1 Dried bay leaf
1 Sprig fresh rosemary
2 Sprigs fresh thyme
1 Sprig fresh sage
5 Sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley

Generously salt and pepper the pheasants.  Heat oven to 500f.  Place the pheasants on a rack on top of a pan and just brown the outside.  
Meanwhile, in a large dutch oven, heat the bacon fat over medium high heat and saute the onions, carrots and celery until lightly browned.
Add the flour and tomato paste and stir in well to combine.  
Deglaze the pot with the madeira.
Add the red wine and bring to a boil, and then add the chicken broth.
Toss in the bay leaf, rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley.  
When the pheasants are lightly browned, remove from the oven and cut them in half lengthwise.  Add them to the pot trying to submerge them as much as possible into the sauce. 
Reduce the heat of the oven to 325f.  Place the pot into the oven and let cook for about an hour.  Check the pheasant about half way through and adjust them in the pot if needed to make sure they are still covered in the sauce.
Remove the pot from the oven.  
Pull the pheasant out onto a pan and cover with foil until cool enough to handle. 
Allow the sauce to continue to cook in the stove top for another 15-20 minutes.  Remove from heat and strain sauce through a sieve and discard the solids.  Remove the fat by skimming the top of the sauce or using a fat separator.  If you are making this a day ahead, you can refrigerate the sauce overnight and remove any hardened fat the next day.
Once the pheasant is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, discard the bones and skin.  Shred the meat with your hands.
Combine the meat with the sauce and simmer until sauce is thickened, another 30-45 minutes.  You don't want it to be too soupy but not too dry either.
Set aside until ready to use.

For the risotto:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Shallots, finely chopped
1 Garlic clove, finely minced
1 Cup Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/2 Cup white wine
Chicken stock
1 Cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/3 Cup mascarpone
1/3 Cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Good handful of arugula
Balsamic vinegar to finish

Heat the olive oil and saute the shallots and garlic until softened.  Add the rice and stir and let cook until the rice kind of starts to whistle.  Deglaze with the wine.  When wine is almost all evaporated, start your chicken stock addition. 
Add just enough stock to cover the rice, stir once, let simmer until stock is almost fully evaporated, then add more stock.  Repeat this process until the rice is about half cooked.  
Add the mushrooms and the ragu.  
Bear in mind there is enough ragu here to make this about half and half rice and pheasant.
Continue to cook the risotto until it is tender.
Add the mascarpone and parmigiano cheese.  Stir to combine well.
Then add the arugula and stir in right before serving.  
A drizzle of balsamic vinegar and shaved parmigiano were the perfect finish.

A big 'thank you' to our pheasant suppliers!  Pheasant risotto coming your way!  
For those of you who may be skittish about trying pheasant, I'd say it is in the game hen, quail or duck category.  Not really gamey, but more flavor than chicken.  This worked out to be a fabulous way to have the pheasant.  We loved it!  


  1. Yum. I love the picture of bird dog Pacino overseeing things.

  2. Pacino knew something was up and was whimpering and whining.


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