Pheasant Under Snow

For a day at least, I was the man with the golden shotgun

By Rob Breeding

When I was a kid, pheasant under glass was a popular recipe. Not at our family dining room table, mind you, but in pop culture. Pheasant under glass was one of those fancified dishes in the 1970s that screamed “upper crust.”

As a young 007 fan, I imagined James Bond ordering it for supper: “Yes, I’ll have pheasant under glass, to go. I’m in the silver Aston Martin, driven by a super model who will be my girlfriend until I rid the world of a menacing evil genius just before the credits roll.”

Wikipedia lists some of the literary world’s peans to the dish. In her memoir “East Wind Melts the Ice,” author Lisa Dalby described pheasant under glass as “the hoitiest of toity cuisine.” Another book, “International Business,” describes it as a sign of culture, preferring “pheasant under glass to grits and red-eye gravy.”

I describe culture as having the wisdom to enjoy both.

I’ve never eaten pheasant under glass, though with three birds in the chill chest I may soon give it a try. It’s basically sautéed breast served with a cognac-and-wine-laced cream sauce. The glass is a cover placed over the plated dish to trap the steam and the brandy’s aromatic potential.

The lid is lifted at the table, where the diner can best take it all in.

We’ve moved into possibly the best time of year to hunt pheasant. The fall is more comfortable, temperature wise at least, and I prefer a pastoral backdrop painted in the fall pigments of gold and red over the white and gray of winter. But since pheasant, usually inclined to sprint from danger, are more likely to hold in snow, prospects of acquiring this primary ingredient of hoity-toity cuisine are much improved.

Doll and I hit the pheasant grounds this week, a few days after a late-fall storm dumped a few inches of snow, which had since formed a noisy crust. That worked against us as we hunted a long wind break of wild plum that stretched from the parking area. We were about 10 steps past the gate when one bird, then another, peeled out of the thicket. It started with a few roosters and hens, but as Doll began to work, the break erupted.

Dozens of pheasant flushed from the tangled row. More than 100 in all.

We stayed the course, however, and as we reached the end of the break, Doll went on point in a clump of weeds just beyond the wild plum. I stepped in and we picked up our first bird of the day. When the rooster flushed out of the weeds, snow fanned from its wingbeats. The bird held tight, under a lid of snow that was suspended six inches above ground by the thick vegetation. That proved a good omen.

The thicket was bordered by a small piece of weedy public land. Beyond the patch, the adjoining private land was mostly harvested grain, so while we’d flushed most of the birds on the piece, they hadn’t gone far. Many flew 30 yards or so, where they took refuge under the snow. They didn’t run. They held, like a covey of leggy Gambel’s quail broken up into singles. I couldn’t see them, but Doll could smell them under the crusty white lid.

Pheasants must smell as good to her as a burst of steamy cognac sauce does to fine diners during the big reveal at some white-linen-tablecloth joint.

Doll dissected the field into pieces of cover. She pointed maybe a dozen times. Most were hens that held especially tight. In one instance, as I stepped in, I could see the bird scurrying under the snow before it flushed. We had our three-bird limit before lunch.

For a day at least, I was the man with the golden shotgun.

Rob Breeding is the editor of

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