If you are one of those people who believe meat comes from the supermarket, I suggest you find something else to read. Unless you happen to be a fan of the Walking Dead and such programming where the content leaves the viewer as zombified as the actors. If you are one such, you might revel in the gore to follow. But, I digress. We are gathered here today to show you how to prepare pheasant for cooking.
A good friend of mine, who “does a bit of shooting” dropped the birds in to me. I had the option of thanking him and asking a butcher to help me prepare them or getting down to business. So down to business it is.
In a completely counter intuitive bit of linguistics, we will ‘dress a brace of pheasant’. That is, we will undress the two pheasant. ‘Dressing’ involves removing the feathers, skin, feet, head, innards and leaving only the bits you might want to pop into the oven or sous vide bag.
Side note 1 on parenting and pheasant preparation: In the tradition of old horror movies, I am giving you your one and only LOOK AWAY NOW warning of this post. Don’t blame me if your six-year-old happens to steal your iPad and run out into the garden to read this post. That and the lifetime scarring of your child’s sensitivities will be your fault. You have been warned.
Side note 2 on parenting and pheasant preparation: Back in the day when I was about six years of age, I recall my parents preparing pheasant in the kitchen at home. Dad would hang the birds, in the cool of the basement staircase, until they were almost rank. Then Mum and Dad would pluck and prepare them. This has left me unscarred, as far as I know. My sisters were more vulnerable, often being chased around the house by my father with the severed heads of the birds. I can still remember the wild squeals of laughter. We were made of stern stuff.
Now, back to the business in hand. First, grip the bird by the foot, exposing the back of the knee. Slice through the tough skin on the joint.
Repeat on the other side of the knee. Twist the lower part of the leg and pull steadily to remove the lower part of the leg, taking the tendon from within the upper part of the leg with it.
Expand one wing. Slice through the skin above the elbow joint. Twist the wing until it comes free.
Stretch the neck away from the body and decapitate the bird, near the body end.
Lie the bird on it’s back. Grip the skin between the feathers on the breast side.
Peel the skin back to reveal the body of the bird, being careful to lift it over the thighs and to lift it over the wing stumps and what remains of the neck.
Next, pull the skin off the carcass at the knees.
Grip the tail feathers and pull them free. Slice a small opening in the flesh just above what is euphemistically referred to as the ‘Pope’s Nose’.
Put two fingers into the body of the bird in exactly the same way as you might put them down your own throat to induce vomiting. Grip and pull out all the innards at once. (If the birds are high, you might feel like a quick vom anyway.)
Pick off any stray feathers. Remove the legs with a sharp knife and then slice the breasts off the carcass, retaining the wing stump on the breast. This is easier to do than it is to write. You should end up with two breasts and two legs per bird.
Rinse the bits you are going to cook and dry them on kitchen paper.
Side note on cleanliness: Clean down every surface and utensil you have been using. Game, particularly well hung game, is a prolific source of harmful germs. Don’t take any chances. During the preparation of one bird, I washed my hands eight times. That’s what comes of taking your own photos.
The rest of this is very, very easy. Season and vacuum seal the pheasant pieces in bags with some butter and thyme.
Pop the bags into a sous vide bath at 64ºC for two hours.
Remove the pheasant from the bags and pat it dry on kitchen paper.
Brown the pieces in a mix of oil and butter.
Keep it warm in the oven while you make a sauce by adding the bag juices to a pan, adding a couple of heaped teaspoons of cornflour to half a mug of water. Stir to incorporate then heat to thicken. Season to suit your tastes. Serve the pheasant with a nice earthy vegetable. I used puréed celeriac. Pour on as much sauce as you dare. It’s very flavoursome.
The pheasant was very tasty. Even the sous vide cooking can’t make this bird juicy. However, a good sauce, some nice vegetables and it really is a seasonal flavour sensation.
I believe we should not shy away from preparing our own food. It keeps things real, even in these days when the bird is the only one who gets dressed for dinner.