A Pheasant for Christmas? Chicken Breeder Turns to Long-Tailed Bird
GLASTONBURY, Conn. (AP) _ A pheasant in every pot?
A poultry breeder is aiming to make game a specialty item for more than just a few on the East Coast this Christmas.
The primitive thrill of flushing a long-tailed, richly-colored pheasant from the underbrush at dawn may be missing, but mass-production of one of the favorite delicacies of the great French chefs puts the bird on more plates.
Grayledge Avian Farms bustled with activity last week as workers dressed 2,000 freshly slaughtered pheasants for holiday dinners.
Grayledge, better known for its turkey and chicken breeding, has tried to improve on nature. Its specially bred, short-tailed white pheasants are meatier and more tender than the brown, ring-necked pheasants hunted in the wild.
″Pheasant is still a specialty item for the few,″ said Grayledge owner Henry Saglio. ″Hopefully, we can make it a specialty item for more than a few.″
One measure of the pheasant project’s success so far: the White House served 75 of his tender, succulent pheasants at the annual Governor’s Dinner in February. ″That’s a feather in your cap,″ said Grayledge general manager, Tom Ahern.
Saglio, 80, is in the poultry industry’s Hall of Fame for his work with chicks, said Bob Feldman of the Connecticut Poultry Association.
In the late 1940s, his Arbor Acres bred the first white-featured chickens that have since become a food staple. The birds were meatier and cheaper than the red-and-black birds used primarily as egg producers until then.
Saglio said he sold Arbor Acres for ″a few million dollars″ in 1964. With his son, Robert, he bought Grayledge, a turkey farm, in the mid-1970s and turned it into a leading poultry breeder. It’s one of four large U.S. pheasant producers.
Grayledge sells breeding hens to poultry farmers around the world.
The company got into the pheasant business five years ago when Saglio came upon the broad-breasted Milan White pheasant on a farm in upstate New York. He and Ahern brought home 1,000 of the birds for research and improved the breed through genetic selection.
Ahern began marketing the white pheasants by offering them to chefs at some of Connecticut’s best restaurants, which usually had to settle for frozen birds from California or the Midwest.
″I tried it, I liked it and I’ve been using it since,″ said Jacques Thiebeult, head chef at Homestead Inn in Greenwich. ″It’s doing very well so far, everybody is happy.″
Thiebeult usually roasts whole pheasants in a Madeira wine sauce. But how about sauteed breast filet and foie gras, served with a reduction of pheasant stock, wine and Armagnac? Or pheasant casserole with apples, apple brandy and sour cream?
Chefs also use the thighs and wings for pate or mousse and cook the carcass for stock.
Grayledge hopes to do a half-million dollars in pheasant sales this year, shipping up to 25,000 during the game season from October to December to restaurants, hotels and gourmet food stores. By comparison, 120 million chicken broilers are consumed internationally each week.
But the market for pheasant is growing because of its novelty and nutritional advantages, Ahern said. A pheasant has more protein than chicken but 30 percent less fat, he said.
The farm’s average 3-pound dressed white pheasant yields a pound of breast meat. Dressed birds cost about $4 a pound. Chicken costs about $1.25 a pound.
The biggest problems in raising pheasants are their bent toward cannibalism and need for space, Ahern said. The adult birds wear plastic, clip-on eye shades to protect their eyes from pecking.
″They’re neat little rascals,″ he said. ″They’re funny, they have little personalities. Some are docile, some are aggressive and some are just downright mean.″