A refined French mousse of pheasant with morel mushrooms and spring vegetables is a restaurant dish I used to serve at the peak of Spring. It takes some time to prepare, but it's worth making just to learn how to turn pheasant breast into a juicy, tender main course.
This Spring I was rummaging around the freezer and found a couple pheasant breasts, the sad kind I usually get donated by friends who hunt and just breast the birds out and throw away the legs and skin. It's too bad more people don't save all of the animal they kill, but I'm happy to give the meat a good home when I can, rather than it rot in someone's freezer until next season, and the next.
Pheasant, turkey, and game bird breasts that need to be cooked through (peacock!) can be tough to cook, and eat. The breasts are lean and need to be cooked gently, or wrapped with some sort of fat to mimic the natural skin that helps keep the meat moist.
Another way to ensure tender meat is to make a mousseline, or forcemeat a technique I use where lean meat is pureed with egg white, cream and bread in varying proportions depending on what I want to make.
What you end up with is a fluffy, juicy little nugget of meat. I use it often when I'm working with game meat, since combining the meat with other, neutral ingredients like cream, egg white or bread mellows strong flavors.
If you have anyone around that says they hate pheasant, venison, duck or pretty much anything else that can have a stronger flavor, try it out sometime. Real quick too, I used common stinging nettles here, but wood nettles would be great too.
Pheasant Mousseline With Morel Mushrooms, Nettles, Asparagus and Green Garlic
- 1 lb pheasant breast
- 4 large egg whites roughly 4 ounces
- 2 ounces mild tasting seedless bread, like a white pullman or brioche, crust removed, diced 1 inch
- ½ cup whole milk for soaking the bread,
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 5 teaspoons kosher salt
- 7 scrapes of fresh nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
- 1 teaspoon garlic microplaned or ground to a paste in a mortar and pestle
- 2 ounces pork back fat diced ½ inch and chilled (bacon can be substituted, but it will make a smoky tasting mousseline, and will taste more like smoked pork than pheasant)
- ⅛ teaspoon ground fresh white pepper optional, I use white pepper for lack of color mostly
Brandy Morel Sauce
- 8-12 ounces fresh morels depending on size and availability
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon shallot diced ¼ inch
- 1 ounce cognac
- ½ cup very strong homemade chicken stock
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Kosher salt to taste
Sauteed Asparagus, Nettles, and Fava Beans with Green Garlic
- 8 ounces fresh asparagus
- 3 ounces stinging nettles
- 2 ounces shucked fava beans
- 1 tablespoon green garlic diced ¼ inch
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 250 with the fan on low if using a convection oven.
- Soak the bread in milk until very soft, about 10 minutes.
- Dice the pheasant meat and fat into 1 roughly 1 inch cubes. Grind the pheasant and fat through the fine plate of a meat grinder, then squeeze the milk from the bread and add it to clean the grinder, reserve the ground meat and bread.
- Remove the meat-bread mixture to the bowl of food processor, then process, gradually adding the egg whites one at a time until the mixture is smooth. Finally drizzle in the cream.
- Cook a small amount of the mixture to double check the seasoning and adjust as needed.
- Butter four 4 ounce ramekins, then fill with the mousse mixture.
- Put the ramekins of mousseline in a baking dish, fill until water comes half-way up the sides, then cover the pan with plastic wrap (preferably heavy-duty as it doesn't melt-see a good home brand here) finally wrap the pan in foil.
- Steam the pan of mousselines for 20 minutes or until just set. Remove and serve immediately, or cool, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
Brandy Morel Sauce
- If the morels are very large, cut them into slices or halve them. Sweat the morels in the butter until lightly browned, add the shallot, season lightly with salt, cook for a few minutes more, then deglaze with the cognac. Add the chicken stock and reduce by half, then add the cream and simmer a moment more until slightly thickened. Reserve the sauce until you’re ready to serve the dish.
Vegetables and Plating
- Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a simmer and have an ice bath ready. Blanch the favas, then the asparagus, then the nettles, shocking them in ice water. Heat the butter over medium heat, then add the green garlic and cook for 30 seconds then the asparagus and fava beans. Add the nettles, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve alongside the hot mousseline. Spoon the sauce and morels on top of each mousseline and serve.