Country Cooking: How to Prepare Pheasant

The pheasant is an iconic gamebird: that handsome, explosive, keen-eyed phantom of hedgerows and raw tussock. Many, however, are repelled by the idea of excessively gamey-tasting meat or a laborious preparation process. Prepared and cooked properly, however, pheasant can be delicious and rich-flavored—an ideal centerpiece for the country table.

Estimating Age and Sex

One early step that impacts the cooking process is to roughly gauge the age of your bird. Key into the spurs on the pheasant’s legs: Those of young animals will be short and soft, while those of mature birds will be lengthier and sharp.

A young pheasant—its meat extremely tender—is most suitable for straight roasting, while older birds are best rendered in casseroles or stews.

If you have a choice, choose a pheasant hen over a cock. Despite its smaller size, the hen is likely to have a plumper breast.

The Hanging Process

Hanging your pheasant, done correctly, will improve the flavor and workability of the meat. A bird cooked fresh will be tougher and less flavorful, although it’s sometimes the only way to go: If the meat has been notably damaged, you’ll want to cook it as soon as possible.

Choose a cool, drafty place out of direct sunlight—and the reach of scavengers—to hang your bird. In ideal temperatures—say, about 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit)—you’ll often achieve the best flavor by hanging a pheasant for three days to a week. Adjust based on the ambient temperatures you’re dealing with and the developing condition of the meat.

Skinning or Plucking?

Once you’ve hung the bird, you’ll now decide whether to skin it or to pluck the feathers. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Skinning eliminates the need for messing much with the feathers at all, but the exposed meat must then be moisturised with protective fat—lots of butter or enwrapped bacon, for example—to be successfully roasted without drying out. Plucking is a time-consuming process, but you won’t have to worry as much about moisture; additionally, some contend that a pheasant cooked with the skin on is a more savory one.

To skin a pheasant, take a sharp knife and slit the bird across its full length. Then carefully peel away the feathered hide and pluck any stubborn quills that remain.

To pluck, wet your hands and proceed by tugging out the feathers along their direction of growth—you don’t want to shred up the skin. Dousing the pheasant in boiled water for less than a minute can help loosen tenacious feathers.

Gutting

To remove the bird’s innards, slice off the head and the neck—either by simply cutting the neck near its base or first removing the head, slitting and twisting the neck, and then doing so.

Then slit along the anal vent of the pheasant, or, alternatively, right beneath the breastbone, and insert your fingers into the hole. Gently dismantle the innards and pull them out, ideally in a single heap. Don’t be so rough that you rupture the gall bladder—the greenish mass joined to the liver—because this can spoil the rest of the meat with its juices. Aside from the gall bladder, you needn’t discard the liver, speaking of; keep it with the heart and gizzard for giblets.

You can wash out the body cavity, although others suggest against doing so in order to preserve flavor. If you don’t outright wash it, use a wet piece of paper towel or cloth to scrub the cavity.

Cooking

To roast a skinned pheasant, it’s essential to keep the meat from drying out. Wrapping the breast in bacon or pork fat—in other words, larding it—is one way to go about this. Another option is to wrap the pheasant in aluminum foil, opening the covering with about 10 or 15 minutes to go in order to brown the meat.

A good roasting temperature for pheasant is between 180 and 200 degrees Celsius; an average bird will take an hour or an hour and 15 minutes. Salt your bird and, if you desire, fill it with stuffing. You can also first brown pheasant meat doused in seasoned flour in a skillet or casserole before transferring to the roasting oven.

A skinned and deboned bird can be sliced into small chunks and pan-fried. Approach grilled pheasant much as you would grilled chicken: Indirect heat is best, so keep the meat on the opposite side of the grate as overlies the coals, and cook covered for an hour or so. Use pheasant bones for stock.

The Joys of Wild Game

Don’t let the preparation of a pheasant carcass scare you off—it’s basically painless, and the reward is succulent, tender meat wonderfully redolent of the field.

Peter Richardson likes to be adventurous in the kitchen. He enjoys sharing his experiences and tips via blogging for a number of foody blogs around the web. Click the link if you want to get pheasant recipes.

References

  1. Cookeryonline.com: Preparing Feathered Game (http://www.cookeryonline.com/Game/Preparing%20Game.htm)
  2. Reader’s Digest: Techniques for Preparing Pheasant (http://www.readersdigest.co.uk/health-home/food/poultry/techniques-for-preparing-pheasant)
  3. Farm in My Pocket: Hanging and Skinning Pheasants (http://www.farminmypocket.co.uk/livestock/meat-from-the-wild/hanging-and-skinning-pheasants)
  4. NSW Department of Primary Industries (http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/poultry/species/pheasant-raising/preparing-and-cooking)