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I'm not 100% convinced that spring is here to stay in Wyoming so I'm sneaking in one more wintery recipe. I still had some cranberry sauce in the freezer that needed used up so we had a little Thanksgiving-esque meal even though it's almost Easter. This year, anything goes, right? If you're in the mood for some Thanksgiving food but don't want a full feast, this is the recipe for you! It has all (well, most) of the classic flavors - sage, thyme, cranberry, and butter (of course).
How do you keep pheasant meat moist?
Pheasant, along with most game birds, is relatively low in fat. That makes it really hard to keep it from drying out. Moist heat is definitely the way to go. It always feels a little pretentious to say "sous vide" but it really does work. It gets the meat to the perfect temperature without drying it out. Sous vide sounds pretty fancy but it literally translates to "under vacuum" in French. Essentially, it is food cooked in a vacuum sealed bag. The method slowly brings the temperature of the meat to the temperature of the water bath. And it is super easy to do! You do need to have some special equipment like a sous vide machine and vacuum sealer but if you're a big fan of perfectly cooked meat, I'd highly suggest investing in the equipment. If you process your own game meat, a vacuum sealer is super helpful for that as well.
How do you sous vide pheasant?
Sous vide cooking is a great way to impart a lot of flavor into meat. Because the meat cooks in such close quarters with whatever else you put in the bag, the flavor infuses into the meat really well. I like to keep it simple with salt and pepper, one or two fresh herbs, and some butter. All you need to do is season the meat, place it in a vacuum bag with herbs and butter, seal it up, and you're ready to go. Sous vide machines are generally pretty easy to use. Once your meat is all sealed up, place it in the preheated water and let it do its thing. The meat isn't very pretty when it comes out of the bag. But, you can finish it in a hot pan with your fat of choice to brown the outside and voila! Crisp outside, moist inside, and perfectly cooked.
Tip: if your bags have a diamond pattern on one side, place the underside of the pheasant breasts (with the butter and thyme) on the patterned side. This will make the top side a bit prettier when it's done. The thyme will make an indented pattern on the meat as well so it's best to keep that on the underside.
I'm not going to lie, the crispy skin I made did not turn out how I envisioned it. But, if you'd like to give it a try, here's how I did it. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the skin out on the parchment paper and season with salt. Place another piece of parchment paper on top and place another sheet pan on top to weigh it down. Bake for 40-50 minutes at 325°F, or until skin is crisp. I think next time, I would add something to help weigh the top pan down more so the skin stays spread out. If you try it out, let me know how it goes!
Sage Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: these mashed potatoes are the best! They made their debut here a couple weeks ago paired with my stout-braised pronghorn shanks. They're so good, I had to make another recipe with them! The combination of brown butter, fried sage, and half and half makes them so creamy and full of flavor. They're the perfect base for this dish and you're going to love them!
Cranberry sauce is my favorite part of Thanksgiving. It often gets overlooked but it is truly delicious if you take the time to make it yourself! I had some tucked away in my freezer that I used but you can get the recipe here.
Putting it all together:
There are 2 types of people in this world: people who hate when their food touches and people who embrace it. Thanksgiving meals are the ultimate opportunity for a blending of flavors. You can probably guess what team I'm on. If you don't like your food to touch, that's cool. You can still enjoy this recipe! But, I have to tell you that the perfect bite here is a mixture of mashed potatoes, pheasant, cranberry sauce, and crispy sage. I'm telling you, these flavors are meant to be enjoyed together!
Sous Vide Pheasant Breast with Cranberry Sauce
- sous vide machine
- vacuum sealer
- 4 pheasant breasts, skin-on or skinless
- 2 tablespoon salted butter
- 4 sprigs thyme
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 ½ lb Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
- 4 oz salted butter
- 20 fresh sage leaves
- 1 ½ cups half and half
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- salt and pepper, to taste
- If you have skin-on pheasant breasts, you can do one of two things with the skin: leave it on or remove it and cook it separately. This recipe will also work with skinless pheasant breasts.
- If cooking the skin separately, carefully remove it from the meat. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the skin out on the parchment paper and season with salt. Place another piece of parchment paper on top and place another sheet pan on top to weigh it down. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until skin is crisp.
Sous Vide Pheasant Breasts:
- Preheat sous vide machine to 145°F. Season pheasant breasts with salt and pepper. Place ½ tablespoon of butter and 1 thyme sprig on the underside of each pheasant breast. Place 2 pheasant breasts per vacuum sealer bag. Tip: if your bags have a diamond pattern on one side, place the underside of the pheasant breasts (with the butter and thyme) on the patterned side. This will make the top side a bit prettier when it's done. Place in water bath for 45 minutes.
- Remove bags from water bath and cut open. Remove pheasant breasts from bags and discard thyme sprigs. Pat dry with a paper towel.
- Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter to pan and melt. Once pan and butter are hot, place pheasant breasts in pan. Cook 2 minutes per side. Rest 10 minutes. Slice for serving.
- While pheasant is cooking, prepare mashed potatoes.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add in potatoes and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
- While potatoes are cooking, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Once butter starts bubbling, add in sage leaves. Cook until crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Remove sage leaves to a paper towel. Continue cooking butter until browned, about 20 minutes.
- Once potatoes are tender, place them in potato ricer, working in batches. Rice the potatoes into a large mixing bowl. You can rice them twice for extra creamy potatoes.
- Once butter is browned, strain it with a fine mesh strainer into the mixing bowl. Add in half and half (a little at a time - you might not need all of it), nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, mix on medium-low speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- To each plate, add mashed potatoes. Top with sliced pheasant breast and cranberry sauce. Serve with fried sage and crispy skin.