Tips for Preparing Game Birds

Tom Montgomery

In our book, pen- and farm-raised birds aren't "game". Only truly wild ones are. But wild ones take more work. Here are some helpful tips:

DRESSING: To prevent spoilage, wild birds must be cleaned (eviscerated) as soon as possible.

HANGING: The tradition of aging game birds for a week or more to tenderize their meat and improve their flavor is dying out, since concerns have been raised about the healthfulness of the practice. Boston chef Jasper White taught us to play it safe by hanging cleaned birds in a cold place for at least two days, then plucking them and aging them further in the refrigerator before marinating a few days more.

PLUCKING: A tedious process, but immersing birds in boiling water just off the heat for 30 seconds, then plucking the feathers with the grain, makes the job easier. If you are braising, stewing, or poaching the meat, simply skin the bird, removing the feathers in the process.

REMOVING SHOT: The BB-like lead shot with which birds are brought down must be removed before cooking. Carefully extract the shot with tweezers or a sharp paring knife, and warn diners to be wary of any pellets that might remain. (Unscrupulous restaurants sometimes add shot, it's said, to domesticated birds so that they'll pass as game.)