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Smothered Pheasant Recipe with Fresh Sage and Brown Butter Gravy

A simple, savory pheasant dish for a cold fall day.

Smothered Pheasant Recipe

This pheasnt dish works well in the slow cooker, especially if you plan on cooking the whole bird because you’re less likely to burn it. (Photo By: Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley)

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When I think “smothered chicken,” my imagination immediately spins an unfortunate, yet comical, scene. Thankfully, this southern dish has nothing to do with goose-down pillows and unsuspecting poultry. It’s rather a cooking technique of Cajun and Creole origin. You might know the famous Louisiana dish called étouffée, which translates to “muffled” or “smothered.” Étouffée is essentially smothered seafood, except that chefs take the extra time to create a nutty brown roux. There’s no need for that in smothering chicken or pork chops—you’re looking for a lighter gravy.

Smothering is simple: Meat and vegetables are browned, liquid is added to make a gravy, and the whole thing is covered and gently cooked until tender over the stovetop. It’s basically a stovetop braise, and the method works just as well with pheasant as it does with more traditional meats. I am a fan of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, but if you want to keep with southern style, substitute seasoned salt with Cajun/Creole seasoning. If you use a blend that’s spicy, maybe also replace the Tabasco sauce with apple cider vinegar if you’re sensitive.


My contribution to this dish, if you can call it that, is frying the sage and adding browned butter into the gravy. While more traditional recipes call for adding chopped herbs during simmering, I think garnishing the finished dish with crispy sage adds texture and color to an otherwise plain-looking dish. And if there’s an opportunity to add brown butter somewhere, I do it shamelessly. I missed the depth that you get from dark gravy in étouffée, so brown butter is an easy way to introduce rich, nutty notes without overwhelming.

smothered pheasant recipe stovetop cooking
The author kicks up this traditional smothered pheasant recipe by adding fresh sage and brown butter. (Photo By: Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley)

For this recipe, I used only pheasant breasts for faster cooking, but if you’d like to add the legs and thighs, you’d have to adjust the amount of liquid and cooking time. Pheasant legs require a bit more time to soften—I’d say at least an hour, depending on the age of the bird. And the longer the cook, the more liquid you’ll need to prevent the dish from drying out or worse, burning.

Here’s a tip: This dish also works well in the slow cooker, especially if you plan on cooking the whole bird because you’re less likely to burn it. Double the gravy recipe in this case and add more stock as needed. In step three, transfer the pheasant and gravy into a slow cooker and set on low until tender. Smothered meats taste delicious over rice. It’s a comforting meal that always hits the spot.

Smothered Pheasant Recipe

Serve the smothered pheasant meat over rice for a comforting meal that will hit the spot on a cold day.

Yield: 2 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless pheasant breasts (plus wings, optional)
  • ¼ cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned salt
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 rib of celery, finely diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup of unsalted chicken/game stock
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of salted butter
  • About 10 fresh sage leaves
  • Tabasco sauce, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped parsley
  • 2 servings of cooked white rice

Cooking Directions:

  1. Season pheasant with seasoned salt to taste.
  2. Pour ¼ cup of flour into a shallow bowl or dish.
  3. In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat ¼ cup of vegetable oil, and when hot, dredge seasoned pheasant pieces in flour and fry until golden on both sides. If pheasant has skin on it, brown the skin side first.
  4. Transfer fried pheasant to a plate and set aside
  5. Lower heat to medium.e.
  6. Pour out excess oil in the skillet, leaving 2 tbs. remaining.
  7. Add finely diced onion and celery, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  8. Add minced garlic, ¼ tsp. of seasoned salt and 1 tbs. of flour and stir for about 2 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to burn—lower heat if needed.
  9. Next, gradually stir in stock, scraping up browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  10. Allow sauce to simmer for about 5-7 minutes to thicken, increasing heat if needed, stirring occasionally. Sauce is thick enough when you can run a spoon across it and make a path that lasts momentarily.
  11. Then, lay pheasant skin-side up into the sauce.
  12. Cover and simmer on low for 15 minutes.
  13. Stir the sauce occasionally to prevent the bottom from burning.
  14. Meanwhile, melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When you see the color of the butter start to turn hazelnut color—watch carefully—quickly add the sage leaves one by one.
  15. Take skillet off heat to prevent the butter from burning; it will taste bitter if burnt
  16. Flip the leaves to fry the other side with residual heat, and then drain sage leaves on a paper towel. They should be crispy.
  17. Transfer pheasant to a serving dish.
  18. To make the sauce, stir in the browned butter, chopped parsley, Tabasco sauce, and freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste.
  19. Pour sauce over pheasant and garnish with crispy sage leaves.
  20. Serve immediately with cooked white rice.


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