Making science and food out of a pheasant

March 9, 2016

I was relaxing on the Sunday afternoon before last, when there was a knock on the door. A couple of friends of mine had popped round with a plastic sack containing a fox and a pheasant that they’d found. (They rightly pointed out that it sounded like a pub.)

The fox is a treat for another day. Here’s the pheasant:

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(Don’t judge me on the state of our kitchen floor — that’s not important right now.)

It was 86 cm long from beak to tip of the tail-feathers, and massed 1393 g. The wingspan was hard to measure, because the wings want to pull back in towards the torso, but my best estimate is 73 cm.

Here’s the right wing extended:

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Shamefully, I’ve not really played with a dead bird before, so it was a new experience for me to feel how astonishingly unmuscled the wings are. There’s nothing there but skin, bone and feathers. The wings are of course operated by tendons, which are powered by the massive breast muscles — something that shouldn’t be surprising since (A) it makes mechanical sense to concentrate the muscles near the centre of mass, and (B) everyone knows birds do this with their hindlimbs, hence the ridiculously thin legs of flamingoes.

I had planned to do a Brodkorb (1955) on the pheasant: plucking it and weighing the feathers; then skinning it and weighing the skin; then eviscerating it and weighing the viscera; and so on. turns out that this is a lot harder than it sounds. I physically couldn’t pull the feathers out of the wings, for example. After a not-very-long struggle, I gave up and pulled off the skin and feathers together.

Here’s the nude bird, looking like a dinosaur. (Who’d have guessed?)

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Note the very distinctive and knobbly fatty deposits.

At this stage, since my Brodkorb-style teardown was a bust, I thought we might as well eat the parts of the pheasant that I didn’t want for science. So I trimmed off the breasts — you really get a sense of how massive the flight muscles are when you do this for a bird that started out intact — and the legs:

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These fried up nicely — though they were hard to photograph through the steam:

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The breasts were very tasty, more like pork than chicken in both flavour and texture. The legs were much tougher to deal with — it was hard to get the meat off them. Still a good flavour, though.

I’d removed the head-and-neck assembly, and the feet, for science. Once I’d removed the guys, I thought I’d simmer the rest of the carcass for stock, but once that process had been under way for quarter of an hour or so, I had to admit that it was smelling of poo. I assume I’d not removed the guts sufficiently. I admitted defeat and tossed the carcass in the trash.

Then I gently simmered the head/neck and feet for an hour or two. Here’s how they looked (and check out how the yellow fat deposits have congealed into nodules):

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What’s that? You want a close-up? Sure!

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And one of the feet?

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Those spurs are nasty!

Anyway, I picked off what flesh I could from the head/neck, and peeled away the scaly skin from the legs and some of the toes:

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I’ve not peeled all the toes, because once that’s done only cartilage keeps the phalanges articulated, and that will come away with more simmering, leaving me with a jigsaw puzzle. The plan now is to keep one of the feet in its relatively intact state and skeletonise the other. Then I can use the whole one as a key to reassemble the bones of the other.

The skull, of course, I will continue to deflesh. More simmering will be needed before I can proceed. After a couple more iterations, I’ll put the skull out under a cage for invertebrates to clean up the remaining shreds of soft-tissue, before rinsing, cleaning, degreasing and drying.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

References

  • Brodkorb, Pierce (1955). Number of feathers and weight of various systems in a Bald Eagle. The Wilson Bulletin 67(2):142.
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4 Responses to “Making science and food out of a pheasant”

  1. John Scanlon Says:

    One reason I’ve mainly worked on reptiles is that I’m in the minority of people susceptible to feather mites: when I handle living or recently dead birds, invisible cooties burrow into my skin and tunnel around getting indigestion for a week or so, till the skin starts coming off my hands in patches. Maybe I have the wrong kind of keratin or collagen, I don’t know; but the stuff to nip them in the bud is benzyl benzoate, which sounds fiercely carcinogenic. Anyway, that’s what freshly dead birds mean to me…

  2. Grant Says:

    Beautiful! Is the spur a novel structure, or is it digit V?

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    I should know the answer to that. But I don’t.

    It doesn’t look like a digit.


  4. […] couple of weeks ago, I was given a pheasant, which I reduced to science and food. When we last saw it, it was down to a skinned and partially defleshed head/neck and feet. […]


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