Piggy's pot-roasted pheasant, with a side of public school 'toff'

The gardener here at Nun Far - Sir Geoffrey's gardener, not mine - has kindly donated two pheasants for me to cook and write about in my blog. Dad appears to have bonded quite closely with the gardener and in concert they arranged it so that two beautifully dressed pheasant carcases arrived at our door in a pot. The condition was that after cooking one of the pheasants be returned to the Nun Far manor house, where Sir Geoffrey lives, for his family's consumption. The other was consumed here, chez Fair, with great relish.
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Go, Mavis the Lab! Bring that pheasant home!
 
 
The recipe I'm going to share with you soon will give you a lovely roast pheasant in under an hour and half, unless the bird's really enormous. This is just as well, because I now have that pesky, boring-beyond-belief job at Bath University, I don't have all day to prepare, cook and photograph my culinary masterpieces.

As you may have guessed, my gorgeous, Kennedy-esque boss, Benji, is hardly following me around the office with his jaw on the ground. It's quite the other way around and I'm having a lot of trouble affecting disinterest. One of my followers has recommended Neil Strauss's book The Game, which is the true story of a society of male pick-up artists. I don't think many of the tips are transferable across the gender divide. However, all authorities seem to agree that excessive interest/niceness on a woman's part is, at least initially, a turn-off for a man. Thus, Piggy is attempting to be the model Ice Queen (I accidentally wrote Ice Cream first, and then fixed it! Oh, how telling...). As for The Game, let it be known that if any man approaches me with promises of magic tricks, I will turn on my heel and take off in the other direction!

The irony of the dreary situation with Benji is that he's middle-class, albeit in a fancy-schmancy, intellectual way. I'm torturing myself over a slightly smarter, more beautiful, male version of myself, which is totally antithetical to my agenda of social climbing. I really should be setting my sights higher, and on that note, I'd like to introduce my readers to 'Haggis McBride' (unbelievably not his real name). McBride is a talented young musician with a posh accent and dodgy heritage. He read the blog and contacted me to warn me about the perils of climbing into the upper classes, a feat he has accomplished. I was certainly interested in what he had to say, and I hope you are too.

McBride is about 30 now and he lives in Shopshire, where, he tells me, there is an abundance of upper-class, leisured gentlemen, whose pastimes include shooting, fishing and wife-swapping. He does like the upper-class social set, but warns me that once you get sucked in, it's hard to get out. Life gets comfortable and, well, frankly, boring. I told him I could put up with everything but the wife-swapping. I wanted to know how he made it into the upper echelons of British society and McBride agreed to an interview, provided he could remain anonymous.

PF: McBride, what is your background, and how on earth did you end up at the Shrewsbury School (one of England's leading schools for boys)?

 HM: My background is that I come from a genuinely poor family of Scottish crofters and rogues. In fact my great-great-granddad was the last man to be hanged for sheep theft in Scotland. My grandad was a poacher, who spent most of his life in and out of prison. After his last stint inside he moved the entire clan to England in an attempt to run away from his very criminal past (so I did lie a bit when I said I was as middle-class as you, Piggy!). Basically we were and always have been a family of bounders and cads. However, my mother like me - it must be genetic - was a skilled musician and through playing the french horn and composing Christian musicals earned her place at university, the first person ever to do so in our family. Her striving gave me opportunities through music to enter into the world of the privileged elite. She drove me from a very young age to play music, to sing and to compose and it was this that was my way in.

The way I entered public school is simple; I could sing better than the next boy and on the strength of that I received a full scholarship first at prep school then from 13 years at public school.

PF: How were you different from the other boys at Shrewsbury?

HM: I was very different from the other boys around me. The main difference between us all was wealth, on my first day as a boarder that was made abundantly clear. All the other boys turned up in Jag's amd Aston Martins and my mum drove me through the gates in a ten year old 2CV belching smoke and fumes. They had tailored suits made on Savile Row by craftsmen who'd spent the better part of the last century learning how to stitch and sew.  Mine was from Burtons. From the minute I walked through the door I was different, brought up in a family of extreme socialists everything I thought and believed was entirely contrary to the ethos of the school, the other boys and more significantly their parents. I was a Pip in a world of Gladstones.

PF: How did public school influence you?

HM: In truth public school made me. I may have been out of place and constantly fighting but the education I received was second to none and it was the best time of my life. There are a lot of misconceptions about boarding schools, chief amongst them is what you are taught. Unlike the state sector where you just receive and education, I was taught about life and how to win. By 14 I had fired machine guns, navigated the arden with a compass and map and had 4 GCSE's. Shrewsbury taught me that it doesn't matter where you came from, that sort of crap is just for the history books, what matters is how you live. Boarding school taught me that rules are meant to be broken and that when you do the only person you have to answer to is yourself. To be frank its the reason why so many people from public school achieve high levels of success, Machiavelli may have been a bit of a shit but he was also right and that is what you learn in that system.

PF: This is a big one, Haggis, but what are your observations of the upper classes?

HM: As to my observation of the upper class it is important to realise there are differences. At school there were two groups, the Old money and the New money and the former are among the most decent, loyal and good people you will ever want to meet while the latter are quite simply not very nice. Old money families know where they came from and for the majority of them that was a culture of war, violence and indenture and many are quite ashamed of that fact. It makes them decent. When you can trace you line back to Tacitus you come to understand that you only have the life you do because your ancestors were well not very diplomatic, it forces you to understand that it is not brains, cunning or anything like that that give you your place but that your great-great-great-great grandfather was a bigger murdering bastard than the next man. New money families and especially their children really do not get this. They think that the efforts of their fathers were entirely due to their own industry and fortitude. New money is proper Tory values writ large, completely ignoring the fact that they only got where they are today from the exploitation of others ('nother apology can never quite stop with the class war). In truth the Old families like the Acton-Scotts etc are good, the Anglo-Norman aristocrats know why and how they got where they are. It is the newly rich that made my life hell. Thankfully in Shropshire the only ones that really count are of the Old School and it is them who keep 'dragging me back' and while I take the piss out of them for it, in truth there are no better people you could wish to meet.

 PF: Have you had an upper-class girlfriend? How did that go?

HM: Yes, it is definitely most possible to have a long and lasting relationship across the divide as long as you pick an old money family. My first girl-friend was a scion of the Rothschild family and we still love each other to bits. Genuinely upper class clans don't care where you are from all they really care about is that you try your hardest to keep their daughters happy. Verity (for that was her name) gave me the chance to see and do things I would never have had the chance to do if it were not for her. We lasted 7 years but to be honest she was better than me so, well, things didn't last.

PF: What are you doing now, dear Haggis?

HM: As for what I do for a living unfortunately I don't have a proper job. I make my money by being quick and by my wits. Boarding school gave me that gift too. I have a posh accent and an fantastic memory and that is all I need to make a lot of money.
 
Oh, Haggis, there is nothing unfortunate about not having a proper job! Haggis was fun and sparky to interview. He has lovely manners and was a pleasure to deal with. In spite of his insights, however, I am not much closer to devising a strategy for entering the upper classes. How does a thirty-year-old Piggy with no musical ability and a regional accent mix it with the toffs? At least I have my friend, Haggis...
 
Yet it is not haggis I have cooked for you today, but pheasant.
 
Piggy's pot-roasted pheasant with streaky bacon, celery and carrots
 
The pheasant shooting season is all but over in the UK, but here at Nun Far we have access to pheasants whenever we like. You don't have to be Danny: The Champion of the World to score one of these nasty little birds from Sir Geoffrey's cages. So many English people will never cook or eat a pheasant in their lifetimes, and it's such a shame. Yes, it is 'posh' food (will cook it for Haggis if he ever visits) and it is certainly dearer and less available than chicken, but go to the trouble and the expense and you'll be handsomely rewarded.
 
Pheasant is lean and gamey. It does need sweetening and fattening with bacon. I have also found that it's better suited to pot-roasting. Serve it with plain boiled potatoes (Aoife Cox loves them with just a little butter and salt) or any simple vegetable.
 
Pheasants are quite small. One may feed three reasonably peckish people. This recipe allows for two pheasants, which will do for four people.
 
You will need:
 
  • 2 pheasants
  • 6 rashers of very fatty bacon, rind removed, leave the fat     
  • 50 g (2 oz) butter
  • 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • Few fresh bay leaves, but dried will do
  • Few sprigs of thyme
  • 150mL of chicken stock, homemade if you have it
  • Salt and black pepper
 
Then you have to do this:

  • Preheat oven to 160C/325F.  Cover each pheasant with 3 rashers of bacon and tie them up with string.
  • Melt butter in a large pot/casserole dish over low heat and add the chopped veggies and herbs, pinch of salt and pinch of pepper. Turn them over a few times and then cover and sweat for about 15 minutes or until veggies are tender.
  • Put the bound pheasants on the vegetables and put the pot in the oven (lid on) for 50 minutes. Then take the lid off and turn up the heat to 200C/400C and keep cooking for about 20 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp and the pheasants are cooked through.
  • Take the pheasants out of the pot, put an a board and cover them to keep them warm. Add the stock to the veggies and simmer until the sauce is a good consistency. Now you can take out the thyme and bay leaves. Add salt to the sauce if necessary.
  • Cut the string off the pheasants and lift off the bacon. Cut the meat off the breast and legs and cut diagonally.
  • For serving, spoon some of the veggies and sauce onto each plate and put thigh meat on top. Put the breast meat and a drumstick on top of that (and bacon anywhere you like!). Serve alone or with boiled potatoes.

What a lovely dish for a winter's evening. I enjoyed mine in my parents' overheated cottage in the very village where the pheasants were grown and killed.

Dad delivered the second pheasant to the manor house and I shall await his assessment. If high praise is not forthcoming, then I will know that Sir Geoffrey has no taste.

Piggy xx oink, oink! (Please read about more of my adventures at http://www.piggyfair.com.)

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