Artisanal and Picholine
3 3 and 1/2-to-4-pound pheasants, preferably wild Scottish pheasants (available from D'Artagnan)
8 cups kosher salt
4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dry rosemary
1/3 cup dry sage
1/3 cup dry thyme
3 tablespoons ground juniper berries
3 sprigs thyme
3 shallots, chopped
6 bay leaves
Note: Chicken or guinea hen may be substituted for the pheasant; squab, wood pigeon, or red-leg partridge may also be substituted, but cooking time should be reduced -- a 1-pound squab will take 16 minutes to cook.
Place the salt, 4 cups flour, rosemary, sage, dry thyme, and juniper berries in a mixing bowl and combine. Add 3 cups of ice water and mix with a wooden spoon until the water is incorporated, then knead the dough until it forms a ball, adding more flour if the mixture is too moist. Remove to a lightly floured pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour. (Do not keep more than 1 hour, as the salt will begin to break down with the moisture from the refrigerator.)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place one chopped shallot, a sprig of thyme, and 2 bay leaves in the cavity of each bird. Divide the salt crust into 3 equal pieces. Dust a sheet of parchment or wax paper with flour, place a piece of dough between two sheets of parchment, and roll with a rolling pin into a circular shape until it becomes 1/4-inch thick. Remove the top sheet of parchment and invert dough over the breast of the pheasant using the bottom sheet of paper to maneuver the dough. Remove the paper and mold the dough around the pheasant, sealing the dough under the pheasant, making sure it is totally enclosed. Cut away excess dough and place bird in a nonstick roasting pan, or one lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining 2 pheasants.
Put the pheasants in the oven and roast for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. Remove the birds from the oven and let them rest with the crust on for 12 to 15 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees.
Present the salt-crusted pheasants to your guests and crack the crust with a wooden mallet or the back of a knife. Remove all the crust before carving the bird.
Any kind of roasted root vegetable, root-vegetable purée, roasted Brussels sprouts, sautéed wild mushrooms, chestnut spaetzle, or gratin of mixed squash.