The Cottage Smallholder

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Pot roast pheasant (gypsy style) recipe for Christmas Eve

pheasant village signA Cottage Smallholder Christmas tradition is pot roast pheasant on Christmas Eve. Partly because it’s in season and is a treat but mainly because it’s bunged in the oven for a good hour an a half whilst I get on with another task such as helping Father Christmas with packing the stockings for the household. F.C. usually stops for a sherry early evening to swap recipes, although it’s awkward manoeuvring the sleigh in the back since we fenced the kitchen garden and shortened the runway (Heathrow take note).

Cooking game can be tricky. A lot of recipes assume that you know the sex and the age of the bird. This is hard to discern unless you have been presented with the bird complete with feathers. If you buy it from a supermarket, go for the smaller bird. This should be a hen or a young cock if you are lucky. These can be roasted open in the oven for 30-40 minutes and should be delicious. More often than not you will be cooking a cock over a year old. Open roasting these will have you chewing into the next decade. I cook most game assuming that I have been given a wise old bird. This works well.

This recipe came about in a desperate effort to tempt Danny back from the edge.

I was very proud of my original recipe until we were planning a supper party and Danny said the fatal words,
“I just can’t face pheasant again.”
This was a year when we were given a lot of game. We now know that we had hung the birds for too long. It was far too rich and “gamey” and we had overdosed.

Our new recipe is adapted from two Normandy pheasant recipes, with a smattering of Romany gypsy tips. They are the kings when it comes to slow cooked wildlife, after all.

I was determined to create a dish so delicious that D would not be able to resist, so I worked on this recipe a bit more, tweaking it and cooking the pheasant for a bit longer. The bread at the bottom turns into a heavenly mush that’s almost as good as the bird. The cooking method ensures that the bird is tender and scrumptious.

D is now a convert. Nowadays he opens an eye and suggests a pheasant pot roast for supper before I have jotted down his breakfast order.

Pot roast pheasant (gypsy style) for two


  • 1 hen pheasant (if you only have an old cock it’s worth marinating the bird in olive oil, lemon juice and white wine overnight)
  • 2 slices of white doughy bread to line the base of the casserole (crusts removed)
  • 1 bramley cooking apple or two eating apples and half a lemon
  • 6 slices of streaky bacon
  • 1 large glass of white wine (150ml)
  • 3-4 of sprigs of thyme (9-12 separate twigs)
  • 1 slug of brandy
  • Parsley to garnish


Pre heat oven to 160c (140c fan)
Ideally you have an oval casserole and aluminium foil

  1. Layer the base of the casserole with the slices of bread.
  2. If using a cooking apple: Quarter the apple and remove the core (no need to peel the apple). Put half the apple, quartered again into the cavity of the pheasant. Chop the remaining half and scatter over the bread.
    If using eating apples: Chop one apple and press it into the cavity. Chop the other apple and scatter over the bread base.
  3. Chop three of the streaky bacon slices and scatter over the bread.
  4. If using eating apples: squeeze the lemon juice over the pheasant and rub in. Halve the squeezed lemon and place in the cavity of the bird.
  5. remove the woody bits from the thyme and scatter the leaves and soft stems onto the layer of bread. Place the three remaining slices of bacon over the breast of the bird and carefully place it breast down on the layer of bread.
  6. Pour the glass of wine over the bird.
  7. Put a piece of foil under the casserole lid to make a tight seal. Place in the centre of the preheated oven for 1.5 hours. Check to see how tender the bird is, using a fork. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes if necessary until very tender.
  8. Adjust the oven temperature 180c (160c fan) and turn the bird over, breast up. Return the casserole (without lid) to the oven to brown the bird for ten minutes.
  9. When it’s cooked splash on a glug of cooking brandy and replace the lid.
  10. Allow to stand in a warm place whilst you prepare your vegetables: mini roast potatoes, carrots and peas are ideal.
  11. Remove the pheasant to a warm place and stir your sauce well before serving.

Serve the bread, bacon and apple sauce on each plate with the pheasant, sprinkled with torn parsley leaves. We also serve the apple from inside the bird as an instant apple sauce.

Tips and tricks:

  • we now hang game for two-three days max. If it is clearly a geriatric bird we marinate the bird overnight before cooking. Juice of one lemon, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of white wine. Put the bird and ingredients into a plastic bag. Squeeze out the air and pop into the fridge. No need to turn the bird in the marinade as all flesh marinades with this method.

  Leave a reply


  1. Hi There, we were given a couple of pheasants, one of which I suspect had been hung a little longer than I would have liked and I’m worried that the flavour will be too strong. Is this a good way to cook them to overpower that too ‘gamey’ flavour?

  2. Brendan

    TA for good advice re chewiness… I’ve just picked up (another) roadkill pheasant, a beautiful cock, and wanted tips to reduce this factor. Can’t resist free food, no lead shot either!

  3. Hi there,

    I’ve just found this recipe and I’m going to try it on Christmas Day. First time cooking for the family, first time cooking a pheasant so I’m anxious for any extra tips! The bird is coming from one of those organic veg box delivery lot and they say it’ll have been shot on the 19th Dec (arriving on the 24th) so hopefully it’ll be hung in that time. I was going to soak it in the lemon/olive oil/white white overnight anyway just in case. However, I don’t think I’ll be able to tell the age or the sex of the bird.

  4. I followed this recipe as closely as possible with a pair of skinned, bone-in pheasant breasts. The recipe overall was tasty, but they were still dry. Left them in the oven too long? Maybe because they were previously frozen?

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Bill

      If you use boned, skinned breasts they will be dry. Pheasant has a tendency to be dry even with skin and bones in. I would have marinaded them in oil and lemon juice for 12 hours and then baked them in foil parcels with the recipe ingredients and the marinade for about 40 mins.

  5. Hi there. I just wanted to thank you for this recipe – it has become a staple of my repertoire and I have also passed it to my mother! She did it with guinea-fowl, which worked really well. I did it again tonight and added jerusalem artichokes in. They cooked really well and imparted a lovely flavour to the sauce. Also I used sherry instead of wine, which added a tang (that I suppose you get with the brandy, which I have always left out, not being much of a fan). Anyway, thanks so much for putting this recipe out there!

  6. Before finding your recipe, I skined and gutted a cock for Christmas Eve. The cavity has been thoroughly washed out! I covered the breast and thighs with smoked bacon and removed as much as possible of the yellow fat which I had heard is bitter. Will the recipe work for this bird? I don’t know for sure how old it is but it was shot a week before I dealt with it and it’s in the freezer now. The Shoot where is was shot renew their stock every year so it’s fingers crossed!

  7. Imtiaz Hasan

    Just found your recipe on the off chance. looks interesting. Just put the pheasant in the oven. Will let you know how we get on

  8. Wowzers! Having never cooked pheasant I stumbled on your site and read your recipe with great interest. I cooked this meal yesterday for my very fussy family and we all thought we had died and gone to heaven! Un-flipping-believable! Sooooo tasty and simple. Your right the bread mush at the bottom is divine! Thank you for you excellent masterpiece, will be cooking form here again!

  9. Hey,

    I cooked this tonight and it was absolutely awesome!

    My friend shot some pheasnt a few days ago and brought them over fully preped. One hen and one cock.

    I modified the recipe a little:

    Swapped the thyme for rosemary
    Used dry cider instead of White Wine (worked well with the fresh apples)
    Threw in a few crushed cloves of garlic (which melted to nothing in the sauce)
    Lots of freshly milled pepper
    Used a masher to smooth the sauce.

    Otherwise followed the recipe to the letter and it was ace.

    Simple mashed potato on the side and washed down with a nice Rioja. Excellent.

    I have some photos which I may post up if I ever get around it!

    Many thanks
    Ash (and satisfied friends)

  10. Absolutely love this recipe. I did it a fair while ago in the slow cooker and it was beautiful and doing it again tonight (AGA not slow cooker!) and just wanted to say thank you. Have always enjoyed it!

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