Before anyone asks, no, there was no pear tree involved. Glad that’s out of the way. Another thing to get out of the way is the bad news: I didn’t especially like either pheasant or partridge. I am more than willing to accept that this could be down to my methods of cooking, given that this was the first time I had attempted either bird. I think that smoking the partridge was a bad plan, or perhaps I should have smoked it over a lower heat to impart a little less of the smoky flavour – it went into the smoker over a medium heat for half an hour, then rested out of the smoker for the same length of time before I jointed it. The smoker contained dismembered pine cones and lots of orange flavoured tea; maybe the tea wasn’t a good idea, and gave off too much smoke. Whatever the reason, I found the flavour of the meat unpleasantly strong once it was ready. Poor little fella, he was only a tiny thing and I didn’t even enjoy eating him.
The pheasant was more or less like chicken in flavour, but much more sinewy from all the running away from men or women with guns. The labels on both birds said ‘may contain shot’, which was a new experience for me. The partridge actually did have a little piece of shot in it, a tiny little steel ball that I couldn’t identify at first when I saw it on the chopping board, despite having read the warning label only an hour or so before. I pot roasted the pheasant – which is the size of a small chicken, to be suitably vague – in a mix of cider, clementine juice and rinds (which I inserted about the pheasant’s person), salt and pepper and a mix of carrot, parsnip and leek. It went in the oven at 180C for about an hour and was basted frequently, until the juices ran clear when the pheasant was pierced. Worth noting as well is that both birds needed a good clean in running water before cooking. They had both been gutted but had some feather tips remaining in the skin, and the cavities needed washed out thoroughly. Not the most pleasant task I’ve even undertaken but I’m not too squeamish about it. I like to eat things that used to be alive, so I feel like I have to be willing to prepare them. Plucking out the excess feathers wasn’t as gross as I’d worried it would be, it was really easy. Not sure if I’d feel the same if it were a fully-feathered pheasant I was plucking, with its head still on, looking at me all sad-like.
Another thing about the pheasant was the colour of the skin and fat – both much more yellow than a chicken, I guess from a mix of diet and lifestyle. Looks less gross than the flabby white fat you get on a chicken and on other meat, can ony be a good sign. I still didn’t eat the skin. The photo to the right looks excessively yellow, that wasn’t intentional…
The most successful part of this post, then, would be the scotch eggs that I made for us to eat as a not very classy but very tasty starter, before the pheasant. They weren’t your average scotch eggs though, oh no, do not be fooled! They were made of quail eggs, haggis and wholemeal breadcrumbs, and then baked. How does that grab you? They went down extremely well, too, and weren’t *too* much of a hassle to make. I mean, I wouldn’t do it every day of the week, but now and again they’re worth whipping up because they’re so much nicer than the shop-bought variety. Shop bought ones have their place, though. That place is the reduced section in Asda, where it’s become a bit of a competition to see who can find the cheapest scotch eggs. So far I’m winning at 19p for a pack of 12 mini ones. They weren’t great, I needn’t tell you.
The first thing I did was boil up six quail eggs. I lowered them gently into a pot of barely simmering water, and left for six minutes. Then I removed and put into a bowl of very cold water – this stops the yolk discolouring from over-cooking. Once they had cooled, which doesn’t take long with these tiny eggs, I took them out and crackled the shells, then peeled. This was the hardest part, as a lot of the white was keen to stay with the shell, so the end results were a bit raggedy and even smaller than they should have been. The next thing I did was to wrap the eggs in haggis. I’d bought slices of haggis as it was the smallest available amount – four slices was about right for six quail eggs, though I could probably have stretched it to cover another two or three if I’d been a bit more economical. It was tricky to cover the eggs with the meat, especially as haggis is dryer than sausage meat, and at first I didn’t think it was going to work. Once I’d managed one, though, it became clearer how to best go about the process. I took the skin off the haggis slice and broke in half, then worked the haggis between my hands to make it softer and more pliable. Then I flattened it out into a rough rectangle and put the egg in the middle, and folded the meat round, pinching it to seal the egg in. They took a bit of prodding and folding to get a total cover on them but it didn’t really take long. As with a lot of other things that are a bit fiddly (fiddly like awkward, not like ceilidh music), practise was really the key element. The last one was much easier to do than the first. Once the eggs were all wrapped up tight, I rolled them in beaten egg, then in wholemeal breadcrumbs, patting on extra breadcrumbs where they looked a bit bald. I tried to pat the breadcrumbs down well, and another time I’d make more of an issue of this as the bottom of my oven really did get more than its fair share of breadcrumbs when I tried to turn the eggs over half way through baking. I had them on a baking rack to allow the top and bottom to crisp up – I should also have greased the rack, as they stuck a little bit, too. Nothing disastrous, though – one did break open, but it closed over again happily enough. I baked the eggs at 180C for 20 minutes – next time I wouldn’t bother turning them at all, too risky. Like egg roulette.
I served the eggs with a pea puree, but next time I would spend more time and thought on it and would do some kind of tomato-based accompaniment, like a fancy version of ketchup, or a chutney, maybe. The pea puree was nice enough but really only there for a bit of colour. The last thing I have to say about them is that they didn’t slice well at all, as you can see – I think spending more time compressing the haggis against the egg, then the breadcrumbs against the haggis, might solve that problem. For a first attempt, though, I feel pretty proud of myself.
Here is this week’s Rock Salt Playlist, as influenced by the ’90s hits’ radio station I had going this evening. You have been warned, the cheese factor is quite high with some of these tracks…