The Cottage Smallholder

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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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  1. I’m going to have a go today we’ve been given two braises of pheasant and a pair of partridge they are hanging outside since Wednesday so hope they will be okay, I’ve read your instructions so will let you know how I get on thanks

  2. steve hutcher

    increds advice, thankyou soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much, i eat pheasant about twice a week so very handie advice

  3. Thank you very much for your advise i have learnt a new skill .My friend shoots in Novemberhe time he has given me 6 Pheasant i am looking forward to enjoy them

  4. mary luxford

    Well I’ve just finished preparing my pheasant, given to me last week by a nephew who works on a big estate in Somerset.
    Feel very pleased, bird looks slightly mutilated but I’m anticipating it will be very tasty.
    Thanks for your help.

  5. TESSA Hooper

    Hi I have just plucked two Partridge and drawn them thanks for tips would like receipe for casserole please. Tessa

  6. Hmm I am unsure do the patridge smell stronger than chicken anyway ? First time I have done this and I am not sure at all about the smell !

  7. All your instructions seem very helpful but as I was hesitant about how to go about the process my brace of phessies have been hanging in the shed for just over a week (although it was pretty cold for a few days) … do you think I’ve overdone it?!

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Kerry

      Use your nose! If it smells too high (ie rank) don’t eat it.

      If it’s cold a week probably isn’t too long.

  8. To remove the odors of fish, garlic, onions or other strong ingredients from your hands, rub them on stainless steel for a minute before washing them. Whether you use the side of your sink, a spoon, or a ready-made stainless-steel “soap bar,” this action removes the offending odor and keeps your hands fresh.

  9. Lisa Wood

    Your website is the dogs danglies! I have just successfully sorted gutted and prepped a partridge. I’ve dealt with trout and pigeon for years but have never prepared a whole bird. I usually just breast pigeon.
    Succinct easy to follow instructions!!!!
    I’ve also just used your pumpkin jam recipe!!

  10. The Dalai Farmer

    My Husband shoots and we keep poultry and turkeys (for christmas). Game birds do not HAVE to be hung! If you are unsure about the gamey-taste of birds, they taste very much like good chicken (not the supermarket crappy ones) if you simply roast them. I do use our pheasants for “Crispy Pheasant with Pancakes and Hoi Sin Sauce” which is done the same way as you would for chinese takeaway “Crispy Duck”.

    Bleeding the bird stops blood clots forming in the breast meat, but otherwise it’s not a big deal.

    Holding the cold game-bird down for a minute or two in boiling hot water makes it a doddle to pluck, it melts the fat that surrounds the quill of the feathers – or you can skin them and use the meat like chicken if they’re badly shot up.

    MOST IMPORTANT THING! Make sure there is no lead shot still in the bird! Really! It really hurts when you bite down on one with your poor molars!

    One of the most satisfying meats to eat, when you know it never went near a factory as it was growing up and lived free, in the air before dying in a sudden and unprotracted way. Also, low in fat and high in protein. Perfick!

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