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 Just wanted to let you know I did this recipe for christmas day and it was utterly delicious!!!!

    Did a brace and have the remainder to go in your pheasant pie recipe later!!

    Thanks 😉

  2. Katie Burns


    Have been given 2 birds by a client from one of their shoots, not sure what they are (male/female) or how old as they are frozen.
    My question is (sorry if it has been stated but have not read all replies) I notice it says a caserole dish should be used, but will it be the same cooked in a slow cooker?

    Kate Burns

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Katie

      A slow cooker should be fine. You may need a bit more time though so give yourself loads of rope. They happily stay warm for ages.

  3. Grazing Kate

    did the recipe exactly as stated and was totally yummy – thanks for sharing such a great recipe – felt like we had such a treat for dinner tonight!

  4. My, Oh my……..

    Found your recipe and adapted it a little.

    Take 2 good slices of white bread, decrust and place on the bottom of an oiled pie tin or shallow casserole.

    Peel a large cooking apple and leave in water to prevent browning.

    Take 2 pheasant breasts and fry in a little butter and garlic until just coloured/

    Take a slim (about 1″ thick) leek and cut 6- 8, 3″ lengths.

    Cut the apple into thin slices, use half to layer on the bread, add the breasts and surround with the leeks to make a full layer, then another layer of apple, then lay around 6 lengths of streaky bacon on top of the apple.

    Finally, take a large glass of white wine which has been infused with a teaspoon of dried chives and a teaspoon of parsley and pour over.

    Seal tightly with foil and place in oven at 170c.

    Goes well with Fan Potatoes.

    Peel 2 large potatoes and cut lengthways.

    Take a sharp straight edged knife, lay a biro in front of the potato, and cut across it every few mm, the biro stopping you cutting right through.

    Put in a pan of cold water till needed.

    I found they both took around an hour…… when you put the pheasant in, take a shallow baking tray, add 2 tbsp of oil, put in oven to warm, dry the potatoes, roll in the oil to cover, then place flat side down on the tray and place in oven until golden brown and crispy.

    It was great, thanks.

  5. Maxine G

    OK, I know it’s not pheasant season, but I’ve had the beast, which I know is a hen (bought from my usual source – Bury market) in the freezer since November and it was a cold grey morning…
    This is a sort of variation on my usual Breton style with cream and apples and none the worse for that. Who mentioned calories? So it’s about to come out of the oven and it smells great; I’ve used cider and, rather than pouring in brandy, I’m going to flambe with Calvados.
    Thanks for what promises to be a rather good meal. Starter – guacomole; strawberries in orange juice and brandy for afters and some rather nice Brie de Meaux alng the way. Claret? Rioja? Decsions, decisions

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Pam

    Thanks for leaving a comment!

    The number of days that the pheasant is hung increases the gameyness. If you had to cook it for a further hour I reckon that it was an older bird that hadn’t been hung for quite long enough.

    I love this recipe too.

  7. I grew up with pheasant as a regular for dinner but haven’t had it for years, I really loved the gamey taste as a kid. I wanted something to tempt my mother’s appetite so got a pheasant from the local market. Your recipe is so easy and the sauce is fantastic. I had to cook it for an hour longer than your recipe and I substituted rosemary for the thyme (cos that’s what I had in the garden) We had the breast cold with my plum chutney, brilliant. Pheasant isn’t as gamey as I remember though. Thanks for the recipe.

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Emma

    Use your nose. It will smell rank if it’s too old to eat!

  9. Hello

    So what to try this dish my mouth is watering!

    I have been given a pheasent its been kindly undressed wrapped up. it has been in the fridge for a week, (as I am silly and can’t clean and gut things mself) unfortunately not in any sort of marinade, with it been 7 days would it still be ok to make this dish ?

    Or have I left it too long?

    Many thanks


  10. Can I just say this is the most wonderful reciepe for pheasant. I was meaning to leave a post of indebtitude a few months ago after the last triumph ( I’m cooking it at the mo). I put a few extras in including the walnuts, excellent suggestion, for a 7 or 8 hour slow cook. Plus a slug of sherry. More streaky bacon really flavours the whole thing up a notch. Plus lots of carrots and celery when combined with the apples gives off enough water that none be need added (apart from the wine). I make up a gravy with old frozen Sunday roast gravy with the juices. This is by far the best way to cook these birds and we delight in finding them on the roads, because we can eat this treat. Roastpotatoes, and it makes it’s own bread and apple sauce! Thank you, many appreciations!

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