Pleasant Peasant Pheasant

Polenta al ragu di fagiano

I don’t know why, but I seem to have some sort of affinity (obsession?) with pheasant.  That was what lead me to use it for a version of white chicken cacciatore, substituting the game fowl for the domestic one.

My latest “brainstorm” was for a simple, slow simmered pheasant ragu served over a soft polenta (polenta al ragú di fagiano). On a recent trip to the Griggstown Quail Farm, I had picked up one of their young, cut-up pheasants to hold in the freezer until I had the opportunity to develop and test a recipe.  After stewing on the idea for a while, I was ready to give it a try.

The results, I’m pleased to say, were quite nice.  A simple, satisfying, not-your-normal comfort food. Served over the polenta and with an accompanying salad, it was just the thing for chilly Sunday night supper.

  • 1/4 pound pancetta, diced
  • two tablespoons good olive oil (could use butter if you wish)
  • 1 medium onion chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 -4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 4 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 3 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
  • 3 or 4 fresh sage leaves, chopped (optional) 
  • 1 pheasant cut in 8 pieces
  • salt
  • pepper
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • water, as needed

In a heavy, ten inch skillet with a tight-fitting lid, cook the pancetta over medium low heat until crisp.  Remove and reserve for another use.  Add the oil or butter to the pan and then toss in the onion, celery and carrots. Cook until soft and slightly browned (15 – 20 minutes).  Add the garlic about halfway through.

Once the vegetables are done, increase the heat to medium and stir in the tomato paste, bay leaves and wine. Be sure to stir up all the fond from the bottom of the pan.  Salt and pepper to taste (and add the red pepper flakes if using) Add the pieces of pheasant skin side down, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer.  After 30 minutes, turn the pieces of pheasant over; replace cover and simmer for another half hour or so.

At the end of an hour of cooking, take the pan off heat and remove the pheasant.  Remove the meat from the bones and cut into bite size pieces.  Return the pheasant pieces to the pan and check the sauce for seasoning. Place back on low heat. Stir in half of the chopped herbs, cover and simmer for another hour or until the meat is tender and falling apart. Add a little more wine or water as needed to make sure the pan doesn’t cook dry but don’t over do it. 

What you want to end up with is a thick stew. Just before serving, stir in the rest of the chopped herbs (or just sprinkle some over each serving for garnish).

Spoon it over a bed of polenta. Pour a glass of a nice Italian red wine and enjoy.

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