Pot-roast pheasant with pancetta, apples and a bread gravy

Potroast pheasant title © J Horak-Druiff 2012


Who can tell me what the following sentence’s claim to fame might be?  “The seething sea ceaseth and thus the seething sea sufficeth us.”  Points if you said that it provides a an example of sibilance – and bonus points if you pointed out that it is onomatopoeic.  But its true claim to fame lies in the fact that it is said to be the most difficult tongue-twister  to articulate in the English language.

Tongue twisters are made-up sentences or phrases that are put together for the sole purpose of twisting our tongues and making us smile.  Many tongue-twisters use a combination of alliteration and  ryhme; and they usually have two or more sequences of  sounds that require quick repositioning the tongue between syllables, which is what makes them difficult to say. One of the first tongue twisters I learnt as a kid was a classic:

She sells sea-shells on the sea-shore.
The shells she sells are sea-shells, I’m sure.
For if she sells sea-shells on the sea-shore
Then I’m sure she sells sea-shore shells.

They are also not confined to English – German speakers, try this one for size: “Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische. Frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritz.” Or how about this wonderful Italian tongue twister: “Trentatré trentini entrarono a Trento, tutti e trentatré trotterellando” – hours of fun even if you don’t speak a word of Italian!



Although I have not spent much time practising tongue twisters in recent years (!), a couple of weeks ago, I found myself repeating one of my long-forgotten favourites over and over all afternoon:  “I’m not the pheasant plucker, I’m the pheasant plucker’s son, and I’m only plucking pheasants till the pheasant plucker comes“.  The reason for the the resurgence of the tongue twisters lay in the three pheasants, recently defrosted, that were lying in front of me on the kitchen counter a couple of weekends ago.  A friend had given them to me ages ago as she had no idea how to cook them and so we struck a deal:  I got the pheasants, and she got an invitation to lunch when I cooked them.  Although they were plucked and cleaned, there were quite a few stray feathers still attached, hence the interest in the pheasant-plucking ryhme. Giving your birds a thorough once-over before you cook them also means you have a chance of removing some stray shot – I found that wherever some feathers seemed to be driven in under the skin, you could usually find a small hole and a piece of birdshot – best to get as much of this out as possible before feeding your guests!



But there was still the question of how to cook them.  As I knew nothing about the birds – whether they were hens or cocks; how long they had been frozen; or whether they were old and young birds – I decided that step 1 was probably to marinade them overnight.  And then I turned to the source I always turn to when I need to cook an English country dish:  the wonderful Cottage Smallholder. Although there are a number of game bird recipes on the site, all of which look delicious, the one that caught my eye was the one with the pancetta, and with the gravy that literally makes itself. Preparing this was dead simple – you stuff, season and wrap the birds, line the casserole – and then it practically cooks itself while you attend to other things like the mashed potatoes and the roasted butternut squash and beetroot.  And the verdict?  A resounding success!  Cooking the bird breast down for most of the cooking time seems to keep the meat particularly moist, but turning them over at the end also provides crispy pancetta – so the best of both worlds. The lemon and wine in the sauce provide a welcome balance to the gamey flavour of the meat which might otherwise be overpowering.  But the true miracle for me was the gravy.  During the cooking time the bread practically dissolves in the liquid and soaks up all the fatty goodness of the pancetta, resulting an a gravy that needs no thickening after the birds are cooked – a revelation, and absolutely delicious.  If you can get your hands on some pheasants, this would also make a fantastic alternative Christmas meal.



4.5 from 2 reviews
Pot-roast pheasant with pancetta, apples and a bread gravy
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
If you've never cooked pheasant before, this is a simple recipe that minimises the chances of the birds drying out. And even better - the bread gravy literally makes itself!
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: British
Serves: 5-6
  • 3 pheasants (if, like me, you have no idea of the age of the birds, marinate them overnight)
  • juice of 3 lemons
  • 6 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp white wine
  • 2 slices of soft, doughy white bread, crusts removed
  • 4 large apples (I used Granny Smith)
  • 2 small lemons
  • 18 rashers of pancetta (or streaky bacon)
  • 500ml white wine
  • 3-4 of sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 25ml brandy
  1. To marinade, place one third of the ingredients in to each of 3 separate resealable plastic bags, together with one of the birds, Squeeze out all the air, seal, and leave in the fridge overnight.
  2. The next day, pre heat oven to 160c. Cover the base of a large, lidded oven-proof casserole dish with the slices of bread (I used a 5 litre Corningware casserole).
  3. Chop the apples (no need to peel). Press half the chopped apples into the body cavities of the bird, and scatter the rest of the chopped apples over the bread layer.
  4. Chop half the pancetta and scatter over the bread layer. Remove the woody bits from the thyme and scatter the leaves and soft stems onto the layer of bread.
  5. Cut each lemon in half, squeeze the lemon juice over the pheasants, and rub it in. Halve the squeezed lemons and place one half in the cavity of each bird.
  6. Divide the rest of the pancetta equally between the birds and lay the slices over the breast of each bird so that they overlap. Carefully place each bird breast-down on the layer of bread in the casserole. Carefully pour the glass of wine over the birds.
  7. Close the casserole lid tightly Place in the centre of the preheated oven for 1.5 hours. Use a fork to check if the bird is cooked and tender, and continue roasting if necessary.
  8. Once the birds are tender, remove the casserole dish from the oven and carefully turn each bird over so that the pancetta-covered breast faces up. Increase the oven temperature to 180C and return the casserole (without lid) to the oven to brown the bird for ten minutes. Once the cooking is done, stir in the brandy, replace lid and allow to stand in a warm place while you finalise your vegetable accompaniments.
  9. Once you are ready to serve, remove the birds from the casserole to a chopping board and stir the sauce well, scraping up any bits stuck to the casserole. Cut each bird approximately in half and serve each guest half a bird on mashed potato with vegetables and lots of bacon & apple gravy.

And in other news…

London Feb 2013 workshop badge

I will be teaching at an amazing 2 day Supperclub | Food Styling and Photography Workshop in London, together with the talented Meeta and  Sumayya, on 15 & 16 February 2013.  The workshop will include a hands-on food styling/photography workshop with Meeta, a session on overcoming the challenges of restaurant and low-light photography by ME(!), as well as a culinary tour led by Sumayya where participants will learn different cooking techniques used in the Indian/Pakistani kitchen, create some mouth-watering dishes, and indulge in an array tantalizing South-Asian street food.  Full details are available on Meeta’s blog – so do pop along and reserve your place now!
And if that does not work for you, there is always …
The next Plate to Page workshop is scheduled for 10-13 May 2013 near Dublin, Ireland and pre-registrations are open now!  And if you are a keen writer or photographer, you should check out our current  creative writing and photography challenge. Up for grabs is a Plate to Page goodie bag identical to the one handed out at the Somerset Plate to Page workshop, worth over £150.  Hurry over and see how to enter!

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  1. says

    Do I get points for knowing what sibilance and onomatopoeic mean? Or rather…get them deducted because I have NO idea? Uh oh.

    When I saw the tweet and noticed 3 birds I was just delighted to see it was not a Turducken; this dish is elegant and mouth watering and if it were possible I would be happy to eat it right now for breakfast.

    • Jeanne says

      Don’t worry – no negative points will be awarded 😉 Sibilance is alliteration, but where all the alliterative sounds are s and sh (She sells seashells by the seashore, for example). Onomatopoeia means a word that immitates the sound of what it is describing – like click, whisper, quack and plop.

  2. ceri says

    Meeting son’s future mother in law this weekend and have 4 pheasants in the freezer so…..
    Can I check — did you discard the marinade or use it in the dish?

    • Jeanne says

      Hi Ceri – I discarded the marinade. Let me know how the pheasants turn out – I can’t see how ma-in-law can be anything less than impressed :)

  3. says

    Absolutely delicious! I love that you had to check them over for birdshot. That’s hilarious. :-) Love your new site!!! You’ve done a fantastic job. :-) xo