If you’re like most chefs, you’re always on the lookout for unique ingredients that help set your menu apart. Why not consider pheasant?
Pheasant is a versatile protein that makes any dish feel a little more elegant. You can use it as a replacement for chicken or other poultry in most recipes; but because it offers a slightly heartier flavor, it can also be prepared with ingredients and flavors that work well with other game meats.
Your guests will enjoy the chance to dine on something a little different, and many will appreciate the nutritional benefits. When compared to chicken, pheasant meat is higher in protein, but lower in calories and saturated fat.
So, if you’re game, here are a few things to look for when sourcing pheasant for your menu:
Attention to genetics and breeding is critical for producing consistently high-quality pheasants (or any bird) for table fare. Certain breeds are known to be better for culinary use, like the white ringneck pheasant, which is regarded as the top meat pheasant in the world. These birds also tend to be healthy and vigorous for raising in natural environments without antibiotics.
Most pheasants are raised to be fast and flighty for sport, so they aren’t ideal for dining. Look for a source that pays close attention to raising standards like diet, sanitation, and humane care during growth and processing. These standards have a significant impact on the quality and flavor of the final product you serve.
As Michael Pollan has said, “You are what you eat eats.” So, like any other animal protein, you need to pay attention to what the pheasants eat. Make sure you source pheasants that are raised on a 100% all-vegetable diet with no antibiotics, growth stimulants, animal by-products, or anything artificial ever.
Choose pheasants that are raised free roaming and never confined in cages. Many producers raising pheasants for meat will use cages to contain the birds, particularly the breeder birds. Pheasants are active and easily spooked, so confining them to cages could result in increased injuries or fatalities among the flock. Cages also present a host other of sanitation issues, which could impact the final product you receive.
Did you know that game birds are not required to be processed under USDA inspection? Look for pheasants that are processed humanely and under voluntary USDA inspection. That’s how we process the Heritage White Pheasants we raise at Joyce Farms. It’s the kind of diligence that makes all the difference when it comes to quality.
When sourcing any poultry or game bird like pheasant, look for birds that air-chilled rather than water chilled. When birds are processed and chilled in water (the more common chilling method), birds are cooled in large communal vats of ice-cold, chlorinated water. The birds absorb some of the water, which adds to the weight of the product. You’re buying pheasant -- so don’t pay for water. That added water can also result in meat that is rubbery or otherwise lacking in quality. When birds are air-chilled, they are not subjected to the water bath, which helps preserve natural flavor and texture. Studies have also found that air-chilled birds contain 80% less bacteria than water-chilled chicken.