Apple and Bourbon Braised Leg of Pheasant

This may very well be the best pheasant recipe we have tried. It is classic French cooking at its finest. The braising method is sure to leave you with an incredibly tender piece of meat and caramelized vegetables.  The bourbon, garlic, and other aromatics make this dish tremendously flavorful. This recipe originally comes from Commander’s Wild Side cookbook, a wonderful book of wild game recipes from the legendary Commander’s Palace restaurant in New Orleans. You can purchase it here. We have added a few small changes as well as some tips for preparation. 

First, removing the tendons from the legs of the pheasant is crucial. If this is not done you will have to really work to separate the meat from the tendon while eating. In this short video below, Dick Turpin shows an easy trick for removing the tendons before cleaning the bird. 

- Ingredients -

4 celery stalks, cut into 1 ½ -inch pieces

2 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 ½ -inch pieces

10 garlic cloves

¾ cup of your favorite Kentucky bourbon

2 cups French demi-glace (see notes below)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

8 pheasant legs with thighs 

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2  Gala apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/8ths lengthwise

1 onion, cut into 6 pieces lengthwise

8 ounces button mushrooms, wiped clean, left whole

Don't be intimidated by the demi-glace. No need to make this from scratch unless you are feeling ambitious. We used Classic French Demi-Glace from More Than Gourmet ®. It is as easy to prepare as a can of soup. If this is not available at your local grocery store, you can order it here. You will need (2) 1.5 oz packages to create the 2 cups of Demi-Glace required.  

Prepare the demi-glace:  

    In a separate saucepan, simply add the demi-glace and hot water according to package instructions, bring to a light simmer and whisk until completely dissolved (approx. 6 minutes). Set aside.

Brown the Pheasant:

    Season the pheasant on both sides with ½ teaspoon of the salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over high heat until it is hot and shimmering. Add half the pheasant legs, and cook until deep brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Turn them over and cook for another 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining pheasant legs, and transfer them to the plate. 

Caramelize and cook the remaining ingredients:

    Add the apples, onion, mushrooms, celery, carrots, garlic, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are caramelized, 10 minutes.

    Add ½ cup of the bourbon and cook, being very careful of flare-ups, until the liquid is almost evaporated, 1/1/2 to 2 minutes. Stir in the demi glace and bring to a simmer. 

Braise in Oven:

   Add the pheasant back into the Dutch oven, arranging the pheasant so that it is in the middle between the other ingredients. If it is sitting on top, it will dry out. Cover the pot, transfer it to the oven, and braise for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, until the meat is very tender and falling from the bone.

Final Flavoring:

   Remove the pot from the oven and set it on the stove over medium heat. Skim away any fat from the surface. Add the remaining ¼ cup bourbon and the thyme and cook for 5 minutes. Swirl in the butter until melted.


This pheasant dinner pairs very well with wild rice and a green vegetable. We chose brussel sprouts. French bread and a Bordeaux complete this memorable meal.