by John Manikowski
First discovered in the Caucasus Mountains of Asia—whose extreme western border is the Black Sea and on the east, the Caspian Sea—this colorful bird is cousin to the equally dramatic peacock.
Two of the most striking examples of the gallinaceous birds (over fifty species exist), the exceptionally long-tailed Golden and the Lady Amherst can be found on menus in many of China's tourist restaurants. The adventurous diners choose their own entree from a selection of live exhibits, a reflection on patience and a commentary on preferred quality and freshness in that country's cuisine.
We in North America have only recently developed a taste for the Asian descendent whose history stems back centuries to sparsely laid tables of Himalayan foothill peasants but whose culinary treasures are also sported by opulent European hunters, still.
I find the blend of leeks and champagne, together with the natural sweetness of parsnips and pears, a combination duly suited for the glorious pheasant.
Serve with roasted yams and sautéed green beans with toasted pecans.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix together 1 cup of the leeks with the scallions and proscuitto in a small bowl. Set aside.
Pull away the breast skin of the bird by carefully inserting a finger under the skin at the neck, creating a space between the breast meat and the skin. Do the same on the other end, below the ribs. with a sharp knife make 2-3 slits in the skin and flesh of both legs on all sides. Stuff as much of the leek, scallion and proscuitto mix under the breast skin and into the slits as you can. Combine any excess with the remaining 1 cup of leeks with the parsnips and pear slices and stuff inside the cavity. Pour some champagne into the cavity and truss with butchers twine or secure with 1 or 2 bamboo skewers.
Place the bird in a large roasting pan and pour the remainder of the champagne over the bird. Rub olive oil over the skin and sprinkle salt, pepper and chopped parsley on top.
Cover and roast for about 1 hour. Remove cover, baste and return to the oven uncovered until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees F when a meat thermometer is inserted into the drumstick, touching the leg bone.
Serve with the pan drippings and the leek and scallion mixture ladled over the meat.
Chateau De Beaucastel's Chateauneuf-du-Pape (a white Rhone) has almond, peach and spicy flavors that drink exceptionally well with pheasant and with the champagne sauce.
Another fine French wine that has a floral nose with intense fruit with a lingering, spicy finish: Domaine Zind-Humbrecht's.
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