Pheasant Soup

December 12, 2009


Pheasant Soup

As I considered the plump little pheasant in my hands, my mind immediately jumped to a memory of casserole topped with a curly wurly crust of fresh dough – the bread risen and baked to a fluffy top, ready for ripping and dunking into the gamey broth below. Then I remembered my habit of lending out dishes, roasting tins and baking trays, and the fact that my casserole dish has been similarly waylaid. I’m thinking of encouraging an amnesty: a box outside the front door where people can just slip the items in anonymously.

Casserole dreams shattered, I poo-pooed the idea of roasting and challenged myself to draw maximum flavour from this famously stupid bird. Generally found rooted to the middle of the country road, oblivious to screeching of tyres, beeping of horns and cursing of motorists – the thing practically tastes of stubbornness. Considering the fact they seem to sit around so much, pheasants are surprisingly lean and therefore easily dried out, plus those stringy, fusty-tasting drumsticks are, more often than not, plain unpleasant.

I think much of the bird is better used as a flavour base and so I jointed him, slinging the legs into a pot with some aromatics (a.k.a the contents of the fridge plus some herbs and  juniper berries), along with the roughly chopped carcass. The breasts were pan-fried until barely cooked, ready to add back to the broth in the final moments of cooking. A few fine shreds of savoy cabbage gave extra nourishing winter heart and parsley, grassy pungency.

The resulting soup powered right through to our chilled, dampened bones with the kind of restorative effect that can only come from simmering some animal bits in a big old pot over a teeny little flame for a moderate amount of time.  A generous hunk of crusty loaf was plunged and plunged again into meaty depths, sucking up robust,  peppery juices; dunk slurp, dunk slurp and wipe the bowl clean. A piping hot end to a fine little bird and a cold winter’s day.

Pheasant Soup

1 pheasant
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 fat spring onion, roughly chopped
1 small carrot, chopped into three
A few juniper berries
1 bouquet garni (thyme, bay and parsley stalks for example)
500ml chicken stock
500ml water
A good slug of brandy (I used Courvoisier)
40g butter
30g flour
1/2 small savoy cabbage, cored and leaves finely shredded
About 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Put your pheasant breast side up on a chopping board and remove the legs by pulling them away from the breast and using a sharp knife to cut them at the joint. Remove each breast by cutting along either side of the central bone and then following the line of the carcass until the meat is free. Chop the carcass into a few pieces as best you can manage.

Rub the breasts with oil, season, and cook skin side down in a skillet on high heat for about 4 minutes, then turn and cook for another 2-3 minutes another until just cooked through. Set aside.

Put the legs and carcass pieces in a large pot and add the onion, spring onion, carrot, juniper berries, bouquet garni, brandy, stock and water, bring to the boil and then simmer gently for about 45 minutes, skimming every now and then if necessary. Remove the legs from the stock and set aside, then strain the soup through a fine sieve. Return to the pan.

Melt the butter in a separate pan then mix in the flour on a low heat. Stir this into the soup and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the shredded cabbage and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the legs, then shred the breast meat and add both back to the soup during the final few moments (you don’t want to cook it any more). Check the seasoning, add the parsley, and serve.

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    Reply Peter December 12, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Helen, I love this aspect of Brit food…embracing wild game. Never thought to make a pheasant soup…move over chickens!

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    Reply shayma December 12, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    courvoisier and pheasant? a dream combi. i also love the addition of the savoy cabbage, one of my fave veggies. x

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    Reply Lizzie December 12, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Brilliant! I don’t often make soup, but this looks lovely.

    (I have your baking trays. They will be returned imminently!)

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    Reply gastrogeek December 12, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    What a gorgeous post – all sounds most restorative. I particularly love those primal descriptions….

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    Reply Ollie December 13, 2009 at 7:42 am

    Oh my God that looks fantastic. Stunning winter grub. Worth bunging some chestnuts in, maybe?

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    Reply alexthepink December 13, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Sounds yummy – I haven’t tried making a pheasant soup but it sounds like a great idea!

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    Reply Greedy Diva December 13, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Lovely – pheasant soup would never have occurred to me, but looks scrumptious!

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    Reply LexEat! December 13, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    I love the first photo – who thought soup could look so good! No doubt it tasted even better!

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    Reply Dan December 14, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Hmm your pheasant (soup) looks most pleasant. Considering it’s supposed to getting very wintery and cold soon, this sounds like the perfect dish.

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    Reply ginandcrumpets December 14, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Pheasant soup sounds like such a sophisticated yet cosy meal. I have yearnings for thick jumpers, fine whiskies and living in a castle after reading about it. You have given me ideas.

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    Reply Niamh December 14, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    This looks lovely, Helen.

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    Reply Martin December 14, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    I’m convinced that the stupider the animal, the better it tastes, with the obvious exception of the piggies, who are allegedly quite smart. The pheasant is one of my favourites, noble, but oh so very dumb. I’ve heard (and this may be utter BS) that the males get randy, and, in their hormone-fuelled mental state believe they can take anything on, including the Human Car, hence why they try and stare down the noisy metal machines.

    Still, makes ’em easier to snag and eat, so I’m not complaining. Yum!

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    Reply Essex Eating December 14, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    Beautifully written up recipe Helen, great read.

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    Reply James December 15, 2009 at 11:43 am

    So that’s what to do with the pheasant stock in my freezer. Love these style soups. Feel good stuff. Bit of rice/ pearl barley in there for me too.

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    Reply Jonathan December 17, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Excellent use of Courvoisier! Top marks for that. Making pheasant into a soup avoids all the problems of dried out meat and a mouth full of lead. Nice.

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    Reply Helen December 18, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Peter – Ha ha, well I certainly wouldn’t give up chicken for pheasant. Grouse, maybe…Actually, no – I couldn’t do it!

    Shayma – yeah I agree, cabbage is so under-used too. Poor thing has a bad rep.

    Lizzie – Ha ha, no worries. I was just having a little joke. Obviously though at some point it would be good to have them back!

    Gastrogeek – Thanks! It was indeed a great restorer. Some proper hearty fare!

    Ollie – Definitely.

    Alexthepink – I really felt is transformed the humble thing. Nowt worse than a dry pheasant.

    GreedyDiva – Thank you.

    LexEat! – Thanks. I wasn’t sure about that photo so I’m relieved to find someone likes it.

    Dan – yes, it is snowing as I type! we don’t want to those poor little pheasants getting cold out there either – much warmer in the pot.

    Jassy – ha ha! Yes, castles. Lovely. I’m just off to design my own family crest now.

    Niamh – Thanks.

    Martin – Hmm, you could be on to something but then again, the pig is the greatest of all animals. The octopus is pretty darn tasty too and they are supposed to be super intelligent. Your theory is crumbling dude, CRUMBLING!

    Essex Eating – Ta very much.

    James – A bit of pearly barley for substance would have been just the ticket.

    Jonathan – I thought you’d like that! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nowt more disappointing than a dried out pheasant.

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    Reply henry December 20, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    made this tonight helen. it was absoutely delicious. ended up with very rich gamey flavour to the base stock. adding the cabbage at the end was good touch so retained crunch to it. also made it with 2 partridge not pheasant. still delicious!

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    Reply Helen December 21, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Hello Henry, your version sounds lovely! We have been talking on Twitter, am I right? You used kale as well? I love that idea. I am so glad that you made the recipe, and, more importantly, that you enjoyed it!

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    Reply Rosemary Rees November 1, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    I passed a farm shop (The Purbeck Larder, Lytchett Matravers, Dorset) at the weekend and bought a raw, frozen pheasant carcass for 50p! Am about to slightly adapt your recipe, although it’s not exactly chilly tonight.

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