Pheasant is one of the larger game birds, with a dressed weight of 2 to 3 pounds. The flesh is mild and delicate in flavor and can be used in any recipe calling for chicken. Commercially raised birds are generally bought and cooked whole. Birds shot in the wild are leaner and tougher, so cooks and hunters often choose to harvest only the breasts, or cook them separately and use the rest of the carcass for broth or soup.
Pheasant breasts can be roasted either whole or stuffed, giving them a crisp, golden skin and juicy interior. The breasts are smaller than chicken breasts and cook quickly, so some care must be taken not to overcook them. At 425 degrees Fahrenheit, they can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes to bake, depending on their size. Some cooks prefer to sear them skin-side down in a skillet first to ensure crispness and shorten their time in the oven. Let roasted breasts rest for a few minutes before slicing or serving them.
Grilling is another quick cooking method that crisps the skin and leaves the flesh tender and juicy. Grilled breasts are often marinated for a few hours or overnight, infusing them with flavor. A small amount of reserved marinade can be brushed on while grilling for additional flavor. Sear the breasts on a hot grill to mark the skin, then reduce the heat to medium and grill for an additional six to eight minutes. The skinless side of the breast should be brushed with oil or marinade to protect it from the drying effect of the flames.
Pan-frying, like roasting or grilling, sears the surfaces of the breast and creates good flavors during the browning process. Unlike the other methods, pan-frying also preserves the cooking juices for use in sauce making. Sear the skin side first, then reduce the heat and cook for four or five minutes on each side. Remove the breasts and cover them loosely with aluminum foil, then deglaze the pan by pouring in 1/2 cup of light red wine or dry sherry. Reduce the wine by half, then finish the sauce by whisking in 1 teaspoon of cold butter. Serve over the breasts.
There are times when simple preparations such as grilling are appropriate, but sometimes a more sophisticated dish is called for. Braising consists of searing the breast to brown it, then simmering it until fully cooked. White wine or a light red, dry sherry, tawny port or apple cider are all good choices. When the breasts are cooked, reduce the cooking liquid to thicken it, and finish it up with a swirl of cream. Other flavorful ingredients such as caramelized pearl onions or wild mushrooms can be added to the sauce for taste and texture.