Bartolomeo Scappi is the second, after Maestro Martino di Como, of the great Italian Renaissance cooks (though it can be argued that Scappi was the first to make a break with medieval cookery dogma). He was the personal chef for two popes, and assembled his Opera to instruct his apprentices in their work. His cookbook of over 1000 recipes is the most influential book on cookery at least until the great French cookery texts of the mid 17th century. The text also included an invaluable series of plates that depicted systems and utensils of the period, including the first known depiction of a fork which appears in the Cruditas logo, above.
So, even though I used the grill as a fireproof base for this endeavor, I tried to be as authentic as possible. For a spit I gathered up some extra lumber and hit it with a hatchet until it seemed suitably chastened. The recipe basically says put the pheasant on a spit and roast it (while supplying some helpful hints on pheasant foot color and why you shouldn’t trust pheasants that have been raised in Rome), dressing with some pork fat and rubbing with salt and clove.
If I had a nickel for every Scappi recipe that didn’t have pork fat in it, I’d have about a quarter.
I used salt pork, sliced thin, slid between the skin and the meat of the beast. Pheasant has a real tendency to dry out, so I used a lot of salt pork, covering as much of the bird as I could without dislodging so much skin that it made a mess. Periodically the salt pork would render and fall into the fire creating lovely bursts of flame, but, luckily, not immolating the fowl.
The skin I simply rubbed with cloves, salt and pepper, and put some pieces of salt pork on there for good measure. I tied the legs together as an afterthought because they were really a dangle. Eventually the twine I used to tie them up caught fire, but the legs had cooked themselves in place by then.
It was pretty time consuming – at the height I had the spit at, it cooked slowly, but at a speed that I, a spit novice, was comfortable with. I would guess the whole roasting took 2 1/2 hours, but you could probably lower the bird substantially and turn it more often.
The salt pork did its job though and the pheasant was succulent, the skin crispy. Clove worked nicely with the flavors, and there was nary a trace of salt pork to weird the deal. Lovely for dinner, and for lunch the next day I had a pressed pheasant sandwich with quince jelly.
Stuffing is (or seemed) optional but Scappi suggests beaten pork fat, egg yolks, beaten common herbs and fresh fennel. Maybe next time.