Vietnamese-style Poached Pheasant & Ginger-Garlic Rice

This dish reminds me of my aunt, who – bless her – knew how to cook only one dish well: Vietnamese chicken and rice. Birthdays, holidays, death anniversaries (it's an Asian thing) ... we could count on her to make this. Actually, she was weirdly possessive about it and quick to sneer if another guest dared to bring the same food to family gatherings. My mother and I have enjoyed a few private laughs over the years at my aunt's expense. 

Vietnamese chicken and rice is a comforting, warm dish. It is traditionally prepared with a whole broiler chicken that's gently poached until just cooked through and tender. The poaching liquid is then used to cook the rice, which is then fried with rendered chicken fat, lots of ginger and garlic. This dish will make your house smell amazing. Ginger and garlic fans will appreciate it. For me, it's an aroma that makes me think of home.

I've long wanted to adapt this dish to pheasant, but I had to think carefully about the process. Pheasant is nowhere near as fatty as chicken, and fat is so important in this dish. It provides flavor and richness to the rice, and without it, the dish would not be the same. I also wanted to create a dish where the whole pheasant could be used– the pheasant's legs and thighs would also need to be tender enough to enjoy alongside the breasts. Lots of hunters throw away pheasant legs and thighs – a shame – but fresh off the field, they can be tough.

My solutions were to age the bird for a week, carefully poach the pheasant with a probe thermometer inserted into the breast to avoid overcooking and use rendered duck fat to compensate for the shortage. My efforts were rewarded with a dish that could hold its own. I'm very proud of it.

On aging pheasant: This recipe is best reserved for a pheasant that was not gut shot and preferably a youngish one. To age pheasant, simply hang it whole – feathers and guts intact – in a cold garage or refrigerator that's between 33° and 40° Fahrenheit. I usually hang pheasant at around 35° for about a week. After that, pluck and gut as usual. You may feel tentative about gutting an aged pheasant, but don't be. The smell shouldn't be much worse than a fresh one.

Servings: 2
Prep Time:
Cooking Time:
- 1 whole pheasant, skin on preferably but not required
- 1 onion, halved
- 3 inches of fresh ginger, cut in half lengthwise
- 10 cups of water
- 1/4 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
- Sliced English cucumber 
- 2 cups of uncooked jasmine rice
- 2 to 3 tablespoons of rendered duck fat
- 1 tablespoon of minced ginger
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Ground white pepper, to taste
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 to 2 birds eye chilies, minced
- 2 tablespoons of minced ginger

1. Remove skin from pheasant, if any, and set aside. Place the skinned bird in a pot with onion, ginger, peppercorns and enough water to submerge the pheasant. Turn on heat and simmer gently for about 15 minutes, or until the thickest part of the breast reads 145°F. Immediately remove the pheasant, sprinkle salt on the meat and set aside to cool.

2. Cook the rice according to package direction using some of the poaching liquid. 

3. Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients. Adjust to taste– there should be balance between sour, sweet and salty.

4. If you have pheasant skin, add a tiny bit of duck fat to a cold pan and lay down the skin. Turn on the heat to medium, and render the skin until it becomes golden and crispy, flipping occasionally. Set aside.

4. Heat the remaining duck fat in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of minced ginger and 3 cloves of minced garlic, and sauté for 30-60 seconds or until fragrant; do not brown. Add the cooked rice and saute for a few minutes until heated through. I like my rice a little bit on the greasier side, so add or subtract duck fat to taste. Season with white pepper and a pinch of salt. 

5. Pack the rice into a small bowl and then flip over onto a plate. Enjoy the pheasant cold or gently reheat by dipping the meat into the remaining hot poaching liquid. 

Remove breasts from the pheasant and cut against the grain. Keep the leg and thigh intact or separate them. Chop the crispy pheasant skin, if any, and sprinkle them over the rice. Serve with sliced cucumber and the sauce on the side. 

To eat, sauce should be drizzled over the rice. Dip the pheasant pieces into the sauce to eat.