Preparing your wild bird for best table fare.
Prior to refrigeration all meats, domestic or wild, were prepared in similar manners – either dried, salted or aged. Just to be clear “aged” is actually a controlled spoilage which was done for two reasons: one, it was difficult to avoid and two, consumers believed it improved the taste through a breaking down of the tougher fibers in the meat. As refrigeration was advanced butchers and consumers moved away from aging and started freezing meat for preservation purposed. Over time aging was no longer seen as a viable means of preparing most meats, although it is still used by high end steak houses and those who prepare wild game in a traditional manner.
To properly age a bird you should avoid field dressing or plucking the bird when first taken. Instead, hang the bird in a cool, dry location or store in an ice filled cooler – but with a layer of paper or a wire rack between the bird and ice. If a bird must be cleaned, due to shot damage, wrap in damp towel or paper to protect from drying. The ideal temperature range for aging is 50-55 degrees for 4-7 days. The exact aging time will vary depending on size of the bird and practice will be the best means of determining when to move on to the next step.
After the aging has been completed it is time to pluck it. Mechanical pluckers are quickest but damage the meat. Hot water helps remove the smaller pin feathers but jumpstarts the cooking process. The traditional method of hand plucking can be time consuming but does provide the best results. For those tiny or hard to pull feathers I recommend wax paraffin.
Now it is time to prepare the bird for cooking. Obviously you can prepare the bird whole, which will generally entail roasting. If this is the case there is little more you need to do other than removing the entrails. However, if your recipe calls for specific cuts of meat you will need to butcher.
Here are some simple steps for butchering:
1. Remove the legs by making a small cut where the leg and body meet then twist the leg backward, popping the joint and cutting remaining connective tissue.
2. Remove wings by cutting at first joint.
3. Locate the keel bone, which runs between each breast and is raised like the keel of a ship. Carefully guide your knife along the bone until one breast is freed. Repeat on other side.
Sometimes birds must be skinned, either because it was so heavily damaged during the hunt that the skin is not intact or other times as a matter of speed by avoiding plucking. If you find yourself in the situation the answer is skinning. This will allow you to remove the skin and feathers will still keeping the bird intact ( for the most part) Here are some simple steps to follow:
1. Remove the wings by cutting at the first joint.
2. If preparing a species with long tail feather simply pull them out.
3. With kitchen shears or small knife make a cut around the knee and remove the lower leg.
4. Remove the head by cutting where the neck meets the body
5. Make a shallow incision along the breast bone, cutting through the skin but not into the underlying meat. Using your fingers work the skin loose from the meat and peel off, removing both skin and feather in one step.
6. Make a small incision at the base of the breast where it meets the pelvic area. Pull base of breast away from pelvis enough to allow you get your fingers into the body cavity and pull out innards.
7. Remove tail above oil gland prior to cooking.
Good luck, good hunting!