14 November 2014

I'm not the pheasant plucker, I'm the pheasant plucker's son...

Autumn brings with it an abundance of seasonal foodstuffs. One of my favourites is game. The game season starts with much hoohah on 12 August, the 'Glorious Twelfth', when the red grouse season opens. Restaurants fall over themselves to have grouse on their menus on the evening of the Twelfth, or at latest the 13th. (Given that grouse benefits from several days hanging, and that a huge premium is charged for these mid-August birds, I usually wait several weeks before indulging). The partridge and mallard season opens on 1 September, with pheasants and woodcock following on 1 October.

We are currently living with my parents in Sussex (a long story about buying and selling houses, with which I won't bore my readers), and a couple of Fridays ago my dad and I went for a post-work pint at the local pub. Chatting away about food, as we often do, I asked where was a good place to get hold of some pheasants. 'Roddy should know', my dad replied. Roddy owns the farm next to the pub, and just happened to be in the pub that evening. Roddy enquired whether we wanted the birds oven-ready or on the feather. We said we were happy to take a them on the feather and Roddy said to come down to his farm after we had finished our beers, as he had several brace hanging in his shed, having just had his first shoot of the season. We returned home with a brace of freshly shot pheasants.

Having hung the birds in my parents' cellar overnight, we decided to pluck them the following morning. It was a nice sunny morning, which meant we could pluck and draw the birds outside, keeping the kitchen-mess factor to a minimum. Some years ago I was living in a flat-share in London and once plucked some pheasants in the kitchen. The fine downy feathers went everywhere, and despite the pheasant casserole I cooked for my flatmates, I got the impression that they weren't all that impressed at the small feathers that they kept finding for several weeks thereafter.

Pheasant plucking

Plucking and drawing a pheasant is not overly complex, although perhaps not for those of a squeamish disposition. With plucking, the key is to pull the feathers from the bird firmly and with the grain. The head, feet and wings can be cut off without being plucked.

Drawing the pheasant

To draw the bird, use a sharp knife and cut around the bird's back end. You can then stick your hand into the cavity and pull out the innards. The intestines and lower end of the digestive tract should be discarded. The liver, heart and lungs can be retained for the stock pot, as can the outside of the stomach, if the contents and lining are discarded. The neck and feet can also be retained for the stock pot.

Plucked pheasants plus giblets

Pheasants require a little thought in cooking. The legs can be quite tough, and benefit from a long slow cook. On the other hand, the breasts are very lean, and dry out easily. This means that roasting is not the best option. I adopt one of two routes. I either break the carcass down and cook the legs and the breasts separately, or I casserole the bird whole with some extra fat to keep everything moist.

On this occasion I decided to opt for the latter approach, and adapted a lovely recipe for cooking guinea fowl from Fergus Henderson's book 'The Complete Nose to Tail'. The recipe uses one of Henderson's culinary super-ingredients - trotter gear, which is made by simmering pigs' trotters in chicken stock for several hours and then picking all the gelatinous flesh off the trotters and adding it to the stock. The gelatinous nature of the trotter gear keeps the pheasants perfectly moist in this recipe. If you don't feel inclined to make trotter gear, you could use chicken stock instead and add some lardons at the beginning of the recipe. This recipe will feed four.


2 pheasants, plucked and drawn
1 onion
1/2 red cabbage
1 pack vacuum-packed chestnuts (you can use fresh, but the vacuum-packed ones are much easier)
approx 500ml trotter gear (or chicken stock)
1/2 bottle light/medium red wine
several cloves of garlic
a few sprigs of thyme and a couple of bay leaves


Preheat your oven to 160C/320F.
Melt a little duck or goose fat in a large casserole dish over a medium heat, and brown the birds all over.

Once the birds have browned, set them to one side in a warm place.

Turn the heat down a little. Dice the onion and soften in the fat without burning. If you are not using trotter gear, dice a couple of rashers of streaky bacon and add these with the onion. Roughly chop the garlic and add to the onion once it is almost ready.

Slice the cabbage. When the onion has softened, return the pheasants to the pan and arrange the cabbage and chestnuts around them. Add the herbs, wine and trotter gear (or stock).

Bring to a gentle simmer on the hob, then cover and pop in the oven for about 2 hours. The birds should be giving, but not falling apart.

Once done, remove the pheasants and the vegetables and set to one side, keeping them warm. Reduce the liquor until a pleasing, gravy-like consistency is achieved.


  1. I really liked the whole story that came out of this post. I love game too and wish there was a farm next to my local pub that had pheasant to offer just like that.


    1. Thanks Danny - pleased you liked the post.

  2. Hi!Your way of writing blog is so nice and interesting one too.Thank you.
    gclub จีคลับ
    gclub casino