By Sheila Connolly
Well, there’s something I never thought I’d find myself saying.
I’m just back from two weeks in Ireland, doing research for the third book in the County Cork series. This difficult and dangerous task consists largely of sitting in as many pubs and possible and talking to people—the ones behind the bar and the ones in front of it—and eating in a lot of restaurants and driving around the rolling countryside and taking lots of pictures. Oh, poor me.
For the past three visits my husband and I have rented a cottage, since it’s less expensive than staying in a hotel or B&B for the same amount of time, and because it lets us cook at home rather than eating out every night. Plus this time of year the days there are short: the sun comes up about 8:30 and sets about 4:30. If you’ve ever driven the small lanes of rural Ireland, where they’re often no more than a graveled pair of tracks, and most of the directions consist of things like “turn left at the post next to the old tree,” then you can appreciate the desire to be tucked safely at home when it gets dark. The only drawback is that you may find an odd mix of cooking pots and utensils in your rented kitchen. At least this place had a decent assortment of sharp knives, but the cutting board was about six inches square and not good for much. Nor was there a covered casserole to be had, but we managed.
And then there’s the food! Time was (and I’m sure I’ve said this before) that all Irish food consisted of overcooked cabbage and carrots and a lump of meat. No more! It’s wonderful now. There’s a new pub/bistro in the small town I write about, that was under construction last year. It opened last winter and is doing a booming business, and the food is great. It’s bright and airy and attracts both tourists and locals, young and old, men and women and even a few children. It’s clearly a family business—and a wonderful addition to the town.
But, oh, the markets! Bread made daily, fresh veggies, seafood from boats that unloaded no more than a mile away. And this year I found something I hadn’t see before: wild game.
Now, I’m not a hunter, and I don’t seek out such things, but I’ll admit I was intrigued. How often will I get the chance to cook wood pigeon and grouse and partridge and pheasant? I could have tried all of them, but I restrained myself and settled for wood pigeon one night, and pheasant another.
The wood pigeon I sautéed in butter, then roasted on a bed of vegetables, with a little fresh thyme and white wine added. I served it with local potatoes fried in duck fat, also from the market. Lovely (although I will admit that there was not a lot of meat on the tiny birds).
The pheasant came later, and proved meatier. Picture me in the hills of West Cork, sitting outside on the patio trying to get a phone signal (no reception inside our stone cottage, and patchy at best outside) so I could look up online how long to cook a pheasant.
Fearing the bird might be tough, I decided to braise it in stock and wine. I split it and flattened it, then sprinkled salt and pepper and sautéed it in butter and oil. I sliced up an onion and some lovely fresh mushrooms I had on hand, then
sauteed them in the same pan. I spread the cooked veggies in a baking pan, then laid the bird upon them, and added chicken stock and more white wine, plus some more thyme (I was trying to use up as much as I could before we left). I then covered it with foil and put it in a preheated oven (medium—we were guessing 350 degrees, but it was a rather unique stove, that also provided the heat for the house), and cooked it for about an hour. It was fine, cooked through but still tender. I served it with pureed potatoes (translation: they fell apart when I boiled them, so I just threw in butter and cream).
I may never again find myself cooking a pheasant, much less one of those tiny birds, but this one was a success.
And I found some other great recipes that you just might see soon…