Letting Birds Settle

by Simon Lusk

Processing the final birds of the season. The back of a ute makes an ideal butchers block.

Processing the final birds of the season. The back of a ute makes an ideal butchers block.

Pheasant and Quail can be tough. The older birds that have been around for a few years can be lean and a bit disappointing to eat.

To overcome the toughness the simplest approach is to leave the birds in the fridge for at least two weeks before processing them. One week doesn’t seem to be enough, with birds still coming out of the oven tough.

The reason to leave the birds for this long is some of the proteins in the meat break down, and the birds become tender. Breast fillets can be pan fried and come out very tender, and whole quail are beautiful pan fried.

I’ve never left a bird hanging for three weeks and green, or until its neck breaks, or until it can be shaken and its feathers fall out. That is how they were allegedly treated in England, but when I have shot in England I have only ever heard of one bloke who did this, and this was a mistake. He was given some birds and forgot about them, and found them three weeks later and they were green. He reckoned he was not going to get another bird that season, so even though they were green he cooked them, and they were the best birds he has ever had.

Hanging birds in a cellar in the northern hemisphere winter is a different proposition to a Hawke’s Bay winter. I don’t have a cellar, and the winter here is mild so I would be concerned about birds rotting or getting fly blown.

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