I’m not a pheasant plucker

January 4, 2007

I noticed in the Guardian Guide this week that there’s going to be a new series called ‘Road Kill Cafe’ on the box this year. Well, VBD has got in there first, with our very own road-kill exclusive.

Waiting to be plucked

This poor wee she-pheasant was found dead, but still warm, on a dark country lane in the Scottish borders, near the cottage we were staying over the new year. Her pheasant-mate, who’d been keeping a lonely vigil in the trees near where she lay, flew off dejectedly when we stopped the car.

We got out to inspect the body in the light of the headlights. Maths chick was dubious, borderline horrified, by my insistence on slinging the battered corpse in the car and taking her home for the pot.

We hung her by the feet in a barn next to the cottage, high enough off the ground to prevent any passing foxes from taking a nibble. There was a brief debate about whether a bird needs plucking and gutting before or after being hung. We decided to leave her intact for a respectful period of mourning. I went to the barn each day to check if the rigor mortis had worn off, and to give her a quick snifter, to make sure she wasn’t honking too badly.

Hanging pheasant

I finally got round to plucking her this afternoon, 6 days later. In his ‘Meat Book’ Hugh Furry-Wellingtonboot makes plucking and drawing a bird sound like a doddle. Well, it ain’t. It’s like having a pillow fight with a cold, bloody mess of skin, flesh and innards. I started off in the kitchen, but a mushroom cloud of tiny down-feathers soon forced me, sneezing violently, out into the back yard to finish the job.

I soon discovered a large ball of undigested grass in the creature’s gullet. Not only had it failed to learn the Green Cross code as a youngster, it’d obviously never been taught to chew it’s food properly either. It must have had the manners of a pheasant. Ha ha.

The skin was ripped in several places from its road accident, and its guts were spilling out of a tear between the breast and the leg. 15 minutes of ham-fisted plucking soon rendered the bird unrecognisable, and I gave up on the idea of roasting a nice, whole pheasant for tea.

Pheasant meat

In the end, I hacked off the breast and legs, removed the skin and have just bunged it in a pot with white wine, garlic, thyme and onion. I’m going to leave it to stew slowly until Maths chick staggers home from her first day back at school.

Pheasant in a pot

The whole experience has taught me I am neither a pheasant plucker, nor a pheasant plucker’s son, and I’m only plucking pheasants because I’m now ‘working from home’ and have got bugger all else to do.

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19 Responses to “I’m not a pheasant plucker”

  1. crzy_rgntnn Says:

    Oh dear… let´s find you a web project, shall we?

  2. gastropunk Says:

    Yes indeed, the devil makes work for idle hands…

  3. FactoBrunt Says:

    You probably saved yourself a good bunch of notes there. I’m not sure I would have had the guts to go and get it, but I sure admire you for doing it; it’s better than the poor dear rotting away on a road, I’d say.
    So, what was it like?

  4. crzy_rgntnn Says:

    Or maybe the geekycook is trying to impress his girl with “very male attitudes”? (as I heard someone say when talking about slaughtering dead meat in a kitchen…)

  5. Mathschick Says:

    Well, I have just gotten home to the most amazing smell of roadkill cooking. I am most impressed with Gastropunk’s “male attitude” to this bird. I hope he treats me with the same dignity when I am but a roadkill…

    The kids at school didn’t believe me when I told them we scraped a bird off the road to cook and now I have not only photographic evidence, but a gastronomic memory which is just about to be provided in the guise of pheasant stew.

    Oh boy, if it tastes as good as it smells I will be one happy lady. Now that’s what I call “working from home”… let’s hope he doesn’t get anybody wanting him to do any work for them…

  6. crzy_rgntnn Says:

    This guy seems to know his girl 🙂
    Greetings from Argentina, maths chick!

  7. amalee issa Says:

    Our village game dealer told me to hang pheasants head up and intact for three days, so birds shot Saturday morning are always plucked and drawn in my house on Tuesday night. Once or twice I’ve left them longer, and to be honest, I can’t tell the difference in taste or appearance, but then it was always really cold (hence putting off the trip to the toolshed / pheasant store.) Well done on your pheasant adventure. Have you thought about venturing into furred game?

  8. Kinson Says:

    Reminds me of a fact of law (well, it might not be, just something I heard when I was a lad) that it’s legal to pick up roadkill that you didn’t kill, but illegal to pick up roadkill that you did kill.

    Mathschick – think yourself lucky that you came home to the post-cooking smell rather than the post-plucking-and-gutting, pre-cooking one…

  9. gastropunk Says:

    factobrunt, check out the following post for a review of road kill stew…

    amalee, so birds are meant to be hung by the neck are they? we did wonder if we had it the wrong way up – makes sense if you think about it… I have once skinned and gutted a rabbit – a long time ago now – that also was road kill. it’s a lot easier to prepare than a pheasant – just snip off the head, pull back the fur and it all comes off in one piece… very satisfying.

    kinson, good to know we didn’t stray off the straight and narrow by taking the bird home… you can be the honorary VBD legal adviser from now on.

  10. oldbirdofdevon Says:

    Using the tenuous link of ‘truss’, I’d like to move the conversation from game birds to punctuation (Ms Lynne Truss), and comment on the dreaded apostrophe ‘it’s’ when used as a possessive pronoun eg ‘it’s guts’. It’s ‘its guts’ with no apostrophe. It’s is short for it is. Sorry about that. Hopefully the teacher in your life will forgive me, a former teacher.

  11. gastropunk Says:

    ah, the damned apostrophe, always sticking itself in where it’s not needed. sorry, oldbirdofdevon, the offending items have been removed.

  12. oldbirdofdevon Says:

    Thanks gastropunk. You have made a game old bird very happy.

  13. Jon Says:

    thanks for the anecdote – have just returned with pheasant blood on my paws – in defense of our sweetcorn plantation! so now am looking to steer a path through the contradictory advice on game-bird preparation: to hang or not? to draw or not? to skin or to pluck?

    I too fear that our roast will become stew .. let’s see our we fare with our fare ; >

    Jon,
    New Zealand

  14. Shane Says:

    Btw you are ment to hang them by the neck not feet 🙂
    This makes it much easier when it comes to drawing the bird

  15. Mary Howard Says:

    Very interested in this discussion. We can no longer get our pheasants plucked, can’t stand doing the job so we skin the birds. But this has played havoc with my traditional ways of cooking them. Any particular hints or ideas on best way to cook skinned pheasants very welcome. I’ve picked up a few already on reading this page. I think jointing the birds will be better and ‘parcelling’ them in bacon sounds great. Best ideas for basic ingredients in the pot – onbviously onions, mushrooms…what are the best fruits?
    Mary
    Ireland

  16. All Plucked Out Says:

    I read this with interest, having just this very eventide plucked and drawn five brace of pheasant that my friend and I bought in feather, cheap [or perhaps cheep], at our local Farmers’ Market. This is the first time I have tackled pheasant from feather [as opposed to oven-ready] and I can offer the following notes:
    1] They are easier to pluck, tastier, and more tender if they have been hung. However, if they have significant surface wounds, hanging for more than a day or two is not really an option, and plucking is hell.
    2] Birds are traditionally hung head-up, because this keeps the guts, with their potentially contaminating bacteria, away from the bulk of the meat.
    3] Some books say that pheasant should be hung till the longest tail feather pulls out easily. Our birds had been hung, based on what the game dealer told me about his hanging, for a total of sixteen days [hold on, that means they might have been shot out of season – oh damn it] in temperatures equivalent to a butcher’s cold store; they were about right, verging on slightly high. If we had waited till the tail feathers pulled out easily, they would have been crawling, and we would have been eating them with summer salads [if we could face them at all].
    4] The best way to get the smell of matured pheasant fluids off your hands is to rub them with cut lemons, vigorously!
    As for cooking, I think for birds you can’t roast [because of age or condition, or skinned-ness], the absolute best treatment is the classic pot roast with cabbage, bacon and chestnuts [numerous versions online]. As for fruits, pheasant goes well with redcurrants, apples [pheasant normandie – superb], quince jelly [even my slightly dodgy home-made], or cranberries – anything tart but fragrant; I’ve often speculated about a version with pears, but never actually tried it, so if anyone gives it a go, let me know how you get on!

  17. Antony Says:

    Interesting, thanks. There’s a cock pheasant hanging (by the neck) in our shed right now. I saw him roadside yesterday morning whilst cycling to work. Yes he was dead, but intact. No I didn’t kill him!

    I couldn’t carry him right then (and don’t think my colleages would have been very happy!) so hid him behind a tree and crossed fingers against foxes…

    He was still there in the afternoon when I came back with a suitable bag! Yay!

  18. Pye Says:

    I’ve a cock hanging by the feet (whoops) in our garage now. I’m turning to the idea of skinning the bugger too as I’ve heard nothing great about plucking. D=

    I hope it goes as well as yours!

  19. Ian Says:

    I spent 7 pounds on two birds that were prepared oven ready, the next day after watching video’s on You-Tube I had to return to the butchers and have ago , I paid 4 pounds per brace and bought 2 braces, I took them to my girlfriends who was not happy with me but yes I have prepared them and I got better at it with practice the first bird I made a mess of when gutting as I made a larger hole than needed, I also had a go at plucking and found if you tear the feathers the other way to the way they grow they don’t rip the skin all I can say to everyone is watch video’s on You-Tube shooting times post some good ones on there as does Mark Gilcrest with his rabbit training video and have ago we all makes mistakes as I did on the first few pheasants I did best way is practice and also outside so feathers that float don’t make you itch and sneeze!!

    Good Luck everyone and remember don’t be scared have a go at it there is always the internet to research or some kind sod to help you if you are willing to learn I asked the butcher some questions and had ago!!


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