When I was planning a medieval feast recently, I wanted a roast fowl recipe that was medieval in spirit, but modern in sensibilities - as the main meat course of the whole affair, I couldn't afford for it not to be eaten because it was too alien. I couldn't find anything I liked in the online and hard copy authentic resources available to me, so I had to improvise. This is what I came up with - the ingredients are quintessentially English-medieval, but the cooking technique and philosophy of the dish are basically modern.

I fed 16 people with this recipe, but they were already well fed at that stage - if you're making this as a main course for a normal dinner party, one pheasant between two adults is about the norm I should think.

Choosing good game birds is a subtle art which I am no expert at - I got K9 to come to the market with me and approve the birds. I'll try to get him to node how to choose game and age it further at home (he did some complicated alchemy with the birds in the garage for a few days before cooking them - I didn't get involved!).

Here's what I had:

  • 4 well-aged pheasants
  • 250gr organic dried apricots
  • 1 large loaf brown bread, 2 days old
  • 3 or 4 ladels light chicken stock
  • Salted butter, soft
  • Dried sage and rosemary
  • Cloves, nutmeg, ginger, pepper
  • A good handful of cumin seeds

  • Preheat the oven to 160C.

  • Take the pheasants out of the fridge - meat should be roasted from room temperature.

  • Cut the crusts off the loaf of bread, then cut the bread itself into small cubes and put in a bowl for a few hours to harden.

  • Wash and chop the dried apricots.

  • Combine the bread and apricots in a large bowl (in order to preserve the right proportions, don't bung all the bread in at once - I found that I ended up using only about 2/3 of what I had).

  • Sprinkle with a mixture of freshly ground cloves, ginger, nutmeg and lots of white or black pepper. You can also use a bit of cinammon to complement the apricots, a caradamon seed or two - any spice that you feel will work.

  • Add the herbs - I used the only ones I had, but if you have dried mint and sweet basil, I'm convinced that would work even better. Mix everything well together.

  • Add the stock a ladel at a time until you have a quite sticky thick mixture, and all the bread is wet through.

  • Scoop a dollop of soft butter in your hand and smear it generously around the inside cavity of each bird. Now take small handfulls of the stuffing in one hand and roll them into little balls. Holding the cavity open with the other, drop the balls in one after another, pushing the stuffing down firmly when it reaches the opening. (This technique is useful because pheasants are rather small birds, and not everyone's hands would fit right into the cavity to stuff the bird properly.) I happened to have made a bit too much stuffing, so the birds were stuffed extremely full - this seems to have worked a treat.

  • Lay the pheasants on their backs (i.e. breasts up) in a well buttered roasting pan. Again with your hand, smear lots of butter over the breasts and all other exposed parts of the birds.

  • Pound some cumin seeds with a pestle and mortar, then sprinkle them generously over the buttered pheasants, to form a sort of thin spicy crust. This will make it smell fantastic.

  • Pour a ladle or two of the chicken stock into the bottom of the pan, then cover the whole thing in a loose fitting tent of kitchen foil. The steaming effect this will create, together with all the butter, will help the pheasant, which is notoriously prone to being dry and tough, stay soft and juicy.

  • Roast for approximately 1.5 hours, removing the foil for the last 15 minutes to let the pheasants brown. Rest for about 10 minutes, then serve with the stuffing still inside. Yum!

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