Last September on vacation in Italy, I enjoyed fresh pasta with a pheasant sugo at one of my favorite restaurants in Italy, Danêl Ai Cacciatori in Friuli. This was a pasta sauce without tomato, or not really a sauce actually, but pasta dressed with the ‘jus’ of the pheasant and morsels of delicious, tender, and juicy pheasant. Back home I decided to prepare this, using pheasant legs only because the breast fillet is too dry for this. I used the carcass of the pheasant to make the jus, and the breast fillet I used for another dish that I will post about tomorrow. It is very Italian to first have pasta with the sugo as primo piatto, and then the breast as secondo piatto. Together it is a festive meal that is perfect for the holidays.
Pheasant is ideally suited to be prepared sous vide, because it is a wild bird. Wild birds tend to be lean and tough, and so the risk of dry and tough meat is high. But with sous vide you can cook it low and slow, thus ensuring a tender and juicy result.
As an alternative you could also make ravioli stuffed with pheasant, served with the jus. For this you can follow the same recipe, chopping the meat of the legs finely (in a food processor if you like) and mixing that with egg for the filling. You can read here how to make your own ravioli from scratch.
for the stock: 1 carrot, 1 stick celery, 1 onion, all of them roughly chopped
600 grams (1.3 lbs) fresh pasta, preferably homemade from 400 grams Italian 00 flour and 4 eggs
25 grams (1/4 cup) minced celery
25 grams (1/4 cup) minced onion
25 grams (1/4 cup) minced carrot
80 ml (1/3 cup) dry white wine
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the legs off the pheasant. To do this, bend the legs until the joint pops out and cut closely along the body.
Then cut the breast fillets off the carcass by cutting losely along the breastbone.
Keep cutting closely along the bone until the fillet comes off.
Each pheasant will yield 2 legs, 2 breast fillets, and a carcass. Store the carcass in the refrigerator to use for the stock later. It is best to wait with making the stock until the legs have been cooked sous vide, because then you can also use the bones from the legs for the stock, and it is much easier to take the meat off the bones when the legs are cooked.
Season the legs with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and vacuum seal them with fresh thyme.
Cook the legs sous vide for 24 hours at 68C/155F. The timing is not very exact; anywhere between 20 and 28 hours will be fine. Discard the thyme, but reserve the liquid from the bag.
Take the meat off the bones. The meat will be so tender that you can do this with your fingers, no knife needed. Make sure to remove all of the pin bones. Pheasants are very similar to chickens anatomically, except for all those pin bones in the legs.
Put the bones from the leggs in an oven dish together with the carcasses, and refrigerate the meat.
Roast the carcasses and bones in the oven at 190C/375F for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown, turning the carcasses halfway. Roasting the bones will add more flavor to the stock/jus.
Transfer the roasted bones and carcasses to a pot. If you own a pressure cooker, you can make the stock in there at half the time with better flavor. Pour warm water in the oven dish and use a wooden spatula to scrape any browned bits off the dish to include as much flavor as possible in the jus.
Add the water from the oven dish to the pot with bones. Add a chopped onion, a chopped carrot, and a chopped celery stick. Add the reserved liquid from the sous vide bag. Finally, add water such that everything is barely covered.
Cover the pot, bring to a boil, and allow the stock to simmer for 3 hours. With a pressure cooker you can do this in 90 minutes.
After simmering, sift the stock with a colander and then a fine sieve.
Pour the stock into a wide pan and bring to a boil.
Simmer the stock until reduced to about one quarter. Use half of the reduced stock for the sauce with the breast fillets and the other half for the sugo for the pasta.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and stir 25 grams of finely minced onion, 25 grams of finely minced celery, and 25 grams of finely minced carrot over medium heat…
…until golden. Then deglaze the pan with 80 ml dry white wine. Bring the wine to a boil, and simmer until reduced by half. Then add half of the reduced pheasant stock.
Chop the reserved meat from the legs.
Add the chopped meat to the jus in the pan.
Stir to mix the meat with the jus, bring this to almost boiling, and then turn off the heat completely, to prevent the meat from drying out. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Your sugo di fagiano is ready!
Boil the fresh pasta in salted water, drain al dente, and add this to the pan with the sugo.
Stir until the pasta is coated with the sugo.
Serve the pasta with pheasant on preheated plates. Because of the delicate flavor of the pheasant, no parmigiano is served with this. At Ai Cacciatori some mild local cheese was added, but that is entirely optional.
This is great with a Bourgogne (Burgundy), either a buttery oaked white one (from Chardonnay, such as Meursault), or a red (from Pinot Noir). At Ai Cacciatori it was great with the red house wine from Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, but that may be difficult to find outside of Friuli. If you opt for a red wine, make sure it is a light one to avoid overpowering the delicate flavor of the pheasant.
A tasty Mexican recipe: fish poached in salsa verde.