I have written more than once on this trip to the UK that the essence of good British cuisine lies in the bounty of the land. The simple fact is that unless a Brit lives in London he or she can go nowhere without seeing a farm…or sheep grazing…
They are everywhere. Indeed, even within the confines of the M25 – within which between a third and a sixth (depending on who’s statistics you believe) of the population of the UK resides – there are farms and grazing land to be found. The Brits, it seems, live a bit closer to the land than we do in the States.
But perhaps more relevant to the food to be found on British tables is the fact that Butchers and fishmongers are not “specialty food shops” to be found only in toney neighborhoods or Farmers Market stalls. Nearly every town has them. Many more than one.
As a result, the British meat diet is not limited to beef, lamb, pork and chicken. While fresh venison cannot be found in every supermarket it would not be remotely unusual to find it in a Butcher’s shop…or, as we found at Hutsons Butchers in the seaside town of Southwold, spankingly fresh pheasant.
From the moment we saw those birds they were destined for our plates. But instead of a fancy dinner we chose to serve them as simply as possible, paired with a green salad and – in a nod to England’s new National cuisine – a Balti Red Lentil Dal. Balti cuisine – while claiming origins going back to Punjab or Kashmir (depending on whom you ask) – was developed in England’s midlands in and around Birmingham. The vinaigrette cut through the richness of the Pheasant all of which was brought together by the hint of Balti spice in the Dal. Simple. Easy. Quite satisfying…as the lead picture suggests.
Roast Pheasant with Balti Red Lentil Dal and Salad
Serves 4 – 6
For the Pheasant
- 3 Whole Pheasants, cleaned
- ½ cup Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Several sprigs of thyme (or thyme and lemon thyme)
- Several sprigs of sage leaves, julienned
- Several sprigs of rosemary
- Maldon Salt
- Freshly Ground Pepper
For the Balti Red Lentil Dal
- 1 cup of Red Lentils
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 tablespoons of Balti Paste (or ¼ cup Curry Powder)
For the Salad
- 1 head lettuce of choice (or, better yet, 2 half heads of different lettuces)
- 10 cherry tomatoes
- 6 mushrooms, quartered
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Marinate the Pheasant. Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Combine the balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil in a bowl and whisk vigorously. Pour half of the resulting vinaigrette over the pheasants, sprinkle in the herbs and marinate for at least half an hour. Reserve the remainder of the vinaigrette for the salad.
Cook the Pheasant. Remove the pheasants from the marinade, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Place the pheasants on a roasting pan and move to the oven. Roast the pheasants for 15-20 minutes. The juices should still run slightly red if pricked with the tip of a knife. Let the pheasants rest for at least fifteen minutes.
Make the Dal. Wash the red lentils in several changes of water. In a large sauce pan sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is ever so slightly browned (but not at all burnt). Add the lentils to the pan with the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for half an hour.
Make the Salad. Combine the reserved vinaigrette with the mustard as well as some salt and pepper and whisk thoroughly. Combine the remaining salad ingredients in a bowl, drizzle in some of the vinaigrette and toss to thoroughly – but minimally – coat the lettuce.
Plate the Dish. Cut each pheasant in half lengthwise. Place half a pheasant, some of the Dal and some salad on each plate.