In my view, this is the best way to cook pheasant and achieve a consistently good result. The lovely smoky flavour of the bacon and its fat make this simple dish special. Just remember to rest the sautéed breasts for as long as you cook them, and avoid overcooking!
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, add the pancetta or bacon and cook for about 10 minutes until slightly crisp.
Add the onion, carrot, bay leaves, thyme, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, tomato purée, stock, white wine and salt and white pepper to taste. Simmer gently for 20 minutes or until the mixture is reduced to about one-third of its original volume.
Add the chestnuts and warm through – be careful, as they will break up if overcooked. Check the seasoning. The sauce should be a silky consistency, so if necessary, add the cornflour mixture and cook until thickened.
Lay the air-dried ham on a chopping board in two lots of four slices, slightly overlapping.
Season the pheasant breasts well with salt and pepper, then lay each one inner fillet side up on a set of overlapping ham slices. For each breast, fold in the two opposite sides of the ham, then fold one end over the breast and turn the breast over, carefully wrapping the breast up nice and tightly.
Turn the parcels over, ensuring that the ‘seam’ is now on the underside, and press the ham around the breasts. Chill well for 20 minutes.
Heat the butter in a frying pan until it turns slightly brown. Add the parcels ‘seam’ side up and gently sauté for 2–3 minutes.
Carefully turn the breasts over so that the ‘seam’ is on the underside, leaving the presentation side looking lovely. Sauté again for 2–3 minutes. Remove from the pan, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest in a warm place for a good 10 minutes.
Slice each parcel into four or five long slices – the meats should be pink and juicy. Serve with Savoy Cabbage & Onions (see page 218 of my Game book).