Blood, Guts and Testing my Mettle…
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).
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.
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…
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:
- 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
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….