Cold weather brings to mind rich and hearty meals for me. Besides the usual beef, it’s the season when I think of serving game such as elk, buffalo, lamb, duck, goose and pheasant.
Pheasant has a rich flavor that falls somewhere between duck and chicken, though not as fatty as duck meat. They’re roughly the size of a Cornish game hen.
I’ve been playing around with different ideas for how to cook pheasant to add a winter flavor to it and I hit upon the idea of using pomegranate as well as persimmons, which are both in season right now.
When using persimmons, you need to be aware that there are two main types that are suited for different purposes.
Astringent varieties must ripen fully and be completely soft in order to eat raw. Unripe, their flesh causes a sensation in your mouth not unlike that of eating completely green bananas. These varieties are best used for baking if they’re firm to the touch, with lots of sugar added. When ripe, these varieties are almost gelatinous in texture, not unlike a very very ripe peach.
The other persimmon type are comprised of Asian varieties such as Fuyu that are shaped more like flat tomatoes. These non-astringent varieties can be eaten when their flesh is still firm. When you peel them and eat them raw, they have a wonderful sweet flavor and crunchy texture like that of a very firm nectarine.
For this dish, I used the Fuyu variety because I wanted the fruit to still be a little crunchy after cooking it in the sauce.
To add flavor to the pheasant, I marinated it with a combination of pomegranate juice, Port-style pinot noir and herbs. Then I stuffed the pheasant with wild rice and roasted it and used the marinated as the base for the sauce, with persimmons added for sweetness.
The roasted pheasant turned out delicious, and the wild rice that I stuffed into its body cavity was truly delectable. This is one of those dishes that’s a little time consuming to make, but it’s delicious enough to warrant the effort for an occasional treat.
A good side dish to serve with this is broccolini that has been sautéed with chopped bacon and sliced garlic.
Peasant with Pomegranate and Persimmon Sauce
⅔ cup wild rice
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
1 small yellow onion
½ cup golden raisins
2 chicken or turkey sausage links
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup Willamette Valley Vineyards Quinta Reserva Port-Style Pinot Noir or other Port-style wine
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 springs of fresh rosemary
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Kosher salt to taste
1 pheasant, about 2½ pounds
4 Fuyu persimmons, peeled and sliced into sections
½ cup pomegranate seeds (optional)
Prepare stuffing by rinsing rice in a fine sieve. Empty rice into a saucepan and add 2 cups of water and ¼ teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer for about 50 minutes until rice is tender. Drain rice in a sieve.
While rice is cooking, rinse and pat dry the pheasant and place in a sealable plastic bag. In a bowl, mix together port, chicken broth, pomegranate juice, salt and pepper and thyme and then pour over pheasant in the bag, seal and refrigerate.
Finely chop onion and shallot. Remove and discard sausage casings and cook sausages in a skillet in oil over medium heat, stirring and breaking up the sausages. Add onion and raisins, stirring until onions begin to soften. Stir in rice, season with salt and pepper and let cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the pheasant from the plastic bag and keep all of the marinade. Using fingers or a paring knife pry some skin loose from beneath each breast on the pheasant and shove a spring of rosemary into the space. Rub butter all over the pheasant and stuff the cavity with the wild rice mixture.
Place the pheasant on a rack in a roasting pan and roast in the oven for 1 hour or until thermometer placed into the thickest part of a thigh reads 160 degrees. Remove from oven and let pheasant rest, tented with foil on a carving block.
Place the roasting pan on top of the stove and remove the rack. Over medium heat, add the reserved marinade liquid to the roasting pan and scrape until all the drippings are dissolved. Add the persimmon slices and cook, stirring occasionally until liquid is reduced by about half. Reduce heat to lowest setting. Dissolve arrow root powder in water in small bowl by whisking and add to the pan and stir until the pan juices begin to thicken. Turn off heat and plate the pheasant on a platter, arrange persimmons around the bird and spoon a little sauce over the bird, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and serve with remainder of sauce in a bowl for diners to add to pheasant after carving.
Victor Panichkul is food, wine and beer columnist for the Statesman Journal. Panichkul is also author of TheTasteofOregon.com, a food blog that was named one of the top five regional cuisine blogs in 2010 by Saveur magazine.