Plucking birds made easy, pot roasting tough old roosters and a short video that will make your life easier. Yes, it’s the easiest time to pluck birds.
Plucking birds can be extremely time-consuming, I know. And there are a lot of recipes for skinned and parted out upland birds. But what if you could pluck them in a quarter—or even a sixth of the time--it usually takes? Want to make a big impression? Create a beautiful entrée for Thanksgiving or Christmas day? Pot roasting pheasants (or even blue grouse, or Hungarian partridge) makes them tender, this recipe makes them tasty, and the little trick in this video makes the whole thing possible. (There’s sound, so make sure your computer isn’t muted.)
Let’s talk about bird care, and how feathers can be less annoying, and even helpful in gauging tenderness whether you plan to puck or skin later on. John is the rabid upland hunter in our family. Well, John and Lena. (Lately she’s gotten amazingly good at marking birds, which comes under the heading of Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks. Unfortunately she’s also become less eager to give them up.) I’m the rabid game care person. So, days when John and Lena connect, he leaves the bird—totally intact—in the kitchen sink, and leaves the rest to me.
First, I dress the bird, using a hook, first making a small slit from the vent down to the tail. From there I use the hook to gently pull the viscera out, trying to avoid puncturing anything, then reach inside with fingers to pull anything left behind. (With larger birds, I sometimes make a slightly longer cut, just so I can reach everything.) All the organs and loose bits out, the birds get a good rinsing in cold water, until the water comes clean.
Now it goes into a plastic bag, on a cookie sheet (to catch leaks) onto a lower shelf in the fridge, about 38°F. When John laid the bird in the sink, the neck and head were already in rigor mortis. By the time I put it in the fridge, rigor had worked down to the feet. Notice I haven’t plucked or skinned him yet.
That small cut, the hook, and leaving the feathers on protect the meat from getting dried out. Modern refrigerators constantly circulate air, which dehydrates everything—the main reason they have cheese, veggie and fruit bins. And dry birds, whether a commercial turkey or chicken or wily rooster, is not an upgrade. Tucking the feathers around the vent before bagging the bird also helps retain moisture.
Once the bird’s in the fridge, the next step is to ignore it. Now, you can ignore it until rigor goes out, probably 48 hours or a bit more at fridge temps, then skin it and freeze or eat it if you like. Plucking is not an option right now. But.
Make a note somewhere handy, when you shot that bird (or those several birds). Then wait 6-7 days, depending on if it’s a wily rooster or young-of-the-year. Turn the pheasant on its chest, and carefully pluck a feather from the back. Did it pull easily?
Like the big red button on the Butter ball turkey, it’s a sign, but only that the bird is as tender as it needs to be. Or not. Was it hard to pull? Tore some skin? Try again more gently.
Still hard? Let the bird age another day, then repeat. When the feathers on the back pull easily, it’s ready.
So now you can either pluck the bird and leave it whole, or skin and part it out, but the meat will be tender either way. And as moist as possible. However you decide to cook the bird, you’ll get much better results.
Did you watch the video? John shot that bird on a Monday, then a young of the year rooster the next day. I’d already plucked the younger one the day before, after 7 days aging in the fridge. This second rooster was at least a year older, his spurs not as sharp as a really old guy, and he took 9 days to be ready to pluck.
Friday, John shot another rooster. It’s in the fridge now, but this rooster is bigger/older than last week’s more mature rooster. (I had to make that longer cut to remove all the organs pre-rinsing.) We’ve had roosters that took 10 days of aging in the fridge, and I’m thinking that’s what it will take for this last one. But I’ll be checking those back feathers after 6 days just to be sure.
Did you pluck the bird and leave it whole? Try the Wily Rooster Pot Roast right here. Did you part it out? There are lots of parted-out recipes on this blog and more of both in my Upland Game Bird Cookery book first published by Ducks Unlimited and now only available at our web site: https://www.riflesandrecipes.com/product/upland-game-bird-recipes/
Wily Rooster Pot Roast
Here’s the dish for that lucky hunter who manages to outwit the oldest, smartest bird in the woods. You’ll need it to cure what ails that bird. And it works for almost any other wily old (read tough) bird you manage to put into your game bag.
- 2 ounces polish sausage, diced
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 cup Madeira
- 1 cup chicken bouillon
- 1 teaspoon dried leaf thyme
- 6 carrots, quartered
- 1 pound new red potatoes
- 1 rooster, plucked and cleaned
- In a 5 quart Dutch oven, lightly brown the polish sausage over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Pour the Madeira into the pot, and stir up the tasty bits from the bottom. Let the Madeira come to a simmer, and simmer about 1 minute, and add the bouillon and thyme. Let this mixture come back to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium low. Preheat your oven to 300°F.
- Add the carrots and potatoes, stirring them into the pan juices. Then arrange the vegetables on either side of the pot, and nestle the pheasant into the pan juices. Spoon the sauce over the bird, too. Then cover, and place the Dutch oven into the center of your oven.
- Let the pheasant cook about 60 minutes, or until the thighs are tender. To serve, carve the legs and breast off, and slice the breast. Arrange on a platter with the carrots and potatoes. Pour the pan juices over all.
This and many other delicious upland game bird recipes in our Upland Game Bird Cookery – https://www.riflesandrecipes.com/product/upland-game-bird-recipes/