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Friday, December 17, 2010
South Dakota pheasant

By Georgia Pellegrini

For more food-related blogs from Georgia Pellegrini, check out her website

North America's largest population of the Chinese Ring-necked Pheasant is in South Dakota. It is their state symbol. It makes sense that South Dakota chose the pheasant -- they light up the sky with color on any given fall morning in the tan cornfields.

I recently hunted pheasant at Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge in Pierre, S.D. This beautiful place is the first sporting venue to ever receive a Beretta Trident rating. It is also one of only four in the United States that has been inducted into the Beretta Trident program, a kind of Michelin guide for hunting, which rates professional hunting ranches around the world and bestows upon them one to three tridents. It is an indicator of the experience a hunter might have if she chooses to visit this place.

It was an impressive experience and if you love pheasant -- its taste, its beauty and its mystery -- this is a great place to visit. And they have an ice bar at the lodge to keep the scotch at the right temperature.

Need I say more?

I have been cooking a lot of birds this fall in preparation for my next book, "Girl Hunter," and this recipe graced my Thanksgiving table. It is creamy and rich and sweet, and includes all of the things that go well with pheasant, namely apples and cream.

Pheasant is hard to pluck and the skin is fragile, so it is unlikely that you will have a bird with protective skin. You can remedy this by covering the skin in bacon or another fat, like pancetta. This will serve at the "skin" and help prevent the bird from drying out.

Another way to ensure good flavor is to age the bird for up to seven days. Traditionally in Europe, they would age the birds until their skin turned green. Today they don't like their food quite so "high," but aging is still important to the tenderness of the bird.

I recommend hanging the bird by the neck for four to seven days with the feathers and insides still intact. When you finally go to pluck, you will find the insides are much more mild and the meat much more tender than if you had eaten it on the first day.

Give this a try sometime! You will never go back to chicken.

Pheasant with Roasted Apples

1 whole pheasant, skin off or on
3-6 pieces bacon or pork fat, cut into 1/8 inch thick strips
2 tablespoons butter
2 large apples, cored and sliced into inch wedges
1 tablespoon Calvados
7 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Season the pheasant with salt and pepper. Truss the pheasant.

2. Brown the pheasant in 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy bottomed oven proof pan on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

3. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan and fry the apples quickly. Place them in the bottom of the casserole. Add lard to the pheasant across the breast, secure with toothpicks. Place the pheasant on top of the apples.

4. Cover the pan in tin foil or with a lid and put it in a preheated oven and immediately lower the temperature to 425 degrees F for 30 minutes.

5. Five minutes before serving, pour 7 tablespoons of heavy cream and 1 tablespoon Calvados over the pheasant. Untruss it, carve into joints and serve very hot with the apples.

Serves 4

Editor's note: Georgia's passion for good food began at an early age, on a boulder by the side of a creek as she caught her trout for breakfast. After Wellesley and Harvard -- and a brief stint on Wall Street -- she decided to leave the cubicle world behind and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City.

Upon graduating at the top of her class, she worked in two of America's best restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as well as in one of the premier destination restaurants in Provence, France, La Chassagnette. It was there that she decided it was time to really get at the heart of where our food comes from and head to the source -- Mother Nature. She bought a shotgun and set her sites on the cutting edge of culinary creativity intent on pushing the boundaries of American gastronomy, from field to stream to table.

Her new book, "Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition" is available wherever books are sold. She currently roams the world, hunting, tasting good food and meeting the good people who make it. You can read more about her work at