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Blood, Guts and Testing my Mettle…

January 20, 2009

pheasant1

It’s easy to claim you can do something if you’re never put to the test. When we’ve seen things on telly about killing and preparing your own meat (River Cottage, Kill it, Cook it, Eat it etc) I’ve always maintained that, although I could never kill an animal, I’d have no problem preparing it for cooking. I’m not squeamish, and although I’ve never exactly relished the prospect of gutting an animal, I’ve believed myself to be capable of doing it. In fact, I believe it quite an important thing to do – for many people meat has become just something you can pick up from a supermarket, cellophane-wrapped and looking very un-animal like. It’s easy to forget where it actually comes from (see here if you don’t believe me!) – but when you pluck/skin/draw/gut your own, the fact that it was once a living creature is inescapable. Also, as we plan (one day) to have a smallholding, it’s important for me to be able to prepare and process our own meat as I see this as being integral to that sort of lifestyle (unless you’re vegetarian of course).

pheasant3

Anyhow, on with the story….

Last weekend we were kindly given a brace of pheasant. Both my husband and I are fond of game generally and pheasant is a particular favourite. However, when we’ve had pheasant before it’s come from the butchers or farmer’s market, ready for cooking. These pheasants were definitely not oven-ready. They were fully feathered and otherwise intact. Eek! We allowed the pheasants to hang for a week in our ‘game larder’ (otherwise known as the outside loo), and throughout the week I found my thoughts wandering nervously to the birds. The root of my anxiety lay in my lack of experience – I was worried about doing it all wrong. I should perhaps point out here that I also have a few unresolved moral issues with meat-eating – not enough to make me stop eating meat altogether, but I do limit the amount of meat we eat and only buy stuff that I know has been reared and slaughtered in as ethical and humane a manner as possible. Anyhow, because of these issues, it was vital that I made the most of our pheasants and didn’t end up with a big, inedible mess! My first task was to pluck the birds. My husband helped with this part and it turned out to be much easier than I’d been expecting and even a little enjoyable. Pheasants are beautiful creatures and I took time to admire the rich colouring of the cock pheasant and the delicate patterning of the hen’s feathers.pheasant2

Once plucked, it was time to draw the birds. My husband resolutely refused to help with this part but, buoyed by the success of the plucking, I was feeling pretty confident. I’d read plenty of books which described how to draw the birds and had also researched it online. Everything I’d read made it seem easy…

It wasn’t.

I was expecting it to smell a bit, but was completely unprepared for the foulness of the stench – and even less prepared for my reaction to it. I gagged and had to run from the room, knowing that if I’d spent a moment longer there I would have been sick. I was completely ashamed of myself and close to tears. As already mentioned, it was really important to me to be able to do this. I felt like my body was letting me down – mentally, I was resolute that I could do it but my physical response seemed to be completely outside of my control. The thing that got me back in that room was respect for the pheasants. There was no way I could allow them to be wasted. I finished off the first bird, still struggling to keep my breakfast down, but by the time I got to the second, something had changed and suddenly the smell didn’t seem quite so bad. I’m not proud of my initial reaction but I am pleased that I managed to go back and finish what I’d started. I think it’s one of those things that after you’ve done it once, you can do it a thousand times. I’m certain that next time (and yes, there will be a next time 🙂 ) I’ll be able to pluck and draw without any of the er… drama of my initial attempt – in fact, I’m quite looking forward to it! So, moving onto more pleasant pheasant territory – the cooking part. I suspected that our birds were quite mature – over a year – so thought it best to cook them slowly in a casserole rather than roast them and, with the continuing grey, dampness of the Welsh winter, a hearty stew seemed like a good idea anyhow! After looking through a few of my recipe books without finding precisely what I wanted, I decided to just make something up as I went along. I’m pleased to tell you that the resulting stew was delicious and adequate recompense for the unpleasantness of the drawing! Here’s my recipe:

Pheasant Casserole

  • brace of pheasant, cut into quarters
  • 250g thick-cut bacon, cut into chunks
  • 250g mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 3 sticks of celery, sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 large onion,
  • diced 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 400ml red wine
  • 400ml stock (game, chicken or veg)
  • generous sprinkling of dried thyme and parsley
  • seasoning

Heat some olive oil in a frying pan, and gently sweat the onion, celery and carrots until starting to soften. Add the garlic, cook for a minute then transfer to a large, flameproof casserole. Next, turn up the heat and fry the bacon and mushrooms until nicely coloured. Add to the casserole. Next, brown the pheasant portions then add to the casserole. Pour the wine into the frying pan and allow it to bubble for a few moments whilst you scrape the pan to get all the lovely, tasty brown bits off. Pour into the casserole along with the hot stock. Add a sprinkling of herbs and season. Pop the lid on and cook in a low oven for 2 – 3 hours.

If I haven’t put you off pheasant for life, perhaps you might give it a try….

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2009 8:48 pm

    good on you to go back and finish the job. I think I would have chucked them out to the wild critters to finish at that point, cause my stomach sounds like yours. Do you think that the smell was because you didn’t gut them right away? or did you?
    Peace n abundance
    CheyAnne
    ps your stew sounds great

  2. alf permalink
    January 20, 2009 9:34 pm

    Hi kittyboo,

    Well done preparing your first brace of pheasant! It’s not until you try it that you appreciate just how long it takes, wouldn’t you say? I’ve picked up a few tips since I first started, which you might be interested in.

    Firstly, you don’t have to hang the birds for long if you don’t want to. The idea is that the longer you leave them, the stronger the taste, though they ‘age’ faster if the temperature is warmer. My local gamekeeper only hangs them overnight, for example. I usually give it four days (since the bin men come around on the fifth day after the shoot!)

    Secondly, hen pheasants roast a lot better than cock pheasants, so if you’re after a roast, try to get a young hen.

    If you’re not roasting (and perhaps even if you are), you don’t have to pluck the bird – you can skin it instead. There’s a great example of that here: YouTube – How to skin a pheasant. This bypasses the tedium of plucking a cold carcass, and avoids the problem of tearing the skin.

    Finally, if you’re just going to casserole the meat you could just cut the breasts out and not even bother gutting the bird. Admittedly you miss out on the (minimal) meat on the legs and you can’t make stock with the bones, but it’s the quickest way to get at the best bits. This is how I generally deal with partridge, which are smaller than pheasant, but them I’m lazy.

    Bear in mind that since pheasants are (practically) wild birds, they tend to vary much more than, say, over ready chicken. So the next lot you get might be less smelly/bigger/harder to pluck etc. especially if they come from a different source.

    Hope the next brace you get is easier to deal with!

    alf

  3. January 20, 2009 9:40 pm

    Thanks CheyAnne – yes, I think they’d have been less stinky if we’d hung them for a shorter period – we left them for 8 days but I think next time I’ll just leave them for 3.

  4. January 20, 2009 11:04 pm

    I’m impressed by your honesty in recounting this story. Like you I have watched TV chefs prepare animals for cooking, but have never done so myself (except for gutting the odd fish and boning the odd bird). I’m not sure how I would react, but if or when I do tackle a dead animal I shall take comfort from your experience.

  5. compostwoman permalink
    January 20, 2009 11:21 pm

    I have hung them a few days old only and they were not tough..

    if you casserole them for a long slow time, they are still lovely…

    I can’t abide high game…so i sympathise with your reaction!

  6. January 21, 2009 2:43 am

    thats phantastic 😉
    I grew up in a family that raised chickens, not just for eggs and hunted game for winter sustenance.
    The first time is pretty rotten but you acclimate, as with anything.
    My Gran used to dunk birds in boiling water for, like, 10 seconds, she said it tightened up the skin and made the plucking easier.

    Toots

  7. January 21, 2009 8:08 am

    Thanks everyone!

    Gai – I think the first time is the worst but, after that, it becomes much easier. Well, that’s what I’m hoping… 🙂

    CW – I’ll definitely be hanging them for a shorter period next time around!

    Chickenbetty – the plucking wasn’t too hard but it definitely got easier as the birds warmed up – we made the mistake of plucking them straight from the larder so they were very cold. Thanks for the tip!

  8. dowhatyoulove permalink
    January 21, 2009 8:47 am

    Good for you, sticking to your goal. I currently eat very little meat (almost none), but if I did go back in that direction I think it would be good to at least know exactly where my food came from, and some day be able to do this myself also. I know I would have a very hard time at first, so I have high respect for you, but as with anything we get better with practice. I think it can help you to respect your food even more, because you had to be so intimately involved in the process.

  9. January 21, 2009 3:14 pm

    Fabulous efforts!

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. Nothing to be ashamed of. I gag at horrible smeels, can’t stomach them even though i can look at anything. It’s just our bodies.

    I bet you all appreciated every single mrsel of that casserole.

  10. January 22, 2009 2:46 pm

    As you know I’ve been through a similar experience with a chicken and a pig. It’s not easy and it’s great to read about your honest experience. I do think, if you eat meat, it’s such an important thing to do,.

    Eating meat should be a mindful experience, as a life has been taken to give you sustenance.

    With that in mind I firmly believe meat should only be eaten when you need to eat it and not willy nilly as happens so much in the world.

    Look at me all serious!

    hen
    xxx

  11. January 23, 2009 11:16 am

    I’m impressed. As a meat eater, I think I could kill and prepare an animal (I know, I know…easy to say!), but I’m really glad I don’t have to. I remember feeling queasy/emotional as a kid simply cleaning fish! And I’m pretty sure I would eat a lot less meat if I had to kill and prepare it all.

    The “Can’t you have pork without killing the pigs?” link was both sad and hilarious. As a society, we have become quite distant from our food. It seems even some of the terms used in preparation (ex: draw, dress) smooth over the fact that something had to be killed, bled, and gutted in order to become the meat on our plate.

  12. January 24, 2009 6:54 pm

    Well done you – I am not keen on pheasant, probably because Dad always liked his really high and would hang it for days then roast it. To me it was dry and stinky!! But your stew sounds really delicious and would keep the meat moist.

    Rosie x

  13. January 26, 2009 12:20 am

    Good for you! that’s the pioneer spirit!!! The smell is certainly something you have to get used to..

  14. January 26, 2009 12:22 am

    Opps, I forgot to mention how beautiful I find their feathers… so rich with pattern…

  15. January 28, 2009 12:59 pm

    alf – thank you very much for the advice and tips. Sorry your comment has only just appeared – it was caught in the spam filter for some reason! Thanks also for the link to the video – very interesting. I will definitely be hanging the birds for less time next time and hope they’ll be a bit less stinky!

  16. Janey permalink
    March 6, 2009 5:54 am

    I have copied over your recipe for pheasant casserole – to give to my mother.

    Years ago, I remember she acquired an unexpected pheasant – it had flown into the patio door window and killed itself.

    But she had no inspiring ideas about how to cook it.
    So she made pheasant stew!

    And quite tasty it was too.

    Janey

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