Roast Pheasant Ravioli using Nettle & Wild Garlic Pasta

Our Wild Garlic patch...

Our Wild Garlic patch…

This post is, by way of leftovers, a follow up to Beer Brined Pheasant. My most recent repeat of this recipe worked very well using Badger Blanford Flyer and Brains Barry Island IPA to create the brine, admittedly I used these beers because I had no interest in drinking them as they’re too sweet for my tastes. We enjoyed our roast brined pheasant with Hardknott Dark Energy, there’s a proper synergy between a stout and a roast in my opinion. Dinner used a breast and a leg each – the rest of the meat was stripped off the carcass and along with a creamy textured roast potato was used for the recipe idea presented in this post.

Nettles & Wild Garlic in a basket

Our wild harvest…

This post is also, by way of chance, suitable for “Saint Patrick’s Day“. The recipe celebrates the passing of the winter by enjoying the last of the game season’s pheasant – and welcomes in the spring by way of fresh young nettle tops and wild garlic. Using the latter green ingredients a green pasta is made – green, the colour of Ireland. One can imagine the timing of Saint Patrick’s Day probably has at its roots the celebration of spring. Like many people around the world “I have an Irish [insert ancestor]” – in my case grandmother. However I never met her and have no cultural links to Ireland and have never particularly partaken of the global piss-up that Saint Paddy’s has come to be known as. Take this recipe as you will, homage to Saint Patrick or to spring – my preference lies to the latter.

On Saturday March 15th we visited a local woodland known for its sea of ransoms – aka wild garlic. We found it to be just coming up, but plenty there to gather a couple of handfuls. We also gathered nettle tops. Enjoying the general pleasantness of early spring – warmer temperatures, woods still clear of difficult growth, with violet and primrose blossom forming colourful highlights on the woodland floor.



The making of the pasta is as for a spinach pasta – use your favourite recipe but use nettle tops and wild garlic leaves in place of spinach. I used 65g of de-stemmed young nettle tops and 35g of wild garlic leaf. Two litres of water on the boil with two tablespoons of salt in it, I’ve read that the salt helps the leaves retain their green colour – blanch nettle tops for 1 minute, placing wild garlic leaves in when there is just 15 seconds of the minute left. Pour leaves into a strainer and press out as much liquid out as you can. Pop into a little food processor with one whole egg and emulsify to a bright paste.

De-stemmed nettle leaves and wild garlic leaves


Leaves that have been poached and then de-watered in a salad spinner

Poached & Spun

Puréed with an egg

Puréed with an egg

For the pasta start with 500g of good plainflour and one teaspoon of salt. Rub in the green paste. Add egg until a stiff dough is formed – a good pasta dough starts off pretty stiff and difficult to work. In addition to the green paste my dough used one more whole egg plus the yolks of five eggs. This came together using wet hands and was kneeded for a good 15 minutes on a dampened benchtop. Wrap in clingfilm and place aside at room temperature to relax for at least an hour.

To make the filling finely dice a small onion (~100g) and sauté in a teaspoon of oil. When translucent add the stripped pheasant meat and fry for a couple more minutes to heat. Add a glug of dry white wine or hefeweizen and let this bubble for a minute. Pop the contents of the pan into a small food processor. Add the white of one egg and one creamy roast potato (~100g - also leftover from pheasant roast) and blend to a smooth paste. I then had to had two tablespoons of breadcrumbs to make the paste a little more workable. Stir in 100g of fine-grated rich but not astringent cheese – I used an extra mature gouda – and a tablespoon full of finely sliced wild garlic leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pop this paste into the fridge until you are ready to make your pasta parcels.

Rolled pasta

Rolled pasta

Make the parcels however you like. I chose a ravioli form as it is pretty simple to make. Using my pasta roller to roll a handful of dough at a time. I’ve done this using both my thinnest and second from thinnest settings and both work, the thinnest is a little harder to work with and some ravioli may bust whilst cooking – but the result is lighter and more delicate. Fold the pasta in half to find the centre point, note it, unfold. Use a cutter to lightly mark circles into the dough (at the thinner end if there is one).  Put just a teaspoon of filling into the centre of each circle. Mark around each bit of filling with a damp finger if your dough seems dry. Fold the pasta back over and carefully press out air pockets. Use the blunt end of a smaller cutting ring to press down the dough and then the sharp end of a fluted cutter to cut out the ravioli. Place on a floured surface, semolina “flour” is preferable. You can make and freeze these in sheets which when solid can be put into freezer bags.









To cook from fresh plunge into salted boiling water for just three minutes – I call seven or eight of my ravioli a good serve. I also cut a few pasta offcuts into rough linguine which went in for just the final minute. At the same time melt a generous tablespoon of butter per serve in half a teaspoon of warm oil. When the butter is melted and just barely bubbling toss in a teaspoon per serve of finely sliced wild garlic leaf, sizzle briefly, add a glug of white wine of hefeweizen, bubble briefly, then bring off the heat. Strain out your ravioli and toss in the wild garlic butter.

Melted Butter in a saucepan with a little oil

Melt Butter

Shredded wild garlic leaf piled in melted butter

Add Wild Garlic

Lightly sizzled wild garlic leaf with added splash of hefeweizen


Pasta tossed in beery wild garlic leaf buttersauce.


Lay out to serve, drizzle over wild garlic butter (just melt a little more butter in the pan if needed), garnish with a wild garlic leaf and some fresh spring primrose blossom if you have any. (Our primrose is from our garden. I have heard that it is illegal to harvest wild primrose – although I can find no reference to it Schedule 8 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act. Anyway – primrose is an excellent garden plant to grow for garnish use as they’re attractive, edible, and have a long flowering season.)

Plated up... roast pheasant ravioli with nettle & wild garlic pasta.

Plate up!

Beer match?! Getting into the Irish spirit is pretty difficult with beer – as we see little good Irish beer in England. I used to be partial to a Guinness but find it a bit thin and flavourless by my standards these days especially when stupidly “extra cold”, albeit Guinness is still my default in mainstream pubs with no good beer. Guinness, or any dry stout, isn’t going to work with this dish anyway in my opinion.

Ireland does have a rapidly growing microbrewing scene that seems very interesting but alas I’ve had no experience of its output. However in Tesco you can buy a couple of Franciscan Well beers, Friar Weisse and Rebel Red Ale – both well rated for their respective styles on RateBeer. (Yes, they’re owned by Molson Coors… whoopy doo – drink the beer not the company…) I popped into a local Tesco and picked up a couple of each to try with the pasta. I think both work well enough but I had a preference for the Friar Weisse – it was complementary to the soft buttery flavours of the ravioli dish, with a cutting lightness and freshness. The other advantage of the Friar Weisse in this context is a glug of it can be used in the buttery sauce instead of the white wine – I did this the second time around when I had the beers to hand and it worked very well. The Rebel Red Ale by comparison just added too much an extra strong layer of flavour at odds with the food. Were I eating with wine this is to me most certainly a white wine dish – a soft Italian white perhaps.

Serve, of course, with beer.

Serve with beer, of course. Something Irish for St Patrick’s Day.

Beer Brined Pheasant

… though I prefer the sound of “Beerinated Pheasant“.

Pheasant in brine

I picked up a couple of decent sized pheasant at my local butcher. It is the season… I do miss my old local in Hitchin where we knew a chap who kept us well supplied with pheasants, and other beasties, throughout the appropriate seasons. It feels a bit wrong buying oven-ready birds. But 8 quid for a brace without having to do the tedious plucking and messy gutting isn’t bad, you’ll pay more for a good chicken yielding a little less meat. While they’re “game” I don’t really think of pheasant as a “wild” bird. Almost all will have been cage raised, when you get them their crops are full of grain, and they really aren’t “gamey” – you need to give them at least a fortnight hanging to get any real decent gamey flavour. For the most part pheasant are best thought of as equivalent to a fine outdoor reared chicken, with an edge more flavour – especially around the fatty areas. If you have a good source then sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to get one of last season’s birds that has been roaming free for a year… deluxe! (Best Coq au Vin ever – or Coq au Bière!)

Anyway – the pheasant put me in mind of my old Poacher’s Pheasant Stew recipe, and I figured it was about time I did some beery cooking for this old blog thing. I’ve done beer brined chicken before and I figured: why not pheasant?

The Useful Content: Brining Your Bird

I work with a simple target 5% salt solution when brining like this, it’s hard to over-salt the bird at this strength but the solution is strong enough to have the desired affect. The recipe below is for just 1 litre of brine, as this plus one pheasant fits nicely into a 1.9 litre clip-seal container I have (see photo). You can easily make & add more brine if needed.

TPreparing to brine pheasanthe Brine:

  1. Measure 50g of sea salt into a container.
  2. Add 100ml of hot water from a kettle and dissolve salt.
  3. Pour in a pint of beer – something not too bitter, a rich golden ale is good.
  4. Top up with cold water to make a litre of solution.

The Beer: The beer I chose for this was a take-home pint of The Brew Company “Simcoe (3.8%) from my local, a light ale with very grapefruity flavour notes (thus it must be craft!). I’d have preferred something with a bit more malt richness in it, but there were only a couple of other ales on and one was a stout (too dark IMO) and the other too bitter.

[Update 2014-03-15: I repeated this recipe using a bottle of Badger Blanford Flyer plus a bottle of Brain’s Barry Island IPA. Both beers I’d bought two of and discovered once was enough… too sweet. The brine worked brilliantly making for a very tasty pheasant with no hint of bitterness.]

The Salt: I used Maldon Sea Salt, posh stuff but the only thing I have handy that doesn’t have “anti-caking agent” in it. When brining a general rule of thumb that I’ve picked up from my reading is to find a “plain” salt without additives. I’ve never actually tried brining with a salt that has anti-caking agent in it though, I expect it’d probably work out fine.

Other Flavours: If you like add other flavour ingredients to this at the start with the salt. Bay leaves, juniper berries, a bit of rosemary, cracked black pepper, some crushed garlic… any of the “usual” aromatics. It helps if you give them a good crush or crumple. I’ve stuck with just beer because I was interested in how “beery” the bird would end up.

Pheasant in brineBrine It: Pop your pheasant into a container or suitably sized zip-lock bag and cover with brine. Ensure it is fully submerged. I’ve put a small plastic container under the lid of the bigger one to force the bird into the brine. If you need more solution to cover your bird then make it up as 5:100 salt to water ratio. I.e. 500g (ml) or water (and/or beer) plus 25g of salt.

Time: Give the bird at least 24 hours in the brine, I’ve done a chicken for 48 hours before and it turned out fine. In fact with a bigger bird 48 hours might be better than 24.

So… here’s one I prepared earlier… remove the bird from the brine and voilà! Brined pheasant. You can now do with this whatever you want. It’ll work jointed and braised, braised whole, or simply roasted. Basically, pick a suitable pheasant recipe that you like the sound of, roasting is where the brining really has the most marked positive results. Read on for what did with my brined pheasant…

Roast beer-brined pheasant…
… with roast veg, garlicy bacon cavolo nero, and beery walnut bread sauce.

Dinner ready for service...

What you need… in general:

  • Beer! Just a splash here and there – you can drink the rest. :)
    (Avoid the very dark and very bitter.)
  • A bit of cooking oil, salt, and pepper as required.

Dinner... before assembly.

Roast ingredients…for the roast:

  • A whole beer-brined pheasant (as per above).
  • Four and a half slices of unsmoked streaky bacon.
    (Other half is used in the cavolo nero.)
  • A cup of chicken stock (game stock would be good, veal stock would do).
  • Four cloves of garlic – thinly sliced.
  • 6 juniper berries – well squashed.
  • A couple of sticks of celery – 5mm dice.
  • A medium brown onion – 5mm dice.
  • Roasting veg, all peeled and diced into chunks about as big as the end of an average sized thumb!  (Well, about an inch by half an inch.)  Put them in a bowl and toss with a little olive oil (or other variety) until lightly coated. I used:
    • Two medium parsnips
    • Two carrots
    • Half a swede
    • A handful of baby carrots

Beery walnut bread-sauce ingredients…for the beery walnut bread-sauce:

  • A slice of good firm bread – I’ve used a pretty rustic sourdough.
  • Some milk.
  • Some walnuts – about 50g will do, chopped to “breadcrumb” consistency.
  • A 20g knob of butter.
  • Half a small brown onion – finely diced (2mm).
  • A small garlic glove – crushed/grated/pasted.
  • 2 juniper berries – squashed and chopped

Garlicy bacony cavolo nero ingredients...…for the garlicy bacon cavolo nero:

  • One cavolo nero, or a suitable amount of leaves – with stems stripped out.
  • Half a rasher of streaky bacon – finely sliced.
  • About 20g of butter.
  • A small clove of garlic – crushed/grated/pasted.

At least an hour in advance, put your firm bread into a bowl (cut/tear it if needed) and douse with just enough milk to soak it.

Pre-prep all the ingredients as described above.

Get the roast going: Preheat your oven to 230°C. Roughly chop two strips of streaky bacon and sizzle in a little oil. I do this directly in my cast iron baking dish. When the bacon is just beginning to brown toss in the diced onion and celery and sizzle this until the celery and onion is just lightly browning as well. At this point pour in the chicken stock and half a cup of the beer. Use the liquid to scrape off any browned-on residue, add the garlic and juniper berries, and bring this lot to simmering point. Now you can turn off the heat and place the pheasant in the middle of the roasting-tin breast-side-up. Bard the pheasant with a couple more strips of streaky bacon and pack the vegetables around the bird. Now into the oven with it – turning the oven down to 180°C immediately. Set a timer for 45 minutes.

Brown BaconAdd onion and celery...Add stock and beer...Ready to go in the oven...

Make the beery walnut bread-sauce: Lightly brown the walnut crumbs in a small saucepan, add the knob of butter and the onion. Cook on low heat for 2 minutes to just soften the onion. Add the garlic and juniper berries - which have both been crushed and finely chopped. Soften the spices for a minute before adding the milk-soaked bread and any milk with it, roughly tear this up. Heat and stir/mash to combine in the bread – the sauce should thicken considerably. Wet it with some additional milk if it isn’t a paste already. Add a splash of beer at a time, tasting as you go with an aim to get a beery flavour without undue bitterness. As you’re doing this you can also add salt to taste, which can balance the bitterness. As the sauce simmers it will continue to thicken, once you’re happy with the flavour imparted by the beer start adding milk instead in order to bring the sauce to a suitable consistency (which is up to you really, I aimed for a “heapable” paste). Put a lid on it and set it aside somewhere warm.

Sourdough...Milk-soaking sourdough...Bread being mashed in...Sauce consistency....

Turn your attention back to the roast: By this stage your roast has probably reached 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, I checked the internal temp deep between the leg and the body – 65°C, fine. Remove the bird from the baking tray and place aside on a warmed plate. Toss the vegetables in the roasting dish to get a bit of moistness on them and pop them back in the oven. They’ll probably need at least another 20 minutes until they’re suitably cooked. Optional: Take the bacon off, rub the breast with a little butter, place the bird under a low grill and carefully brown the breast. This isn’t just cosmetic, but it makes more of a cosmetic difference than a flavour difference – thus optional. Place the bird breast-side-down in its warmed bowl, putting the bacon next to it, cover with foil and put somewhere warm to rest. (I popped it into the top-oven, which is nicely warm while the veg are still roasting.)

Pheasant is roasted...Pheasant breast is browned...Pheasant is resting...

Fry up the cavolo nero: Simple: steam the leaves in a colander over boiling water until “tender” (a couple of minutes). Let them cool a little before chopping roughly. In a fry-pan lightly brown the streaky bacon in a smear of oil. Pop in the nugget of butter and melt this then add the garlic. Let the garlic sizzled just a little, 15 seconds is plenty, then put the cavolo nero in and toss vigorously to coat the leaves in garlicy bacony buttery goodness. Done!

Steaming cavolo neroChopping steamed cavolo nero...Frying garlic in butter...Garlicy bacony cavolo nero!

Time to “plate up”: The roast veg should be done by now, so we’re ready to serve. How you present this is up to you. I’d flip the bird back to breast-side-up, pop the bacon back on top, and take the lot to the table as-is and carve & dish-out to warmed plates at the table. The bread-sauce may need a little warming through before going to the table. On the plate I’ve simply put down a sample of each item, a small bowl of the bread sauce, and the beery juices from the pan with celery & onion are drizzled here and there.

Served with Durham Brewery's EvensongServe, of course, with some good beer. If you’ve used take-home beer in the dish like I did it is probably a bit flat & dead by now if you still have any left. I served this dinner with Durham Brewery “Evensong” (5%)… which was a perfect match to a rich game dinner. The beer has a solid toasty backbone, it’s malt-forward and compliments both the season and this autumnal meal. My check-in note for the beer was: “Easy drinking amber ale. Very good with a bit of roast pheasant. Robust yet smooth flavour of maltloaf, cola, and summer hay.” The brined pheasant retained an excellent moistness thanks to the brining and had picked up a subtle beery note, too subtle perhaps, though it seemed more distinct when I tried some cold the next day. The beery notes were more to the fore in the bread sauce and pan juices and really are best described as “beery” – no fine nuances. It had tended a little to the bitter side in the pan juice, but this was no trouble as this was used sparingly anyway. Overall – a success. I’d like to try brining pheasant with some different beers to test the differences – something like my side-by-side IPA beer batter test, but I really need to invite some folk over to test the results for this one!

Plated up!


Poacher’s Pheasant Stew

We had a steady supply of pheasant over the last season, thanks to a beater/shooter friend down at our local pub. Two gay-braces we received were earmarked for a pheasant coq au vin. But I changed my mind. Cooking with beer is all the rage right now, so I shunned the grape. The question was: what beer? Everything in the “cellar” was either too bitter or were quite special “collection” beers.[1] So I wandered up to Waitrose[2] and pondered over the selection of bottled ales available. Our local Waitrose has a decent range of bottled British beer, however I’m not really familiar with this territory since I prefer my bitter in cask form. Unfortunately the bottled versions of good cask ales are rarely up to scratch. So I scanned the beer names and read some label blurbs… one ale seemed quite apt: Poacher’s Choice by Badger Brewery.

Poacher's ChoiceI had never tried Poacher’s Choice before. Liquorish and damsons? Unusual, but – thought I – with a certain appeal in the context of a game stew. I took a punt on it and bought 6 bottles. What’s the beer like? As I suspected: a bit odd. Which is to say you may be a little surprised on the first sip of a pint of it down the pub – this is no bad thing! But I do suspect it’d strongly divide opinion. The Badger website describes this beer as “subtly fruity”, but compared to a similar strength/colour/hop-level beer I’d call it “boldly fruity”. The beer has a bubblegummy, plum-conserve character. I rather enjoyed a glass of Poacher’s Choice: I wasn’t keen initially but it grew on me, and blossomed. I’d say you need to be in a fruity frame of mind to enjoy this beer. I wasn’t at all apprehensive about stewing with it, it seemed a most excellent candidate.

So, a recipe was afoot – and like all good stews it is a simple one. Well, not so simple if you’re starting with pheasants still in all their feathery finery. You’ll be forgiven for picking them up oven ready, or even jointed. In fact this stew would work well with rabbit, probably pork, and definitely the coq you’d use in a coq au vin.


  • 4 pheasants – jointed into breasts, legs, and wings
  • 150g unsmoked bacon lardons
  • 4 tbsp light olive oil (or any frying oil)
  • 450g brown onion – finely chopped
  • 2 pints of Poacher’s Choice (or a beer of your choice)
  • 150g celery – sliced into 1″ lengths
  • 250g carrots – peeled, top-n-tailed, and sliced into 1″ chunks
  • 175g button mushrooms – just clean off any obvious dirt
  • 4 garlic cloves – crushed, peeled, and sliced
  • 10 juniper berries – crushed with the flat of a knife
  • 1 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
  • 3 bay leaves – dry is fine, fresh is better
  • 10 large fresh sage leaves – clean and slice into thin ribbons
  • 500g shallots – whole and peeled
  • “Enough” game stock – chicken stock will do

This is just approximately what I put into my stew. As with any stew the ingredients are very flexible. If you don’t like mushrooms, leave them out! Or you could throw in some potato or parsnip. Get the idea?

Somewhat more optional ingredients are:

  • 2 tsp golden caster sugar – added to counter some bitterness from the beer
  • 25g each of plain flour and butter to make a roux to thicken the gravy


When it comes to stewing my weapon of choice is of the heavy enamelled-iron variety. The stew made with the ingredients above fills a 28cm Chasseur, which is about 6 litres.

Fry the lardons in the stewpot until golden, then remove them to a bowl leaving the fat in the stewpot.

Brown the pheasant pieces in batches, this is to ensure the meat isn’t crowded in the pan. After the first batch is browned add a tablespoon of oil to the stewpot between batches. For the amount of pheasant in this recipe I browned the meat in 4 batches. After each batch is browned remove the meat to the bowl with the lardons.

Browned Meat – Browning Onion

Place the fine-diced onion into the stewpot and fry over lowish heat until it browns, begins to break down, then goes quite mushy. While the onion is frying use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape the toasty goodness from the pheasant-browning off the bottom of the stewpot.

Before the onion begins to stick pour in the beer, then add the meat, the chopped vegetables, bay leaves and juniper berries. Ensure everything is tightly packed then top the stewpot up with the game stock until everything is covered.

Gently simmer – there should be the barest movement visible and few, if any, bubbles – until “done” (i.e. the meat is tender, but not disintegrating!) My stew was simmering for about 3 hours, which is probably longer than necessary. About 30 minutes before you think the stew is ready brown the peeled shallots in a frypan with a tablespoon of oil and pop them into the stew. (If you put these in at the start they’ll simply turn to mush.) Pop the sliced garlic in now as well.

Browning Shallots

Browning Shallots

Do you want to thicken the gravy? The onion will have lent it some body already, any further body will depend on your stock. I like a stew to have a fairly sticky gravy so I thickened this one up a little. To do this strain the stew through a large sieve or chinois, collecting the gravy in a bowl. Put the gravy back into the stewpot and bring it to simmering point. In small pan over low heat melt 25g of butter then stir in 25g of plain white flour. Stir with a small whisk to combine the flour and butter well – and, stirring all the time, gently cook for a minute. Now, a ladle at a time, whisk the gravy into this roux. Initially it’ll thicken drastically, but don’t worry it’ll thin out as you add gravy. To avoid lumps be careful to whisk in each ladle of stock thoroughly and evenly. Continue until your have about a pint or two of thickened gravy, or the consistency of double cream. Finally whisk the thickened gravy into the gravy remaining in the stewpot. (Pass the thickened gravy through a sieve if you think you might have ended up with lumps.) Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, gently whisking all the while. When complete add the stewed meat and vegetables back into the thickened gravy.

We’re done! Serve with some boiled potatoes, crusty bread, rice, anything really! Served immediately this stew had a light bitterness to it, which prompted me to add a little sugar (in the optional ingredients above.) However, this bitterness all but disappeared after 24 hours in the fridge and I’d say the stew was at its best 2 days after cooking. Served in the photo below with some steamed little red potatoes, and a sneaky addition of pan fried bunny liver and kidneys (I’d been sorting out a few bunnies that evening.)


Of course: enjoy with a glass of Badger Ale’s Poacher’s Choice. The flavour of the beer came through distinctly in the stew.

[1] There were a few bottles of BrewDog 5AM Saint, which can make a rather good stew, but I’d like to get off the BrewDog theme for a bit.

[2] Hitchin, the town in which we live, lacks what I’d consider a decent independent bottle-shop. I’m tempted to try opening one myself, but the local market for craft beer is probably too small to run the sort of place I’d like to have. Plus, I haven’t a clue how to start such a venture!