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. kimberli

    Thank you for the recipe for this delicious meal. I made the little roasted potatoes on the side and threw in some chunks of carrots with the apples. We live just across from the Union Square farmers market in NYC. A farmer there sells all kinds of game he brings down from upstate. I’ve looked and passed by his booth for years and, as a New Years resolution to try new things, brought home a pheasant! This recipe is so wonderful, so easy, so amazingly full of flavor… thank you again, Kim
    … Oh, and I really loved that appley bread gravy

  2. I made this for supper tonight having been given a brace of pheasant by a neighbour. Having never cooked game in any shape or form before I was a bit anxious, but I am pleased to report that it was a great success.We didn’t have any white wine in, so I used red, and I missed the brandy out as I didn’t want it to be too rich for the kids. My 6 and 4 year old sons both cleared their plates though, so I needn’t have worried!
    Thanks for the great website – I’m sure I’ll be back looking for more ideas in the future.

  3. Kidtechnical

    I used this recipe as the basis for my Christmas dinner using my slow cooker.

    I had a young hen, no older than 6 months and hung for 1 week. It came pre stuffed with haggis and wrapped in streaky, so I omitted the apple and skipped the brandy at the end. I was a bit worried about the bread, but the result was a lovely bread sauce.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe, without it I’d have been clueless about cooking my pheasant for Christmas dinner.

  4. Hi,

    Just to say we absolutely loved this recipe! I was struck by how little ingredients are used and the amount of flavour that is created. Thank you! Will definitely do this again. We ended up using three pheasants and bulked it up a bit and it worked just fine.


  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Suman

    Your butcher will only sell hung meat. So no need for that.

    The white wine ingredient is not set on stone!

    The alternatives are cider or red wine. With cider being my top choice – due to the apples (a good organic cider too). Beer I suspect is a no no but I’ve never tried it so it could be spectacular.

    I’d love to hear how you get on, please 🙂

  6. Soz, I meant my stomach and head do not agree with white wine 🙂

  7. Hi there,
    Just found your recipe and am keen to try it, but I have a couple of questions:
    I’ve got a v small phesant from the butchers which apparently just arrived. Should I hang it and how do I do that (I’ve never hung any game before ! Indian cuisine is my norm !)?
    I don’t agree with white wine. May I use either red wine or cider (or even guinness) ?
    Great website… Thanks, Suman

  8. What a truly amazing site. Stumbled into it via Google whilst researching for my new book. Now permanently bookmarked. Mebbe I should quit while I’m behind…

    Hugh fearnly who????

  9. Hi, i was looking for a pheasant risotto recipe and stumbled to your site, having been shooting and eating game birds for forty years new recipes are hard to find, but this is new to me and looks brilliant well done. The reason for a bird being bitter is if the gall bladder has been ruptured, so it is always worth making sure the cavity is well cleaned, and wiped out with a little vinegar or as you say lemon juice, then season inside with salt.

  10. never had pheasant before and after trying this recipe i have to say its now one of my favorite dishes. looking forward to having again in the future

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