On Saturday, to my amazement, I actually shot my first pheasant. A friend had invited me to go on a shoot in the Essex countryside, something I’d longed to do ever since, as a teenager, I persuaded my mother to buy me a brace of pheasants to pluck, draw and cook. Rain had been forecast, but it turned out to be a glorious day: bright, cold and blue-skied. So we spent the day tramping around the countryside, through ploughed fields and meadows, and a small wood, and then standing around with our guns, waiting for the birds to fly up out of the bushes. I hadn’t been near a gun since I messed around with an air rifle in my parents’ garden, many years ago, and was a bit nervous. But it was exciting, and difficult. Somehow, towards the end of the day, when the clouds were smudgy and the trees spidery against the declining light, I managed to hit one, and it fell.
So I came back to London with some gorgeously plumed pheasants, which I hung outside my kitchen window, and the back of the house. I plucked the first one on Tuesday, on my doorstep. On Tuesday evening, my friend Xiaoming and I were cooking dinner for a bunch of colleagues, and I wanted to make a Chinese pheasant broth.
I plucked, singed and drew the bird, and then did the Chinese thing: blanching it and then marinating it in Shaoxing wine, ginger, spring onion and salt to remove any unpleasant gamey flavours. Afterwards I brought it slowly to the boil in a big clay pot filled with water, skimmed it, and then cooked it very slowly for a long time with 黄芪 (membranous milk vetch root)，山药 (Chinese yam) ，龙眼肉 (longan meat), ginger, Shaoxing wine and Chinese wolfberries (a.k.a goji berries).
It was a gentle, soothing soup, which my friend Rebecca claimed made her coldy, hoarse voice much better. We ate it as part of a meal that also included steamed chicken in lotus leaves, fish-fragrant aubergines, stir-fried lily bulb (百合) with beancurd skin (腐竹) and cashew nuts, mapo doufu (麻婆豆腐), steamed sea bass, water spinach with fermented beancurd, and stir-fried mushrooms.