THE BLOG

Hot Smoked Pheasant and Partridge

27/03/2015 12:19 GMT | Updated 26/05/2015 10:59 BST

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I've given up smoking cigarettes. I seem to have started smoking everything else in sight. No, Officer, nothing illegal here, that's just a side of salmon/slab of bacon/hunk of cheese. Regular readers will know we've finally got the cold smoker up and running but this week I've been hot smoking game.

I never really fancy game out of season, I suppose because I associate it with wintry meals. Consequently, towards the end of summer, I sometimes unearth past-their-sell-by birds buried at the bottom of the freezer.

But rescue them before they get to that stage, pop them in the hot smoker and you have something that makes the perfect centrepiece for a spring or summer salad. If game isn't your cup of tea, you can smoke chicken the same way. It simultaneously cooks and adds flavour and keeps the meat nice and moist (assuming you get your timings right).

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I used pheasant and partridge breasts, briefly cured with salt, sugar and aromatics, from a recipe in Curing and Smoking by River Cottage's resident expert Steven Lamb. Personally I found the juniper berries gave the cure too bitter a taste but that could have been user error - maybe I bashed them up too much instead of bruising them. I'd be more cautious another time. I preferred the more gentle alternative cure.

I smoked mine over apple chips but you can use any hardwood you like: oak, maple, hickory, the choice is yours. If you don't have a hot smoker you can find directions online for using a wok (line it with foil first) or a kettle barbecue. I strongly advise doing it out of doors unless you want your house to smell like kippers.

Hot Smoked Pheasant and Partridge (servings: aim for 1 breast per person)

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Each of these cures is enough for four pheasant or chicken breasts or eight partridge breasts. PDV (Pure Dried Vacuum) salt is 99.9% pure and infinitely cheaper bought in bulk than sea salt. If you're only planning on doing small quantities, though, you can use a fine sea salt.

For Steven's cure:

150g demerara sugar

150g PDV salt (or use fine sea salt)

1 tspn juniper berries, bruised

4 bay leaves, shredded (roll them into a cigar shape and cut across)

1 tspn black peppercorns, coarsely crushed

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For my variation:

150g demerara sugar

150g PDV salt

1 tspn black peppercorns, coarsely crushed

1 tspn coriander seeds, coarsely crushed

1 tspn ras el hanout

Method:

Mix all the cure ingredients together in a bowl. Take a shallow tray (food-standard plastic or pottery but don't use metal as that reacts with the cure) big enough to hold the breasts in a single layer. Put half the cure on the bottom of the dish, lay the breasts on top and cover with the remainder.

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Leave for just 12-15 minutes, then wash off the cure under cold water and dry the breasts thoroughly on a clean tea towel. You can refrigerate them overnight at this point if you don't want to smoke them straight away. When you're ready to cook, light the hot smoker, lay the breasts on the rack and cover.

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Smoke for around 10 minutes if you have small partridge breasts, up to 20 minutes for pheasant or chicken, until cooked through but not dry. It's very easy to over-cook when you're hot smoking. Err on the side of caution. You can always put them back in if they're not done enough.

Remove from the smoker and allow to rest for five minutes if you want to serve them warm, or cool completely and slice thinly. Smoked pheasant/chicken/partridge can be eaten as a main course but I like it as a starter with a few salad leaves, maybe with a little bland, creamy avocado, or a good chutney or relish (try quince jelly) and a hunk of home-made bread.