17.10.06

Pheasant stew from scratch

The countryside resonates with the whirring wings and squawks of panicked pheasants, released into the surrounding country estate in time for the shooting season. Unpenned and unused to their relative freedom, they have no road sense at first, and many lie at the sides of roads, squashed, with a few sad tail feathers pointing to the sky. But not this one...this was still warm and in one piece. Almost perfect. So in keeping with my aims to source our meat locally (and you don't get more local than a mile down the road) I popped it in in my bike basket and covered it with my fleece. Waste not, want not. Although it is quite legal to pick them up when they have been hit by a vehicle, (unless you were driving it, in which case it is illegal to bag your victim) there are usually gamekeepers and estate workers going up and down the lanes. Best not to invite argument.




I hung the bird in the backyard, until some rustlings betrayed fat Clover, seen waddling down the garden path in hasty retreat with a long feather sticking from the side of her jaws. Into the kitchen it came...but how long to hang it for, in this unseasonably warm weather?



After much Googling, I rang a friend. We discussed 'ways with roadkill' until I had decided to prepare it after only one days hanging. Although the internet threw up some basics of plucking and drawing, I couldn't find a really detailed description. So I turned to
Hugh, as he's known in our house. He is the chap who knows everything meatwise and 'The River Cottage Meat Book' gave me just what I wanted - step by step instructions clear enough for a novice pheasant plucker.
Day two and there was a bit of a pong in our tiny kitchen. I got a black bin liner, changed into a tee-shirt, put an audio book on the cassette player and began. Holding the legs firmly, I plucked small fingerfuls of neck feathers, working my way up the bird. The skin was quite thin and despite my gentleness, it tore in places. Round the wings wa
s a bit tricky, and by the time I got to the business end I discovered the source of the strange aroma filtering through The Hovel. Holding my breath, I defeathered the rest of the bird, including the slimey bit at its bottom, and transported it to the kitchen to draw - or gut - it. By now I was feeling a bit wobbly, having never been quite so intimate with a prospective meal. Chopping the extremities off was ok, though I missed the crop and had to manually clean it out. I can only decribe the final gutting as - an experience. I tried to get round the inevitable by spooning the cavity out, but in the end, Hugh was right again, and I plunged my hand inside to get the final bits of glop out. It reeked. Really. Sickeningly. It was worse than dead badger. I rinsed the inside out, plucked out any remaining quills and put the kettle on. The whole process had taken about an hour and twenty minutes. Time for a cup of tea.


It was very small. Casserole seemed the best option. I rubbed it inside and out with cinnamon and chutney, and added about ten crushed juniper berries. It marinaded for 24 hours in the fridge. Then it went into the slow cooker on 'high' for a morning, with a couple of pints of water By now my nose was highly sensitive to any noisome odour and I could still detect a faint whiff of inner pheasant. I removed the meat from the main body and discarded the carcass, as gutty remnants still clung to the bones. Leaving the wings and legs to stew some more, I added two fat cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of dried mixed h
erbs, a handful of pumpkin seeds, two handfuls of unsalted cashew nuts, a slug of sweet chilli sauce, ditto of brown (HP) sauce, a beef stock cube, gravy granules to thicken, and a couple of bay leaves. Then I sauteed a small aubergine in sesame oil and a red onion in balsamic vinegar, which also went into the pot. Left all afternoon on a low setting, it gently simmered as I got on with making a bread dough. Instead of using sugar or honey in my warm water mix, I used black treacle, which gives the bread a rich, sweetish taste. As usual, I used flour from the mill down the road, FWP Matthews. When the loaf was baked, it was brushed with olive oil, giving it a softer crust. The final step was to remove the last few bones from the casserole, before serving.


It was, if I say so myself, a rather good supper. Even Clover got a small helping. Though by the cross look on her face, I think she would have preferred the whole bird, in its original state.


25 comments:

natural attrill said...

Ooooh G, that was a good read, hope you dont have any squeamish veggie visitors!!!
Penny.x

Gail said...

You always write such interesting posts! ;)

I found it fascinating to read your about your preparation of the pheasant - glad you enjoyed the final meal! Well done - I know I'd do it if I had to ... but ... ;)

Maya said...

You are a brave woman Gretel!!
I was getting a little dizzy just reading about your bird cleaning experience...

But then I got hungry and started drooling while reading the cooking preparation!!
WOW!!A feast suited for a king!

;o)

ash said...

Well done! You'd earn lots of brownie points round here for that sort of sensible behaviour. (Although I can only applaud, not contemplate it myself!)

joanna said...

Wonderful; I remember that smell very well, and it is an awful stench, isn't it. It looks like you did a great job with the casserole - the look on Clover's face is priceless!!

Soozcat said...

I've done a few things with unprepared animal foodstuffs, but I've never prepped a bird from scratch, so all this was fascinating.

I'm going to display my ignorance for a second here: what is the purpose of hanging the bird for a day or two? Does it age/improve the meat or bleed the bird, or does it make the carcass easier to pluck? Inquiring minds want to know!

(What is it about poultry that's gone off? Even the bones of a domestic chicken begin to stink like, well, foul fowl if they aren't removed quickly to the can.)

tlawwife said...

I have never done a pheasant. I am also curious about the hanging process. I can't imagine doing the process from a book. It is hard enough to clean an animal with my mother standing there telling me how to do it. The meal sounded good. There is a true pleasure in a meal prepared start to finish by yourself.

miss*R said...

oh gawd, a cup of tea? It would have had to be a good stiff drink for me - you are so very brave, I would have been sick.
but what fun to prepare from scratch.
I am so sad that my first faery gift seems to be lost. It was all handmade and I can't even begin to do it all over :( - I will get something else in the mail this week sometime. Maybe I need to go outside and ask my faery friends to find the first one

lettuce said...

What a fabulous meal! and Clover's face made me laugh aloud.

But the other question, of course, is how do you know about the smell of dead badger?

I'd like some of the 3 Kings Xmas cards - I'll email you.

Rosa said...

How remarkable. Just like the good ol' days. I bet Clover would have loved to have been in your basket for that ride! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful day in your life.

cotswoldgent said...

Well Done! My Father who was a vet, used to get given loads of pheasants. He'd hang them in his shed sometimes for a fortnight, phew it used to stink! I used to help him with the plucking and gutting. Next time do the gutting on newspaper, then you can just wrap it all up and throw it away when you finished. The stink doesn't hang around so much.
The hanging is to mature the bird meat so you get a stronger flavour. As a child I always remember eating pheasant stew and finding bits of lead pellets from the gun cartridge! Pheasants now are so cheap that many birds from a shoot are just thrown out. Such a shame.

PG said...

Thanks Cotswold Gent, I'm glad it's not just me being squeamish. I have another bird to do and will follow your advice. I thnk we prefer our birds fresh, I cannot imagine what it'd be like after 2 weeks!

Lettuce - believe me, I know about dead badger...if one has been knocked over and you're walking past it, you tend to smell it before you see it...

Sooz and Carol, see above for the Gent's excellent account of hanging, apart from maturing the flavour, a good or bad thing depending on your taste, it also makes plucking easier as the feathers come out because the skin is starting to - well, need I go on?

Sue said...

Phew! I remember that niff! My dad used to hang phesant in the garage for a few weeks (it seemed) and they used to smell so bad I never really fancied them to eat. Hubby recently bought home a roadkill and it sat in the shed with the dog trying to batter the door down to get to it, and I didn't fancy it so it was given a state funeral at the end of the garden!

Lisa (oceandreamer) said...

Well you have to know this was a hard one to read and to imagine for me(rather squeamish)...but read it I did. I found the fact you could start on a bike ride and end with a full meal...homemade bread included...absolutely fascinating. Beyond that, must say I just couldn't do it or eat it or smell it. I am in awe of you!
XOXO

tlc illustration said...

You are a brave woman. I remember watching my grandmother plucking chickens for dinner - but I always stayed a very respectful(fearful) distance away.

I *do* think this is probably a good and helpful skill to know. The more self-sustaining we can be, the better IMO. I have a very old copy of "The Joy of Cooking" which has all kinds of information on preparing wild-life (squirrels, fowl, various small animals) which I hope to never have need for, but is a fascinating read.

fp said...

Wow - brave lady.
You know I'm a veggie so couldn't even contemplate it but glad to see the bird didn't go to waste :)
What is it with Red Tabbies and that grumpy expression? Ours was just the same! :D

Connie and Rob said...

Well immediately I wanted to say eeewww...but then my dad would have said grow up. He was born in 1913 and raised on a farm and they did everything from scratch. Looks like you did an absolutely wonderful job. Bet I would have had second helpings at supper.

Hugs,
Connie

paula said...

Brilliant! Welldone you! I laughed at the idea of you plucking to an audio book, haha!
I would quite to come and watch next time, no I don't have a sick mind, but I've never seen/dealt with such a thing before... it would be a new experience for me! And I do wonder if I would be able to do that. I'm v.sqeamish, but, oh I dunno maybe I would be able to! I can always run away and leave you to it!

The recipe sounds great btw!
paula x

Donna said...

Well done Gretel. Paul and Tat's husband Guy used to go pheasant shooting in our woods (in our old house) with the neighbouring farmer and his sons. They would collect their booty later on once the farmer has plucked and prepared the birds for the oven. Squeamish pair! I have yet to taste pheasant as I was vegetarian at the time but I have it on good authority that it was very nice.

Becky said...

Great stuff, I can almost smell the casserole, I'm another veggie (not at all squeamish though) I wish I'd tried all kinds of different meat and fish before swearing off it, so many tasty things I've missed! Ah well.

I was horse/cat/dog/house-sitting a couple of weeks ago in North Cornwall and several nosy pheasants would wander over to see what was going on each morning.

Penny said...

found your site, not sure when pop in occasionally, had to laugh at the pheasant story, last time we were in the UK (about '99) it was pheasant by the road time in Devon where we stayed I couldnt believe the poor things all over the place. Love your story of hanging and cooking, always gut a bird if you dont know how long it has been killed first and then hang. In Australia we dont dare hang anything, too hot.

Anonymous said...

My husband just shot a pheasant in the back yard. It's Christmas and hot so I don't think I should hang it long. Am thinking of gutting it first - I know I couldn't eat it if it stank when gutted. Yours is the most helpful page I've read on the web so far re preparing and eating a pheasant - thanks!

valevers said...

Hi
just what i wanted to know as have just been given a recently shot pheasant, which i intend to hang for a couple of days - but - do I bleed it first?

PG said...

Hi Valevers, no you don't have to bleed it, there is very little blood in the bird apart from some in the guts - just hang it from its head at the top, pluck it and draw it. You won't get gallons of ooze spurting out like a Hammerhouse of Horror film, honest!

KateM said...

Unfortunately, my husband and I didn't get past the smell. Thinking the birds we bought from the butcher's were off, they were immediately dispatched to the bin! Oh dear!