Pheasant curry: from bird to bowl

My family don’t shoot.

A few years ago Dad killed quite a few tadpoles by turning on a water pump that pumped them out of the pond (though Mum transported most of them back to safety in a tea strainer), and he did once tentatively tread on a paving stone he’d put on the head of a rabbit which had been badly mauled by a dog.

If someone’s catching fish, then Dad will chuck them back. If our dog kills a hare then my parents go into mourning and the death of a wren always evokes more emotion than is normal.

Despite this, Dad can polish off a steak like the next person*. Considering the anti-shooting stance at home, there is always an exceptional amount of bacon, sausages, pork pie, chicken, steaks…etc… in the fridge.

As an enthusiastic carnivore myself, I realise that if I want to carry on eating meat, (which I do) then somebody has got to kill it. And although I’m not very good at the shooting part (purely incompetence – no moral stance), I’m more than happy at dealing with the bird afterwards to make sure that every bit of the meat gets eaten and enjoyed in the most delicious way so the bird hasn’t been killed in vain.

So, when I was invited shooting last weekend I jumped at the chance. Well, that’s not strictly true – I was actually doing a Haagan Daaz tasting competition in Leicester Square when the shooting part was going on (post coming soon). But I was there for the party afterwards. And to help sort the pheasants the following morning.

Charlie gutting the pheasant

Rory cutting the wings

Andy and Buck washing the meat

So, lucky old me headed back to London with a stash of ten pheasant breasts to play with.

But when I started looking up recipes, I was saddened that most of them involved pints of cream and big glugs of booze - two things I don’t need any more of at this time of year. And two things that could swamp out the delicious pheasanty flavours.

After a bit of furtling around, I came across Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s recipe for a pheasant curry so I decided to give it a go, interested to see how the strong, gamey flavours worked with all the spices.

Before we start, I should point out that I tweaked Hugh’s recipe a little bit. He suggests roasting the marinated bits of bird for half an hour before adding it to the curry sauce. But pheasant dries out horribly quickly which made me far too scared to stick it in the oven – especially because I was using just the breast which dries out quicker than, say, leg still on the bone.
So I friedthe marinated breast in a hot pan for a couple of minutes to seal the meat and give it some colour, then I put them in the simmering curry sauce so that the meat cooked through.

If you happen to procure some pheasants, then do give this a go. I’m usually very critical of my own cooking, but this really was delicious. It made me wonder why people ever use chicken in curries, and it made me wonder why people ever cook pheasant in cream and booze when this combination was clearly meant to be.

About four whole (jointed) pheasants…though I used ten breasts – I think this part is flexible.

For the marinade
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp thick yoghurt
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground mixed spice
2 tsp ground fenugreek
1 golf ball-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil
2-4 red chillies, finely chopped

For the tomato sauce
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 small nugget fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1-3 small red chillies, finely chopped
5 cloves
1 tsp salt
175ml water

The flavoured ghee to add at the end
125g butter (I did NOT use this much, probably more like 80 - I suppose it depends how much of a curryhouse taste you’re craving!)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp tomato purée
4 tsp honey
170ml double cream
1 tbsp fenugreek
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients for the marinade

Firstly, mix together the marinating ingredients in a big bowl. Put the pheasant meat in it and pop the covered bowl in the fridge overnight (though I kept everything marinating for 36 hours).

The first step of putting together the curry is the tomato sauce. Put all the sauce ingredients into a big pan and heat. Weirdly, Hugh’s recipe didn’t require the garlic to be cooked first, so everything was just bunged in the tomato sauce raw – I followed the instructions and it turned out just fine, so I would advise you do the same!

While the sauce is gently bubbling away, heat up another frying pan with a glug of oil in the bottom, then pup the pheasant breasts in one by one, sealing the meat. Then cut the pheasant breasts into bitesized pieces and and pop them into the tomato sauce.

If you have any leftover marinade in the bowl at the end, then scrape that out in the tomato sauce too.

Let the tomato sauce with the pheasant in it simmer away gently for 20 minutes. In the meantime, make the flavoured ghee by melting the butter on a gentle heat, then adding the cumin, honey, fenugreek, tomato puree, pepper, lime juice and cream.

Just as you’re about to serve the curry, pour in the flavoured ghee, which should turn the curry from a deep red colour to a warm orange colour. Serve with roti and rice. Delicious!

* Disclaimer. I spoke to my mum this morning who informs me that her and dad are in fact now vegetarian, so apologies for the inaccurate steak-eating allegations above.


  1. says

    Ohhhh yum. Another great pheasant recipe. You and I have done well.

    I am not squeamish and would be ok with butchering and gutting all that, but not sure about the shooting as a sport. However, there’s so much byproduct that game shooters practically give the birds away, don’t they? So glad you found a nice way of finishing up x


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