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How to pluck and draw game: a partridge or pheasant.

partridge ready to be plucked and drawnGame is a treat. We don’t shoot and I don’t know many people who do. Hero of the kitchen garden, John Coe, is a beater during the winter months and sometimes brings us a brace of pheasant. His presents are always hung and dressed, ready for the pot.

Occasionally we’re given a brace of pheasant or partridge, complete with feathers Until today, I have hung, skinned and drawn them, and then cooked them slowly, enclosed in a casserole. Now I know how to pluck a bird. By keeping the skin our repertoire of recipes has increased tenfold. The skin contains fat and makes for a more succulent bird. Roasting is now a possible option.

I’m working at a lovely house in Upend at the moment. Yesterday Carol and Patrick gave me a brace of partridge. I was delighted and spent a happy split second planning how to cook them. As I skin my game the Romanian way, there is only one recipe that really suits game prepared in this way. It’s mouth watering and will appear on this blog after Christmas. Update: 27 January 2007, we have now developed two more exellent recipes for skinned game. Check out the recipes section of the blog.

I was always a bit envious of people who could pluck game, imagining it to be a complex and fiddly procedure. Today I discovered that it’s not. When Patrick found out that I didn’t know how to pluck a bird he immediately volunteered to give me a lesson. He rustled up a carrier bag; I grabbed the birds they had given me. Patrick demonstrated and within minutes I was plucking my first bird. The plucking is straightforward. Dealing with fluttering feathers is not. Hence the carrier bag.

How to hang, pluck and draw a partridge or pheasant

  • Hang the bird for a couple of days (by the neck) in a cool place such as a garage or cold larder.
  • Cut off the head at the base of the neck with a decent pair of scissors. (Once you have got rid of this the whole procedure seems less ghoulish).
  • snap the lower legs at the joints and pull out the tendons. This takes some strength.
  • Cut off the wings at the joint. (you will find this in the fold between the wing and the body.)

Plucking the feathers:

It is easier to pluck a bird when it is warm. Let a bird reach room temperature before plucking, it makes an enormous difference

  • Find a carrier bag (any supermarket one will do)
  • Stand your carrier bag on a table, workbench, or in the sink (I use the sink) the bird will be plucked into this. Pull up the sides of the carrier bag so that you have an enclosed area in which to contain the plucked feathers.
  • Put a few sheets of newspaper around your working area to catch any stray feathers.
  • Hold the bird by the legs and brush the feathers on the breast and back (against the grain, so to speak) so they sit up a little. With small neat movements pluck the feathers away and down from the bird, ideally straight into the carrier bag.
    If skin comes away on the base of the feathers you are being too rough or trying to remove too many feathers at once. Experiment a little with this. You will soon get the feel of the most efficient plucking movement. I place my fingers on the skin around the plucking area.this stops the skin being plucked from the carcass along with the tips of the feathers.
  • Spread the tail feathers into a fan shape and pluck these following the line of the feather.
  • To remove the leg feathers, hold the body and brush the feathers smooth (with the grain) and pluck them sharply down in that direction.

Another friend sits down to pluck a bird, with a dustbin liner between her knees. The feathers are plucked with a short downwards movement, straight into the bag. It’s worth experimenting with different plucking methods to find one that suits you best. I find that some feathers are more easily removed ‘against the grain’ and some ‘with the grain’. The secret is in the short precise plucking movement. If you can get into a relaxed rythm it’s easy.

Drawing the bird

  • Remove the crop (from the head end) by gently putting a finger into the neck opening, rotating gently and pulling the crop out. If you are curious, you can open this to see what the last meal was. Remove the gullet and windpipe.
  • Now stick your forefinger up the birds bum. Rotate it gently and draw out the liver and guts. We freeze the livers to use in an excellent terrine.
  • Wash the bird (inside and out) and refrigerate for a couple of days before use.

If your bird smalls bad chuck it away, contained in a couple of tightly sealed carrier bags. Sometimes gun dogs will pick up a lost bird from a day or so before. This is rare but it has happened to us.

Skinning a bird:

Follow the steps for ‘How to hang, pluck and draw a partridge or pheasant’ then put your finger under the skin around the neck and loosen the skin. Hold the skin firmly and pull gently down towards the tail. The skin and feathers should come off in one piece. Once skinned, don’t forget to draw the bird (see above). Roasting is really out if you have skinned your bird but any casserole or recipe that encloses the bird will probably be sucessful. See our pheasant recipes, these were all cooked with skinned game and are excellent.


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73 Comments

  1. Thanks for the info I have been given two partrige by a friend, and was unsure where to start, I will let you know how I get on. Again thanks

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Robbie,

    You are in luck partridge are much easier to pluck than pheasant. Bringing them u to room temperature before plucking makes an enormous difference as well.

    Thanks for leaving a comment. Would love to hear how you get on!

  3. Just been given a duck with feathers and guts and had trouble finding any info on dealing with it on net, so thanks for your info. To confirm I have understood: 1)Hang for couple of days with guts in.
    2) Deal with head and legs and wings 3) At room temp pluck 4)Gut. Would it not be better to gut then hang?

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Amanda,

    Hanging improves the flavour (guts in).

    Don’t cut off the legs! They are tasty, and the wings if you have the energy to pluck them. All you remove is the head.

    Only pluck the carcass if it is at room temp. If it is your first bird, start with the breast – the easiest but and practice the right plucking technique and then move onto the rest of the bird.

    After you have plucked your first bird the supermarket ones seem great value! If you can pluck a bird you will be given a lot of game if you broadcast this feat! In time the plucking will get easier.

  5. Thanks for the tips. I was given 4 pheasants last week and spent hours plucking wings and ripping skin in my cold garage after hanging them for a 2 days. I like the ‘smelly’ tip – one of them smelt a lot stronger than the others so i think i’ll chuck that one but the rest seemed good. Just about to try your pot roast pheasant (gypsy style) recipe – hope its good!

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi John

    Thanks for leaving a comment. Next time bring the birds into the house and leave them to reach room temperature before plucking. This makes the process much easier.

    I do hope the pot roast pheasant worked out for you. We love it.

  7. just got 2 partridges.FIRST TIME IV EVER DONE OWT LIKE THIS! 1st one seemed very green on the back and on the belly near the bum, thought maybe it was bad, (don’t have a great sense of smell) second one just had green belly near its bum!!! Is this normal?
    Also didn’t get all the feathers out, little bits round the birds ankle. Havent gutted them yet…. heres hoping!

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Paul,

    Sometimes game looks a bit green around the bum. I haven’t seen green on the back though. I’m no expert but that sounds a bit iffy to me.

    I usually gut them before plucking. You will immediately see and smell if they are OK.

    I wouldn’t worry about a few tiny feathers left on the bird.

  9. Lynn Holman

    HI,I am going to try out your idea, l have never ever tried to pluck any sort of bird, but l got given a pheasant and a quail for christmas, so l will have to have a go, the people are expecting me to serve these up for christmas dinner, so here goes. Thanks.

    Lynn

  10. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Lynn

    Thanks for dropping by.

    I do hope that your foray into plucking and drawing was successful. It’s earthy stuff.

    I bet that the quail was easier to pluck than the pheasant. I’d love to hear how you got on!

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