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May 7, 2007

Have Pheasant, Join the Aristocracy


It used to be that the surest path to joining the aristocracy was to build yourself a castle, hire henchmen and declare yourself nobility. When someone complained, you could rebut them by pointing to your home and henchmen and saying, “If I weren’t a landed noble, where did the house and henchmen come from? Explain that one, Einstein.”


This was typically sufficient, in large part because if anyone started poking their noses too deeply, they’d learn that the noble making the beef had himself only joined the aristocracy by building a castle and hiring his own henchmen.


Why would someone go to this bother? The answer is simple:


They had superior access to certain delicacies. This made the extra toil of building castles and hiring henchmen worthwhile. Despite a complete paucity of historical evidence, it’s believed in some circles that this is the genesis for what we know today as ambition (some say that someone who went to this trouble possessed good taste, and today this is why we admire the ambitious).


We fast forward through history where we have built, on the backbreaking work of our ancestors, a society of great wealth. Our most ambitious today tend to be those people who spend a great deal of energy avoiding strenuous activity of any kind. And, for this, we are rewarded with easy access to the delicacies of old.


Today, for example, specialty farming has made available to most of us the pheasant, which used to be a sign of great wealth. The reason the wealthy used to prize roasted pheasant under glass, for instance, was because the bird was paraded around so that everyone could see it, sitting there all hot and under glass. It was as if someone were to stand and declare, finger pointing in the air, “I, aristocrat!”


There are three things that distinguish the pheasant from the chicken.


The first is that the chicken is a close relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex. This is perhaps unimportant, excepting for those people who might wonder, looking at dinner, if the last thing that went through the chicken’s head was, “You wouldn’t be such a tough guy if my cousin were here.”


Pheasants are also leaner and tend towards a stronger, richer flavor. That it is leaner meat means that it is less forgiving, making the line sweet and succulent, and tough and stringy.


This is important, because today we have thrown off the shackles of old. Today, we celebrate our primitive side and cherish cooking over the open flame of an outdoor grill.


Although one might be tempted to simply slap the bird down over briquettes, this is a good way to encourage haste and flare-ups. Better, in this case, to either place your briquets on one side of the grill, or to create an empty space in the middle of them after they’ve begun to ash over.


How to regulate heat? The key is being able to determine how hot your coals are. There is a simple trick to doing this. Hold your hand, palm up, several inches above your coals. The shorter it takes for the heat to become intolerable, the hotter your coals. Marvel at the ingenuity.


While the grill heats, prepare the bird by rinsing it off in cold water, patting it dry and applying salt to the outside skin and cavity. Then, pinch the skin until you can pull it away from the breast. On each side of the breastbone and under the skin, slide one leaf of fresh sage. Into the cavity, place a sprig of rosemary and also a garlic clove. The meat will already have a robust flavor, so go subtle. If you have a spare stick from a rosemary plant, or some extra leaves of fresh sage loafing about, complaining about the unjust world they live in, consider tossing them into the coals. This will bring to an end the complaining, and will infuse the heat rising from your coals with an herbal freshness.


Position the bird over where there aren’t coals. If you have some tin foil or a disposable metal pan, you might consider placing it under the bird. Cover the grill, and wait for 20 minutes to half an hour. Turn over the bird. Wait another 10-ish minutes, and pierce the flesh. If the juices run clear, it’s time to eat.


Put the pheasant on a plate, and give yourself a pat on the back – you’ve just become an aristocrat.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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