column By: Gordon Hamersley | June, 17
A few years back on a trip to Morocco, I was delighted to see pheasants and grouse still in feather, hanging on hooks in the medinas/markets ready to be sold. Each bird had a tag on its leg with the stamp of the king – proof that they had been harvested legally with permission. Of course, thanks to Teddy Roosevelt and a committed band of conservationists, the United States banned market hunting at the turn of the last century and kept vast expanses of land open to public hunting. Something we should never take for granted.
The markets in Morocco are old-fashioned by American standards, a dazzling array of goods in small stalls packed together in a web of riotous color. The scene is loud and alive with commerce. We picked our way down narrow market paths and chose beautiful fresh vegetables and exotic smelling spices as we wandered.
A wonderful way to serve pheasant in the summer is with fresh beans, garlic and tomatoes. A simple but very aromatic Moroccan spice mixture called ras el hanout added to the pan will fill your kitchen with heady exotic aromas and add zest to both the beans and the bird. The mixture comes with a bit of a cachet as it can contain as many as 100 spices including the infamous Spanish Fly.
You can buy premade ras el hanout in North African markets or specialty stores here in the U. S., but it’s easy to make your own pared down version. Start by toasting the cumin seeds to release their essential oils and then add the rest of the spices later. A light dusting of spice on each pheasant breast will permeate the meat as it cooks. Choose the freshest beans you can find; fresh and local is the best bet. Think purple or yellow wax beans, Italian broad beans or French haricot verts to name a few. The season’s best tomatoes and a healthy shot of garlic round out this assertive combination. The pheasant is browned at the beginning and then added back to the pan on top of the beans for a final cooking, so be careful not to overcook the lean meat.
Whether you go off to hunt in exotic locations with a king’s permission or you happily bust brush near home on lands we all own collectively, cooking game birds in the summer means we’re counting the time until the season starts in days rather than months.
Makes about ¾ cup
¼ cup cumin seeds
1 teaspoon saffron
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup paprika
4 pheasant breast filets
Pinch of kosher salt
Pinch of ground black pepper
4 tablespoons canola oil
½ Vidalia onion, sliced
1½ lbs. green beans, ends snapped off - cut into
½ pound yellow beans
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4-6 cherry tomatoes,
cut in half
Zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon fresh,
½ cup chicken stock
12 mint leaves, torn
In a small skillet, toast the cumin seeds over low heat for 2 minutes. Let cool completely and place in a spice grinder. Add the saffron and process for 1 minute. Place the cumin and saffron in a small bowl and add the allspice, cinnamon, ginger and paprika. Stir to combine and reserve.
Sprinkle each pheasant breast lightly with the spice mix. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Let the meat sit on the kitchen counter for 10 minutes before cooking.
Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a skillet until medium hot. Add the pheasant breasts and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until lightly browned. Flip the breasts over and brown on the other side for 1 minute. Remove them from the pan and place on a plate and keep warm. Note: The birds will still be almost raw at this point.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of canola oil to the pan and heat to medium hot. Add the onion and cook for about 7-9 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onion is tender and begins sto be golden brown. Add the beans to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the chopped garlic, cook for 1 minute and then add the tomatoes, orange zest, ginger and stir to combine.
Place the pheasant breasts back in the pan on top of the beans and add the chicken stock. Cover the pan, lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes or until the pheasant cooks through and the beans are tender.
Spoon the beans and tomatoes onto each of 4 plates. Slice each breast into ¼-inch pieces and place on top of the beans. Decorate with torn mint leaves. (Note: In North Africa, this dish might be served with the fiery hot sauce harrissa – which is available in U.S. specialty stores – on the side.)
Mise en Place:
To prepare for cooking, chefs often utilize the concept of mise en place, which means “to set into place” a recipe’s ingredients prior to starting. You can help Chef Hamersley prepare by suggesting ingredients you’d like him to set into place. Here’s how:
1. Look through your pantry to find a maximum of five “legitimate” ingredients you think might work well in a game bird recipe.
2. Send a list of those ingredients in an email with the Subject: In Place to email@example.com.
3. From time to time, Chef Hamersley will select an entry and create a dish out of some or all of the ingredients (plus add some of his own, of course).