A hearty meal

Peter Walters, Keele University'€™s Executive Chef, creates a heart-warming dish in time for St Valentine's Day

It’s February and time for all young hearts to think of only love. It’s that point in the year where your pride will be dashed if no card of amorous intent drops through the letterbox or is found in your in tray. The quote from G.K. regarding love may be true, for often we never know what we’ve got until it’s gone. I’d like to say he may be wrong in his assumption because I love pheasant and it will not be lost if I cook it well and assimilate it through my digestive tract. It won’t be lost, it will be won and the cooking, thereof, a real triumph.

This month’s seasonal recipe is a perfectly formed ‘Venus’ of a dish; pheasant not so rich as to send your intended to sleep but flavoursome enough to capture the heart.

Pot-Roasted Pheasant with Pearl Barley and Vegetables 600ml chicken stock

100g pearl barley
1 tsp salt
50g goose fat, duck fat or butter
2 pheasants
4 back bacon rashers
8 shallots, peeled
275g carrots cut into 3cm chunks
225g parsnips cut into 3cm chunks
150g celeriac cut into 3cm chunks
2 celery stalks cut into 3cm lengths
1 leek cleaned and thickly sliced
Sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves picked
4 bay leaves
12 juniper berries, crushed
250ml Marsala, Madeira or medium-sweet sherry

1 Bring 350ml of chicken stock and 50ml water to the boil in a pan. Add the pearl barley and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes until the barley is cooked al dente.

2 Meanwhile, heat the fat or butter in a large, flameproof casserole or use a frying pan. Season the pheasants inside and out with salt and pepper, brown them lightly all over.

3 Lift out with a slotted spoon and leave to cool slightly. Lay one bacon rasher over each of the breasts (two rashers per bird) and tie in place with string.

4 Heat the oven to 220°C. Add the shallots to the pan and brown all over. Add the other vegetables, rosemary, ½ teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Cover and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring now and then, until the vegetables are golden and half-cooked.

5 Mix the bay leaves and juniper berries into the vegetables with the cooked pearl barley, Marsala, Madeira or sherry and the remaining chicken stock. Rest the pheasants on top, bring to the boil on the hob over a high heat, then cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes to brown the bacon. Remove from the oven, cover again and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

6 To serve, lift the pheasants onto a board, cut off the string and lift off the bacon. Carve off each breast in one piece and remove the legs, then slice the breast meat. Season the vegetables to taste, then spoon onto warmed plates and place some of the pheasant on top. Spoon over the juices and serve. If you really want to impress, use a heart-shaped cutter on the vegetables before cooking. A nice bottle of fizz and who knows, to the victor the spoils!