Long gone are the days when I went hunting with my dad. He usually got a ringneck pheasant or two on an autumn Saturday. I was lucky to tag along to topple a couple of tin cans off a wall with a BB gun. He’d field dress it, and take it home to my mum, and I remember she’d roast it, covered, on a bed of sauerkraut. Pheasants were, and are, free food and wonderful seasonal eating.

The hunter in your family may be out in the brushy fields stalking game birds. He or she may also have just one shot to drop a pheasant in the wild, maybe the only bird to be taken this season.

These days, I’m a buyer, not a shooter. Farm-raised birds are for sale online at D’Artagnan and other game sites. Around the holidays, Whole Foods Market and similar stores get them (call ahead for price and availability). Or a generous friend who belongs to a hunting club might gift one to you.

If a wild or farm-raised pheasant comes to your kitchen, you, too, will have only one shot to roast the best bird you can.

Cooking pheasant is straightforward. Young birds can be cooked as you would a chicken. Wild or farm-raised, I always roast mine in a Reynolds Oven Bag, a fool-proof product deserving of the plug. If a pheasant is full of shot, however, or not attractive enough to serve whole, poach it in chicken stock, cool, pull meat from bones and either serve in chunks or use, say, in a meat pie. One pheasant will serve two or three, depending on size.

How you carve and serve a roast pheasant depends on the size of the bird. If it’s a little guy, say in the one-and-a-half-pound range, serve one-half bird to a person. After the cooked bird has rested, place it on a cutting board; remove the backbone with kitchen scissors, flip it and cut down on either side of the breastbone. A larger bird, say three pounds, can be carved whole like a chicken. Each serving would include breast meat and a thigh.

Since pheasants are fast runners, their legs are full of tendons. Save the drumsticks for a delicious “picking” lunch in the kitchen. And always save the carcass and all bones and bits to make a stock, even a small amount is a delicious treat.

Complement the pheasant meat with cranberry or, better yet, Cumberland sauce, an old-fashioned tart-fruit sauce usually served with meats and game. For minimal fuss, a good substitute would be a red pepper jelly, melted along with a good slug of Port. Round out the meal with autumn favorites: apple, squash, Brussels sprouts and a homemade pie.

FOOL-PROOF ROASTED PHEASANT

It’s important to remove the wing tips from all pheasants before they are roasted. If left on, the wing tips will curl back over the breast of the bird, making it almost impossible to carve.

Makes 2 or 3 servings

3 pounds pheasant

Salt and pepper or rub of choice, to taste

Lemon halves, optional

1 tablespoon flour for the bag

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Season or rub the bird.

Place lemon halves in the cavity, if using.

Add flour to the bag and shake it. Place bird in a Reynolds Oven Bag following package directions.

Roast bird for approximately 50 to 55 minutes.

When done, a meat thermometer (placed into the thickest part of the thigh) will register 170 degrees.

Carefully remove the bird from the bag, and let rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes. Save the juices: transfer them to a saucepan with 3/4 cup chicken stock and reduce a bit. Add a few wild mushrooms that have been sauteed in butter if you like.

Serve with Cumberland sauce (below).

From “Wild about Game” by Janie Hibler

CUMBERLAND SAUCE

Makes about 2 cups

Zest from 1 orange, finely julienned

Zest from 1 lemon, finely julienned

1 (12-ounce) jar red currant jelly

1/2 cup Ruby port

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice from 2 to 3 oranges

2 tablespoons cup freshly squeezed lemon juice from about 2 lemons

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon (1/2 ounce) grated fresh gingerroot

Generous amount freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste.

Cornstarch, optional

Fill a small sauce pan with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Place julienned orange and lemon zests in boiling water and blanch for 5 minutes. Strain zests, rinse with cold water, set aside.

Return now empty saucepan to stove and add red currant jelly, port, orange juice, lemon juice, mustard, ginger, salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking to combine. Reduce heat to a rolling simmer, stir in lemon and orange zests, and cook until sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon, about 10 minutes.

Stir occasionally until reduced to about 2 cups.

For a thicker “coating” sauce, stir 1 to 2 tablespoons cornstarch into 1/4 cup water or additional Port, add to the sauce and cook an additional 2 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container for up to a week, warming prior to use. Leftover sauce is good with all poultry, and lamb, too.

POACHED PHEASANT

Wild pheasants are often dry because they have so little fat. But when they are poached in chicken stock, the meat becomes infused with moisture. After the meat is pulled from the bones, it can be used in any recipe calling for cooked chicken. Enchiladas with fire-roasted chilies are terrific.

Makes about 3 cups

1 whole pheasant, about 3 pounds

1 onion, quartered

31/2 cups homemade chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth

Combine the pheasant, onion and chicken stock in a large pot.

Cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then turn the heat off, but do not take off the lid or remove the pot from the burner. Let sit at room temperature until the pan is cool.

Remove the bird from the stock and pull off the skin. Pull the meat from the bones and discard meat and bones. Check the meat for shot and any bone shards.

Strain the stock, and use as you would chicken stock.

From “Wild about Game”