Preparing Feathered Game


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Most Game is best after hanging - that is leaving or hanging in cool conditions before plucking or skinning. This should be for a minimum two days to a maximum of three weeks in winter. I would tend to settle on seven days provided the weather is not hot. Game tends to be tougher than other meat or poultry as the animals were wild and muscles were used more in the process of survival. Hanging will help tenderise the meat and develop a characteristic gamey flavour. This is caused by enzymic and bacterial action. The longer you hang it the stronger the flavour.


The easiest way to prepare a pheasant is to skin it. After hanging seperate the feathers along the back of the bird and cut the skin along its length, lift and pull it off feather and all.

The disadvantage of this method is that you are left with a skinless bird -ie not suitable for roasting without coating with fat/ bacon to prevent drying out - but it does avoid the messiness of plucking - the feathers get every where!

1 Dip your hands in water

2 start plucking from the breast working towards the neck pulling the feathers in the direction they grow so that the skin does not break.
3 Turn the bird around and pluck away from you
4. Cut through the middle wing joint to remove it : Stretch out the wings and and pluck the feathers
5. Pull out leg and tail feathers

6. The small pin feather along the back bone are best removede by tweezers.
NOTE: If the feathers are too hard to remove you can immerse the bird in boiled water off the heat for 30 seconds - though the bird must then be cooked immediately


Having hung and plucked or skinned the bird/s the next stage is to draw it, namely to remove the innards.

The object of this exercise is to attempt to remove the intestinal sack intact.

Removing the neck & head

If you have plucked the bird place the bird on its back and cut along the neck skin the the point where it joins the body. Leaving plenty of skin to cover the neck cut through the neck of the bird removing it and the head.

Strip out the gullet, crop and windpipe, insert a finger and loosen rotate it gently to break all attachments and free organs particularly the lungs.


Removing the innards

With a sharp knife cut through the skin around the vent (anus) of the bird until it comes loose. Insert your fingers into the body cavity and draw out the innards. With practice you can pull them out in one, at first attempt you may need to scrape around a bit.

Wash and dry the body cavity and salt it.

Note: The liver minus the green gall bladder can be kept and eaten


Game birds are traditionally served rare with the breast pink and juicy, the legs are always rather chewy and can be reserved for stewing. You may want to marinate the bird to help tenderise in red or white wine although this will alter the flavour.

Barding - covering the breast with a sheet of pork fat or bacon and tying it on helps retain moisture.

Trussing - trussing or tying the bird helps keeps it shape and provides for more even cooking

Roast at around 200C-230C 400-450F Gas 6-8 allowing 12- 15 minutes per 500g/1 lb for rare - 20 minutes for well done.

Additional Notes:

Traditionally wild birds are hung before plucking, drawing and cleaning ie innards still intact. They are suspended by the neck in a cool, airy place, to tenderise the meat and develop flavor as the deterioration process begins. Opinions vary on how long to hang a bird or whether to hang game at all. Hanging time depends on the weather - pheasant can be hung for up to three weeks in cold weather but if its is warm two or three days are sufficient.

When drawing the bird care should be taken to prevent the intestinal sack splitting and the cavity should be thoroughly washed and dried prior to cooking.

Sources: Advanced Practical Cookery: Ceserani, Kinton and Foskett and La Varenne: Complete Guide to Cookery

Nowadays Hygiene concerns give guidance that Game wounded in the belly or damaged by lead shot should never be hung as it will rot very quickly, furthermore large game is now often drawn as quickly as possible.

Source: Larouse Gastronomique



  • The object is to help tenderise and flavor, removing the innards will give a milder flavour when hanging and is safer.
  • A young bird will need less hanging than an old one.
  • Storage in a cold place is safer.
  • Slow cooking will tenderise the meat and reduce the need for hanging but may dry out the breast a bit but you can make a great gamey sauce to compensate for this!

Other Pheasant Recipes