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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. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Gill

    I always wash out the cavity before cooking any game.

  2. Thansk i see where i have gone wrong!
    Not daunted will try again

  3. Thanks for the info. I can see where i went wrong. THe dish sides were about 4cms so the birds were sitting proud of the sides. I remember now that when i tatsed some of the apple from the inside it had a very bitter flavour so perhaps there was something from inside the carcass which tainted the meat.
    Not daunted i will try again.

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Natasha

    Slow cooing is really the answer! Thanks so much for sharing your method, much appreciated.

    I have never cooked pheasant overnight. Now I think that I’ll give it a go in the slow cooker.

  5. I always add some liquid to the pan if I pot roast pheasant. If it is an older bird then I woudl almost immerse it in liquid (such as good stock or wine.)

    I have made a great dish with diced onion, carrot and celery, sweated off before being added to the pheasant You really should hot roast it for 10 minutes first) with bramley apple, white wine, thyme and bay, cooked on low overnight it was absolutely beautiful, rustic delight. Even though it was a dodgy old bird in the beak and claw, the meat came out flaky, sweet and tender.

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Gill

    All feedback is useful!

    If you buy pheasant (from a farmer’s market or anywhere you are taking a bit of a chance as it’s hard to see how old the birds are, know how long that they have been hung for etc). It’s best to marinade these birds in lemon juice and olive oil for a day before cooking to tenderise them, just in case.

    We’re lucky we are given a lot of game and we hang, pluck and draw them ourselves. We can tell how old the birds are (years and days since being shot) and work around this. The cocks will be tougher than the hens but they do have more flavour.

    Cooking apples are essential for the recipe unless you add lemon juice to your eating apples or have marinated the birds in lemon juice and olive oil. The acidity tenderises the flesh.

    I doesn’t matter about the brandy.

    You really need a casserole dish with high sides. The sides hold the heat and enclose the bird. Foil over a casserole dish would work, on a shallow dish you could have problems as the heat isn™t as even. Aim for enclosed, even slow cooking.

    At 1.5 hours you need to test whether they are tender. Even if this means tasting some thigh meat. At low cooking temperatures the meat should become more tender the longer that it is cooked (as long as it is in an enclosed environment with loads of moisture it should not dry out). Tender game is the same consistency as tender chicken. No one wants chewy pheasant!

    I’d never cook a cock and a hen together unless I had hung them myself. The cock will take longer to cook then the hen. Ours is a recipe for one bird. Putting two birds in means you have to adjust the cooking time. 1 kilo of beef cooks more quickly than 3 kilos of beef. You probably needed another hour or so, testing every 20 minutes. The dish will happily keep warm for an hour or so, so it’s worth starting it a bit earlier than you think to give it the best possible chance. If you haven’t cooked game before it can seem overwhelming.

    The bitter taste – we have never come across this so I can’t answer your question. Perhaps someone out there has the answer.

    I do hope that this helps.

    So pleased that you are enjoying the site.

  7. Hope you don’t mind some slightly negative feedback?
    My fist time cooking pheasant, bought this afternoon from our farmers market. We had a hen and a cock – i think. I didn’t have quite the right ingredients – only brown bread, eating apples and no brandy:(.
    I had to cook them in an open dish – but i covered them with foil and then 2 layers of foil which went round the dish – in the hope of creating a sealed casserole dish. I cooked them at 140 in a fan oven and tested them at 1.5 hours. The juices ran clear – so as a novice i assumed ‘cooked’ i put them back in the oven to brown for about 15 mins. They looked and smelt gorgeous.

    Now the ‘but’. I had the small hen bird, it was quite tender but still chewy. My husband had the larger bird which was even chewier. His meat had in places a very bitter/sour aftertaste. We swapped halfway though as mine didn’t have the same flavour.

    My question as a novice. Should they have been cooked for longer to make them less chewy? with normal birds the longer you cook the dryer and tougher. Secondly what was the bitterness, it was very unpleasant?

    The sauce as you say was superb. No faults at all with the recipe, very easy.

    what did i do wrong?

    BTW really love the website. after my forst browse it is now on ‘my favorites’


  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Catrin

    I’d love to hear how this recipe turned out for you! Well done preparing the birds yourself. The first time is always the worst time.

    Next time why not try plucking the birds? Easy instructions for plucking game are here

  9. Came accross your recipe and am going to try it tomorrow night but with the chestnuts as well as I still have some in the freezer!

    We were given 2 cock and 1 hen pheasants in full plumage a week ago and only today have skinned and drawn them (me wearing rubber gloves I must admit!)as this seemed a lot easier than plucking them all.

    Found instructions for this on riverside cottage site and the whole process took just under a half hour for all three (with a plastic bag handy to catch debris)and hardly any feathers flying around either!! Hardest thing was getting the tendons out of the legs and finding the shot (most of which I missed I think).

    Shall invite neighbours to share our bounty and will report their comments as to how the recipe goes. Fingers crossed.

    We shall probably do a ‘glug’ and a ‘slug’ during the evening as well. A bit of brandy allways helps in any cooking and in the ‘hwyl’ as the welsh say.

  10. Fiona Nevile

    Danny says they are similar. A slug goes into the dish a glug straight down the throat!

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