If you’re from the Midwest, no doubt you’ve enjoyed some pheasant cooked in mushroom soup, or maybe even a plucked, skin-on breast if you have a friend who really knows how to cook them. There are other parts of the bird that are great too, here’s a fun way to treat one of the more obscure parts: the thigh.
My Grandpa’s always got a couple pheasant laying around so I know if I get a craving for pheasant, he’s the guy to talk to. I usually clean and process the birds to save freezer space, and package them different pieces individually. I’ll separate out the breasts and the legs, since the legs have to be braised to become tender and then the pin bones removed, while the breasts can just be seared and served med/med-well. The carcasses become stock, and then pheasant glace.
Just so happened that the legs on both birds had been damaged by buckshot. It wasn’t the whole legs that were damaged, just the lower portion, so what I wound up with were a couple nice pheasant thighs. The damaged legs could have been used for broth, but other than that, there wasn’t much in the way of meat since I don’t like eating bone shrapnel.
We often make pheasant leg confit at the restaurant to garnish the winter cassoulet. It’s a pain to de-bone all of the small legs, but they’re a great way to use them up instead of throwing them in the stock pot. Since I didn’t have the whole legs, I thought I’d just make a quick confit from the thighs alone, and it turned out just fine. If you don’t have any pheasant thighs around, chicken thighs would be a fine substitute. However, since chicken thighs are at their juicy best pan roasted, there is really no need to confit them to make them tender.
You’re probably wondering right what the “borraccino” (pronounced bore-uh-keen-noh) is. I read about this technique in a book by Guliano Bugialli, the man I consider to be the end all authority on Florentine cuisine. He outlines a method in one of his earlier cookbooks for preparing herbs where they are all chopped together. He calls the mixture borraccino, and says that when the herbs are chopped together, they smell like fresh rain. It’s a great technique, and one I’ve used for years, with many different variations.
Bugialli’s original borraccino was a mix of hard herbs, like rosemary, sage and thyme, which gives a very complex flavor. This version I’m outlining here is only soft herbs, so you can’t expose it to too much heat or the flavor will be lost. If you want to use hard herbs like rosemary or sage, cook the herb mix in the pan with the confit for a minute or two more to soften their punch.
Originally I used only yarrow in the picture here, and it was great, but since it’s pretty easy to over season using it all by itself, I’m recommending you use a mix of herbs, which will add alot of depth to this. If you want to try using only yarrow, I would only add a tsp to the pan. Whatever herbs you use, you really can’t go wrong, experimenting is half the fun.
Pheasant Thigh Confit With Herb Borraccino
Feel free to make your own herb mix, just make sure to chop them all together. The more types of herbs you use, the more interesting your finished product will be. These would be excellent with some braised lentils or a salad of bitter greens, like frisee.
Since not many people have access to pheasant thighs, I’m including a method for chicken thighs. There is no need to confit chicken thighs to make them tender though. Chicken thighs should also be served a little pink-a trick I learned from a man named James Beard.
Serves 4 as a light entree
- 1 recipe pheasant thigh confit (follows). Raw chicken thighs can be substituted, but there isn’t a need to confit them to make them tender.
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- For the borraccino: equal parts mixed soft herbs like yarrow, tarragon, parlsey, chervil, pennyroyal, mint, chives, dill, etc
- High heat oil like grapeseed, canola, or lard, for sauteing
Method–using pheasant confit
- Heat a large saute pan until lightly smoking. Add the pheasant confit skin side down and saute until the skin is brown and crisp, and the confit is heated through. Add the butter to the pan, then add the herbs.
- Stir the confit just to coat with the herbs, then remove from the pan. Drain the confit on a towel to remove excess fat, and serve immediately.
Method–using chicken thighs
- Preheat the oven to 375. Heat a large saute pan with grapeseed or high heat oil until lightly smoking. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and place skin side down. Put the pan in the oven and roast the thighs for 10 minutes until just cooked through.
- When you take the thighs out of the oven, put them back on the flame for a minute or two to get some nice color on the skin and make sure it’s crisp. Afterwords add the herbs and butter, and then allow the thighs to rest for a couple minutes before eating.
Pheasant Thigh Confit
You can use whole pheasant legs here, if you do, you will need to remove the pin bones from the legs after cooking.
- 8 pheasant thighs
- Kosher salt, as needed
- Pinch of cayenne pepper about 1/8 tsp
- Lard or another animal fat such as duck or goose fat , about a qt
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 4 cloves of garlic
- A sprig of fresh thyme
- Season the pheasant thighs with 1/4 teaspoon of salt each and a tiny sprinkle of cayenne. Allow the pheasant thighs to marinate like this overnight.
- The next day, heat the oven to 250 degrees. Take a small baking dish, or even a small sauce pot and place the thighs in it. Cover the thighs with the lard, add the additional ingredients and place in the oven. Cook the thighs for 1 hour or until very tender.
- Remove the pan with the thighs and allow to cool, making sure that the thighs are completely covered by the fat. Once the fat cools it will solidify. Trapped underneath the solid fat, the confit will keep for months, as long as nothing is protruding from the layer of fat.
- When it’s time to cook and eat the confit, gently reheat the dish, just enough to melt the fat and allow you to remove the confit.