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The Game Chef

Pheasant Ragu

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Pheasant Ragu

With their seams of glorious yellow fat and prominent flavour, pheasant thighs can make the most unctuous of sauces for pasta, and the richest, most decadent of these is surely the Bolognese.

Is there any Italian dish more bastardised by the Brits as good old Spaghetti Bolognese? Never mind “good old”, I can’t bear the stuff as cooked in the UK; a great cow pat of undercooked, under-seasoned mince and tomato, flecked with monstrous lumps of semi-solid onion, mushroom, (even sweetcorn, God forbid!), slopped atop some dry, festering pulp of spaghetti that was boiled for the best part of the day. Now this is all very well if you are a poverty stricken student, scrabbling about scraping tuna tins, drinking own brand vodka and having to cobble something together from the dregs of the refrigerator. But if, however, you happen to be a fully functioning grown-up, living in a house and driving a car and doing all those normal things that grown-up people do, then it would rather pay to do things properly with this one – I guarantee it is worth it.

On that note, this dish is not just about the sauce. Please, no spaghetti (the thick sauce just doesn’t stick well); Tagliatelle or Pappardelle are the boys you want for this one, of which there are some pretty good brands available.

Serve this with freshly home-made pappardelle however, and you will be transported to a place reserved by God only for celebrated Italian footballers, car designers and Saints. 

1. Heat the oven to 150c.

2. Season the pheasant thighs and veal with some salt and pepper.

3. In a heavy casserole pan, brown the meat in the oil on a medium/high heat. Remove and set aside.

4. Reduce the heat, gently fry the pancetta in half of the butter and remaining fat for 3-4 minutes, then add the fennel seeds and chilli flakes, fry for 1 minute more.

5. Add the diced vegetables and garlic and turn the heat down to low, adding a pinch of salt to draw out the moisture.

6. After 10-15 minutes when the veg is completely soft, place the meat back in and add the sherry, allow to come to a simmer and add the tomato puree and enough stock to cover.

7. Cover loosely and place in the oven for 3-4 hours, until the meat is falling apart and the liquid has reduced by half.

8. Give the mixture a good stir, breaking up the meat into small shards. Reduce further on the hob if needed, until the mixture is a glorious thick sludge.

9. Before serving, stir through a final knob of butter, a couple of handfuls of grated parmesan and the chopped parsley.