I’ve been poaching a lot of pheasant lately. No, not “poaching” as in shooting them out of season, but cooking the breasts in hot water. I’ve perfected a technique where I add the breasts to a large pot of boiling water, turn off the heat and walk away for 30 to 40 minutes. When I come back, the breasts are perfectly cooked through, leaving me with moist pheasant breast meat to do all sorts of things with. Just this week alone I’ve made shredded pheasant couscous, pheasant chile Colorado and, last night, this Pheasant Cottage Pie.
Pheasant Cottage Pie
6 Russet potatoes
¼ heavy cream or half-and-half
4 Tbsp. butter
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp. olive oil
½ medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 stalks of celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
¼ cup frozen peas
1 pheasant breast, poached and cubed
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 ½ cups of pheasant (or chicken) stock + 2 tablespoons
1 Tbsp. corn starch
Prepare the mashed potatoes by peeling them roughly, leaving a bit of peel on each potato. Cut the potatoes in ½- to ¾-inch chunks and cover them with cold water in a large pot. Add a pinch of kosher salt to the water and bring them to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until they are just soft, about 15 minutes. Drain and add the potatoes back to the pot, set over low heat until they are dry. Add the butter, egg yolk and about half the cream. Mash the potatoes, adding a bit of cream at a time. You want them fairly thick to sit on top of the filling and not shrink during the baking process. Keep warm.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and coat a 9×9-inch casserole dish with butter or non-stick spray.
Place a large cast-iron or other pan over a medium-high burner and heat the olive oil until just shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrots, along with a pinch of salt, and stir. Let this mirepoix sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until the carrots are soft. Add the peas and pheasant breast, along with the seasoning, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and the let the pheasant breast brown a bit before stirring in the Worcestershire and tomato paste. Add the 1 ½ cups of stock and set the heat to a low simmer. Cook uncovered for about 20 minutes.
In a small dish, make a slurry of cornstarch and the additional 2 Tbsp. stock. Stir this into the filling and let everything simmer until the gravy has thickened.
When the filling is thick, carefully pour it into the casserole dish. (Alternately, you could leave it in the cast-iron skillet.) Using a spatula, spread the mashed potatoes over the filling, taking care to pull them up the sides of the casserole dish to seal in the filling. If you want, you could add some shredded parmesan or sharp English cheddar to the top at this point. Transfer the cottage pie to the oven and bake until the top just starts to brown, about 20 minutes.
Remove the cottage pie from the oven and rest for 5 and 10 minutes until the filling and potatoes have cooled slightly and firmed up.