pheasant with marsala, herbs and prosciutto

You can make this dish with chicken, guinea fowl or pheasant – handy, as last weekend was the start of the pheasant season. But I prefer guinea fowl – a domesticated game bird with a flavour and texture somewhere between the moist, mild chicken and the tighter, gamier flesh of the pheasant. In each case, the trick is not to dry out the breast meat, so the cooking times will be different for each bird. We provide guide times for guinea fowl, but even here there will be some variation depending on the size of the bird and the depth of your pan. If you are using chicken, you can afford to add 10 minutes to the cooking time. For pheasant, use the guinea fowl times, but only add the breasts with 10-15 minutes to go, as they dry out very quickly.

When you serve it up, make sure that you pour a little of the sauce over the potatoes on each plate. There is nothing in this world so alluring as the sight of a silky gravy nestled into rock pools formed from a large spoonful of mash.

If marsala wine is hard to come by, a mixture of half cream sherry and half dark rum works wonders. You could also use pancetta or coppa di parma instead of prosciutto.

serves 6

2 pheasants
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil 
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 sprigs rosemary 
10 sage leaves
10 slices prosciutto, torn into pieces
300ml marsala wine 
300ml chicken stock 
100ml double cream (optional)
Salt and black pepper

1 If your butcher hasn’t already done so for you, prepare your pheasant. Remove the legs and separate the drumstick from the thigh. Cut off the wing tips. Cut down either side of the back bone (this runs down the middle of the “flat” side of the bird, opposite the breasts), and remove the backbone to leave what is known as the crown. (The wing tips and backbone can be used to make stock, which you could use instead of stock). Dry the pieces with kitchen paper.

2 Heat the oil and butter in a large pan that will hold all the fowl pieces. Season the leg pieces, put in the pan skin-side down and brown all over. Remove from the pan and set aside. Repeat with the crowns, ensuring the skin on the breasts is well browned.

3 Add the garlic, herbs and prosciutto to the pan and cook for a few minutes, making sure that the garlic doesn’t brown. Add the marsala to the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the volume of liquid by half. Place the bird pieces back into the pan and toss in the juices. Cook over a medium heat for about 20 minutes, turning so the pieces are evenly cooked. Add the stock and cook for another 20 minutes, the pan sauce should be reducing slowly as the bird cooks. When the breasts are firm to the touch, remove the meat from the pan and set aside to rest. Add the cream, then reduce to a thick sauce.

4 To serve, cut the breast meat from the carcass and slice thickly. Arrange on a serving dish with the leg pieces and pour over the sauce.