National Poultry Day is fast approaching and what better time to explore the wide world of foul? After all, there’s much more to poultry than the common chicken, turkey or the occasional duck. Pheasant is something you don’t see on too many restaurant menus let alone dinner plates. After tasting a MacFarlane Farm raised pheasant, I came to the conclusion that we really are missing out on a lean and tasty bird.
At the first mention of pheasant, I envisioned shotguns and bird dogs in the thicket. Maybe I’d have to be careful of buckshot with each bite. But after learning more about MacFarlane, North America’s largest pheasant farm located in Janesville Wisconsin, I realized that their facility is anything but a quaint farmhouse operation. Now a full scale agribusiness which at first impression seems far from a free range all-natural environment, MacFarlane’s website has posted plenty of videos featuring virtual tours of every aspect of pheasant farming from hatchling to dressing. It’s not all green grass, sunshine, and farmers in overalls. Things get pretty scientific with breeding and controlling bird activity at different points in their life cycle.
Despite a high volume mechanized environment, MacFarlane’s pheasants are all-natural third party-certified for sustainable agricultural practices with free range movement during certain times. They’re fed all-natural grains with no antibiotics, hormones or animal by-products. The result is a flavor experience similar to a lighter lean turkey. And compared to other fowl, pheasant is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Like chicken, cooking methods run the gamut from baking, grilling, sauté, roasting, to stir fry. To get you started, MacFarlane’s Pheasant for Dinner microsite has plenty of recipe suggestions ranging from the obvious roasting to some enticing chef-inspired recipes like BBQ Pheasant and Gouda Pizza, Pheasant Salad with Fennel and Pheasant Pot Pie.
The biggest challenge is not drying out the meat since it’s so lean. Chef John Schumacher, a MacFarlane Pheasant fan for more than two decades recommends using simple marinades or brines prior to slow cooking at 250F - 325F. If grilling, breast meat or half cuts are best. Sear the open side quickly then flip skin side down to finish. This crisps the skin while retaining internal moisture. I found that coating the bird in olive oil & Cayman sea salt, placing it on my tried and true tipsy cooker filled with a Bourbon/water mixture, and cooking for a half hour on the grill produced a nicely crisp outer skin with enough savory juices inside.