My Fall Go To: Pheasant Pot Pies

There’s probably no easier way to use up random bird bits, and on a cool autumn evening, it hits the spot

By Rob Breeding

While the bounty of the county has been a little slim so far, I’m optimistic this will soon change. When it does, my freezer will begin to fill with bird carcasses. In a good season, I have a hard time keeping up.

Despite this slow start, I still had enough bird on hand to whip up a favored fall staple: pheasant pot pie.

There were leftovers from the bird I roasted a few days before. And from the freezer, vacuum sealed since January, I retrieved a pair of pheasant legs I’d cooked long and slow with the sous vide.

I made stock from the carcass of that roasted bird, adding aromatics and my poultry herb of choice: rosemary. It simmered for about an hour and a half, developing a thin color and flavor, so I added some chicken bouillon to stiffen its backbone. Bouillon cubes were once repulsive salt bombs, but these days there are flavorful options.

While my stock pot simmered I cubed the bird meat and made some roux — equal parts butter and flour, fried until the desired color is achieved. For pot pies I leave it blond. Darker gumbo roux has more flavor, but less thickening power.

Pot pie is a free-form dish. Once I’ve strained the stock, I pour what I think will fill my baking dish nearly full into a deep pot over medium heat. My first addition is cubed potatoes. Yukon or Dutch golds, which straddle the starchy/waxy potato divide, are perfect for pot pies.

The potatoes go in first, to cook and because they will add a bit of stock-thickening starch, though they won’t disintegrate the way russets might. Then I add carrots. Usually I have a bag of those faux baby carrots in the fridge and I give them a rough chop.

Rosemary also joins the jacuzzi party, finely minced of course, unless you enjoy the feel of pine needles between your teeth.

Then I turn to the freezer. This time of year I keep frozen vegetables on hand for impromptu comfort food cookfests of game pies or stews. These veggies are handy for a pot pie and in their solid state hold up better to a long bake. I add a healthy handful of corn, and a much smaller pile of peas.

Too many peas overwhelm a pot pie, which I once learned the hard way when I tried to save time using a frozen peas and carrots mix. The carrots turned mushy and the high ratio of green orbs resulted in a cloying sweetness. Peas are an accent flavor in pot pies. Add too many and they play lead, with less than desirable results.

As my filling comes to a light boil I add the pheasant meat, grind in plenty of pepper and carefully season with salt. Then I begin to stir in the roux a bit at a time until the filling resembles a thick gravy.

Each time you stir in some roux, give it a minute or so to thicken before adding more. Be patient. Your filling has to boil to fully activate the roux’s thickening properties and if you add too much, your filling might set up like a cheesecake, and that’s no way for a pot pie to act. You want a slow ooze on the plate.

I usually top my pot pie with store-bought puff pastry. But whatever your shell, let the filling cool before assembly, otherwise the butter in your dough will melt and collect in greasy pools on a tough crust.

Brush the crust with egg wash and cook in a 350 degree oven, 30-45 minutes, until it’s golden brown and the filling is bubbling.

There’s probably no easier way to use up random bird bits. On a cool fall evening, it hits the spot.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.