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. yesterday i skinned and gutted a cock&hen that i was given freshly shot i only hung them for 2 days i must admit i was a bit stumped on how to cook the birds as the last time i tried i did not do a very good job so i searched the net and found your recipe sounds nice so im gonna cook the missis gypsy style pot roast tonight, fingers crossed and ill let you know how i get on

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Jonathan

    I’m sorry that I missed your comment. Year old pheasant are fine to eat – the flavour will not be quite as intense. Allow half a pheasant per person unless you are going to pad it out a bit.

    Hello Natasha

    Your recipe sounds delicious. I’d love to hear how it turns out!

  3. One tip if you get your pheasant from a butcher and want to check the likely “toughness”of the bird is to press gently, then more firmly on the breast bone, if it feels flexible and pliable it is likely to be a young bird, if it is an older bird the breastbone will be more unyielding.

    Got a brace of pheasants from our “game butcher” today, hung for a week in a cold outhouse – going to do a sort of post roast to them tonight – I will use apples and I think maybe cider and thyme (in the fridge and garden respectively). I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Good old game season!

  4. Jonathan Thorn

    Have been looking for a good recipe for a while and this seems a good simple one. I got some phaesants last Christmas and have been waiting ot have some friends round to cook them but have never been able to organise it until now. My questions will the phaesants be still ok to eat? They have been in the freezer since Christmas. And also for 4 people should I use the pair of birds as I realise cooking the two together for a ‘virgin phaesant cooker’ may not turn out too well?

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Jo

    I’m not sure about guinea fowl but we have cooked two poussin using this method and they worked really well. The recipe is here with the adapted timings etc

    This would be a perfect dinner party dish probably better than pheasant at this time of year as game lovers are still often suffering from a surfeit of pheasant!

  6. This sounds lovely – I’m planning a small dinner party for my boyfriend’s birthday and am keen to try your recipe, but am struggling to get my hands on a couple of pheasants. Would this recipe work if I substituted the pheasant for guinea fowl?

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Ken

    It’s a shame that you haven’t cooked pheasant before as you’d know that the problem with roast pheasant is that they can be very dry.

    Best of luck with my recipe. It has only let me down once. The pheasant was so tough it must have known The Romans! The other pheasant recipe that we are hooked on is definitely worth a whirl!

  8. Hello Gill,

    I’ve never cooked a pheasant before, but I’m going to give this a bash … I’ll let you know how it turns out. I had a partridge the other day and that was simply roasted no frills, be interesting to see if all the gubbins adds anything to the bird

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Ian

    I don’t know what it is with pheasant they seem to have a death wish. Loads on the roads around here, dead and alive!

    Love to hear how you get on with the recipe!

  10. Ooops!
    Just hit a cock with the car near Beulah(mid Wales).Had to wring its neck as it was seriously injured.Your recipe looks great,just the job,Tell you the result later.(Waste not want not.)

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