Tuscans have been serving faggiano, pheasant, for centuries as the most important course for a midwinter Christmas day lunch, as opposed to the more traditional late dinner feast with many courses on the 24th of December. Or they might serve an alternative cappone, or even turkey, often with pancetta or prosciutto, some sage leaves or bay, some stock or red wine in the cooking.
We are still in the depths of cold here in New Zealand, and it is hunting season. A winemaker friend of mine turned up at the back door the other day with two plump and beautiful pheasants strung together. Once hung plucked and cleaned I cooked two breasts off one of the pheasants seasoning them well then sautéing them in a pan, and finishing in the oven with a dash of red wine
The other pheasant I stuffed with chicken, enriched with mortadella and Tuscan tartufo nero, black truffle, and some fresh herbs such as alloro e salvia, bay and sage.
And with the rest of the chicken I will make sausages to throw into the roasting dish 20 minutes before my volatile, flier, comes out of the oven. So here is my recipe to you for my Tuscan pheasant dinner this year, enjoy!
1 faggiano, one pheasant, frollato, hung, plucked and gutted, fegatini, put livers aside
1 chicken, same as above, put livers aside
1 cipolla, an onion
2 spicchi di aglio, 2 cloves of garlic
2 foglie di alloro, bay leaves
8 foglie di salvia, sage leaves
2 uova, 2 whole eggs
sale pepe qb, salt, pepper to taste
pane raffermo, day-old bread
200ml latte freddo, cold milk
100g di lardo di Collonata, rough diced
2 tartufi neri, 2 black truffles
olio extra vergine di oliva
80g di lardo di Collonata, cut into strips
Check the pheasant for small feathers, if any are found they should be burnt off. Wash the bird under cold running water inside and out and pat dry with a clean cloth.
Mince the whole chicken with the livers of both birds, add a finely chopped onion with 2 cloves of garlic, sliced finely, adding in the chopped sage leaves and bay leaves. Mix in the two eggs and half a cup of breadcrumbs soaked in the milk, and add the mortadella and diced lardo di Colonnata, and two beautiful winter tartufi neri, Tuscan black truffles. Don’t even slice them in half: the treat is in which slice of the stuffing they turn up in, and they really do flavour the whole bird from the inside out.
Pheasants are so stunning to look at when they are alive, with their plumage and cobalt blue feathers as well as other colours, that I find it even more important to make sure they taste as good as their visual beauty deserves when we serve them as a beautiful feast.
To prepare the bird:
Firstly, season the washed and dried faggiano with salt and pepper inside and out then prepare to cover the breast.
Cover the breast of the faggiano in thick strips of lardo di Collonata, overlapping each strip of lardo to cover the breast completely. Tuck the edges of the lardo between the thigh and the breast of the bird and sprinkle the whole top area with pepper.
Secondly, take the ripieno, the stuffing, and stuff the faggiano by hand until the inner cavity of the bird is full. With the remainder of the ripieno, make a type of sausage by piping the stuffing mixture onto tinfoil sheets then rolling them into tubes like bonbons, then baking in the oven along with the faggiano; but add these to the roasting pan only 30 minutes before the end of cooking the faggiano.
To cook the faggiano :
Heat your oven to 200 deg C and brush the whole bird with olive oil.
Put the whole faggiano stuffed with the chicken, livers, mortadella, and beautiful black truffles into the pre-heated oven.
After 20 minutes in the oven, baste the faggiano with the olive oil and cooking juices di tanto in tanto, every so often, to keep the bird moist and flavoursome. Depending on the size of the bird and the consistency of the stuffing, after around 90 minutes the faggiano should be ready to take out of the oven. Leave it to rest in a warm place above the oven, loosely covered in tinfoil, for around 20–30 minutes. Then carve your beautiful bird, serve with your favourite contorni, side dishes and the extra stuffing and have a very merry Christmas!
Serve with your favourite side dishes.
And a beautiful wine to accompany your beautiful bird: The Pheasant Plucker Pinot Noir, Martinborough, whichever year you can get your hand on as it is rather difficult to find.