“My father was standing on the edge of the clearing with the moonlight streaming down all over him and a great bunch of pheasants in each hand. His face was bright, his eyes big and bright and wonderful, and he was staring around him like a child who has just discovered that the whole world is made of chocolate”
Danny, The Champion of the World – Roald Dahl
We read Danny, The Champion of the World at bedtime, a chapter at a time, Ethan tucked up, listening intently, lost in the story in a way that only a seven year old could be.
I’d read Danny before, at school when I was about Ethan’s age. As I read Roald Dahl’s words out loud, I realised that I knew the whole story.
I remembered it all.
The caravan, the workshop, slitting the raisins open with a razor blade and stitching them back up again, Victor Hazzell, the policeman, the thud of the pheasants as they rained down out of the trees.
It’s a wonderful book, a truly glorious work of fiction, and worth reading even if you don’t have a seven year old to read it to.
It seemed appropriate to cook some pheasant in honour of Danny, his father and Roald Dahl himself. This recipe is quite unusual, but it’s very successful. It’s suitable for birds from the tail end of the season, the ones that are a little tougher, having spent Christmas and the New Year in the woods. These bids need a longer and slower treatment. They need stews, casseroles, poaching.
Start by boning out two pheasants. This may seem daunting, but it’s quite easy. Start on the back and carefully and gently cut the breast meat away from the rib cage. This is all much easier if you remove the wishbone first. Carry on carving the meat away, working your way carefully around the leg bones, popping the joints from their sockets as you go. The aim is to keep the skin completely intact.
Next, make some stuffing from 300g of coarsely minced belly pork, three chopped rashers of streaky bacon, 100g of pitted and quartered prunes and 75g of roughly chopped pistachio nuts. Add three generous tablespoons of brandy to the mix, along with two cloves of garlic, finely chopped together with the leaves of a sprig or rosemary. Season well with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
Lay the boned out pheasants on a board and season the fleshy side. Divide the stuffing between the two birds, spreading it evenly down the centre third of each bird.
Gently pull each side of the pheasant over the stuffing and roll it up into a big sausage, tying firmly with butcher’s string. Secure the ends with a couple of toothpicks to stop the stuffing spilling out.
To cook, poach in a litre and a half of stock. Any poultry based stock will be fine, but the best result will come from a stock made from the pheasant’s carcasses.
Poach for forty minutes, covered, the stock barely bubbling.
One pheasant will be enough to feed two people. If there are only two of you, it’s still worth cooking two pheasants – this ballotine is sensational cold and thickly sliced, served with a chutney and some good cheese.
The best place to eat this would obviously be with Danny and his dad, sat on the steps of their caravan.
This recipe is from Tom Norrington-Davies and Trish Hilferty’s excellent Game: A Cookery Book.