Roast pheasant

Roast pheasant

Leiths How to Cook
Peter Cassidy

This is pheasant roasted and served the traditional way, with fried crumbs, game chips and watercress.


Quantity Ingredient
2 oven-ready pheasants
1 apple
4 teaspoons butter, softened
4 rashers streaky bacon, for barding
1 tablespoon port
1 teaspoon redcurrant jelly
2 teaspoons plain flour
bunch watercress
freshly ground black pepper

To serve

Quantity Ingredient
fried crumbs, (see note)
Game chips
Glazed baby vegetables


  1. Heat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Wipe over the pheasants and remove any remaining feathers. Season inside the cavities, halve the apple and insert half an apple in each cavity, which helps keep the flesh moist.
  3. Tie the legs loosely together. Rub 1 teaspoon of butter over each bird and season well with salt and pepper. Lay 2 rashers of streaky bacon over the breasts of each bird, to help keep the meat moist. Tie the bacon on if the birds do not sit straight.
  4. Place the pheasants side by side in a roasting tin and pour in water to a depth of about 5 mm. Roast in the oven for about 40–50 minutes, basting the pheasants frequently and removing the bacon after about 20 minutes to allow the breasts to brown. Game birds can be served pink, so the juices will be pink when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a skewer.
  5. When the pheasants are cooked, lift them out of the roasting tin onto a warmed serving dish and set aside in a warm place while you make the gravy.
  6. Put the roasting tin on the hob. Taste the roasting juices and, if necessary, reduce over a medium heat to concentrate the flavour. Add the port and redcurrant jelly with any resting juices from the pheasants and bring to a simmer. Thicken the gravy if necessary with a little beurre manié made with the remaining 2 teaspoons of butter and the flour. The gravy should be lightly syrupy but not too thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  7. Arrange the watercress between the pheasants, which are now ready to be carved. Serve the gravy and accompaniments separately.


  • To make the fried crumbs, melt 50 g butter in a frying pan over a low heat. Add 5–6 tablespoons dry white breadcrumbs and fry them very slowly until they are evenly golden in colour, crisp and have absorbed all the butter. Quickly remove from the pan, as they will continue to colour. Serve warm.

    If preferred you can use fresh white breadcrumbs, but you will need more butter, as fresh crumbs are much more absorbent than dry ones. They also require even more care when frying as they need to become crisp before they take on too much colour.

A note on barding game birds...

  • Rashers of bacon or pancetta are often laid over the breast of game birds before they are cooked to bard them and help to keep the breast meat moist. The rashers can be removed towards the end of roasting to allow the breasts to brown. On small birds the rashers are usually tied in place with kitchen string.
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