Pheasants, being virtually fat-free, are difficult birds to roast. If badly shot or in plentiful supply, a salmis – which combines roasting with brief stewing-will deliver a moist result.
Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/ gas 7. Put half the butter inside each pheasant, brush the outside with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the birds, breast side down, for 20–25 minutes.
Remove from the oven, pour the buttery roasting juices into a pan and allow the birds to cool until you can handle them.
While they are resting, add the remaining olive oil to the pan and fry the onion and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the wine, stock, bay leaf and thyme or oregano. Bring to the boil and bubble vigorously until reduced by half, then lower the heat to a bare simmer.
Joint the birds, cutting the breasts off whole before slicing them in half. Scrape the blood and juices into the sauce and keep the carcasses for stock. Add the breast meat, legs and thighs to the sauce and reheat gently.
Serve on pieces of fried bread with sautéed sliced mushrooms and garnish with whole leaves of flat-leaved parsley or young celery leaves.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.