Pheasant Sous Vide – Getting Undressed for Dinner.

Pheasant sous vide (5 of 5)If you are one of those people who believe meat comes from the supermarket, I suggest you find something else to read. Unless you happen to be a fan of the Walking Dead and such programming where the content leaves the viewer as zombified as the actors. If you are one such, you might revel in the gore to follow. But, I digress. We are gathered here today to show you how to prepare pheasant for cooking. 

A good friend of mine, who “does a bit of shooting” dropped the birds in to me. I had the option of thanking him and asking a butcher to help me prepare them or getting down to business. So down to business it is.

In a completely counter intuitive bit of linguistics, we will ‘dress a brace of pheasant’. That is, we will undress the two pheasant. ‘Dressing’ involves removing the feathers, skin, feet, head, innards and leaving only the bits you might want to pop into the oven or sous vide bag.

Side note 1 on parenting and pheasant preparation: In the tradition of old horror movies, I am giving you your one and only LOOK AWAY NOW warning of this post. Don’t blame me if your six-year-old happens to steal your iPad and run out into the garden to read this post. That and the lifetime scarring of your child’s sensitivities will be your fault. You have been warned. 

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Brace yourselves for what is going to follow.

Side note 2 on parenting and pheasant preparation:  Back in the day when I was about six years of age, I recall my parents preparing pheasant in the kitchen at home. Dad would hang the birds, in the cool of the basement staircase, until they were almost rank. Then Mum and Dad would pluck and prepare them. This has left me unscarred, as far as I know. My sisters were more vulnerable, often being chased around the house by my father with the severed heads of the birds. I can still remember the wild squeals of laughter. We were made of stern stuff. 

Now, back to the business in hand. First, grip the bird by the foot, exposing the back of the knee. Slice through the tough skin on the joint.

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This is the least gruesome bit of the process.

Repeat on the other side of the knee. Twist the lower part of the leg and pull steadily to remove the lower part of the leg, taking the tendon from within the upper part of the leg with it.

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Repeat the process with the other three legs. Two birds, four legs…

Expand one wing. Slice through the skin above the elbow joint. Twist the wing until it comes free.

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On a wing and a prayer. The wings come away easily.

Stretch the neck away from the body and decapitate the bird, near the body end.

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The feathers make this bit look almost nice. Almost.

Lie the bird on it’s back. Grip the skin between the feathers on the breast side.

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The birds are pretty thin-skinned. It’s good you aren’t.

Peel the skin back to reveal the body of the bird, being careful to lift it over the thighs and to lift it over the wing stumps and what remains of the neck.

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I don’t understand the term ‘dressing the bird’ for this activity.

Next, pull the skin off the carcass at the knees.

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Almost completely undressed for dinner.

Grip the tail feathers and pull them free. Slice a small opening in the flesh  just above what is euphemistically referred to as the ‘Pope’s Nose’.

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Give the innards the two fingers.

Put two fingers into the body of the bird in exactly the same way as you might put them down your own throat to induce vomiting. Grip and pull out all the innards at once. (If the birds are high, you might feel like a quick vom anyway.)

Pick off any stray feathers. Remove the legs with a sharp knife and then slice the breasts off the carcass, retaining the wing  stump on the breast. This is easier to do than it is to write. You should end up with two breasts and two legs per bird.

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If you have the patience you should use the bones to make a stock.

Rinse the bits you are going to cook and dry them on kitchen paper.

Side note on cleanliness: Clean down every surface and utensil you have been using. Game, particularly well hung game, is a prolific source of harmful germs. Don’t take any chances. During the preparation of one bird, I washed my hands eight times. That’s what comes of taking your own photos. 

The rest of this is very, very easy. Season and vacuum seal the pheasant pieces in bags with some butter and thyme.

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I vacuumed mine one breast to a bag. Two legs to a bag. It seemed to make sense.

Pop the bags into a sous vide bath at 64ºC for two hours.

Remove the pheasant from the bags and pat it dry on kitchen paper.

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It doesn’t look too attractive at this stage.

Brown the pieces in a mix of oil and butter.

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The pheasant gets a lot tastier looking when it’s browned.

Keep it warm in the oven while you make a sauce by adding the bag juices to a pan, adding a couple of heaped teaspoons of cornflour to half a mug of water. Stir to incorporate then heat to thicken. Season to suit your tastes. Serve the pheasant with a nice earthy vegetable. I used puréed celeriac. Pour on as much sauce as you dare. It’s very flavoursome.

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The pheasant was tasty, served with a glass of Gewürztraminer. Easier to drink than pronounce.

The pheasant was very tasty. Even the sous vide cooking can’t make this bird juicy. However, a good sauce, some nice vegetables and it really is a seasonal flavour sensation.

I believe we should not shy away from preparing our own food. It keeps things real, even in these days when the bird is the only one who gets dressed for dinner.

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  • As neat a bit of dismembering as you could hope to see. Clearly, you are your father’s son (wasn’t he a pathologist?). A good way of cooking pheasant, too, which can be a bit dry. Nice job, Mr B.

    • He was. Truth is that growing up in a medical / pathological household (Mum and sister both doctors) gives one some advantage in this stuff. Even if one (me) decides to pursue a life of marketing management.

  • My father insisted on eating his pheasant stinky. My ma reasoned that made plucking and gutting the bird his job… and as far as I’m concerned, pheasant is STILL my father’s territory. However, we were taught to deal with chickens and big fat meat bunnies. (Un)dressing a rabbit is a good party trick and tends to get you eyed with respect, especially if you’re female. It’s all about a sharp knife and knowledge of your victim’s anatomy, isn’t it?

    • A bit of anatomy knowledge is essential. Without it, one will only make a mess of things. The sharp knife is essential. I haven’t done the rabbit myself. I need to rectify that at some stage. Good on you Girl.

  • I’m sure those pheasants are not revolting 😉

  • Excellent post. Couldn’t agree more about preparing our own food.

    • It’s important that we know (really know) what food is and where it comes from.

  • What a special post of yours! Kind of awkward, but you are right, this is how our food comes to the table. I guess, in the end, it has been a very tasty dish!

    • Thanks OCG,
      I wouldn’t want to have to do it for every meal. but it is important to do it.

  • Conor, this is amazing. We used to have pheasants roaming our yard but since my parents are city folk they never did what your dad did with them or what you did here. I would have loved that. I really like pheasant. I’m totally impressed that you dressed it on camera for us. What a great post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Amanda,
      I can’t imagine what it must be like to see pheasant wandering the yard. I really appreciate your kind comments. Getting it on camera was a bit of fun.

  • Great post, Conor. Well done on undressing your own pheasants. That is a language peculiarity I had noticed before, but still baffles me. I suppose you could have suspected that yours truly would comment on your statement that even sous-vide can’t make pheasant juicy. I had perfectly juicy pheasant over the Christmas break by cooking the breast for 4 hours at 55C and the legs as confit, 8 hours at 75C with some duck fat. The 4 hours is needed to pasteurize the meat at that low temperature. By the way, I do not recommend cooking pheasant sous-vide if they have been hung like your father did, as the strong scent will be accentuated. For the same reason, many people will prefer a female pheasant over a male. (Looks like you had both. Did you notice any difference?)
    P.S. I didn’t do a post about this pheasant because I had posted about it before (although for that post I had smoked the breast instead of cooking it sous-vide) and because I didn’t feel like taking pictures. When I tasted how good the breast meat was cooked this way, I regretted not taking any photos. So I guess I have to get myself another pheasant…

    • Thanks Stefan,
      I will have to give it a go as you suggest. The legs could have benefitted from the longer cooking, I feel. I did check out your post before I prepared this but, the need to feed the family limited my options. We had also wanted to smoke and then SV one of the birds but, for the same reason, this didn’t happen this time. More anon, as they say…

      • I know what that’s like. The later I start thinking about and preparing for dinner, the fewer (long-term sous-vide) options are left.

  • Well that was no where near as revolting as the Walking Dead. Or maybe I’m too zombiefied to notice anymore. I do know pheasant are mighty tasty birds and that I have one residing in my freezer out in the garage. And now inspiration comes from Ireland. I love it!

    We are alike in one way, it seems, and that is we have shooting friends. How handy they are! I’ve nothing against hunting, just have never done much of it myself. But being a meat geek, it’s kind of fun to see what your circle of hunting blokes drop off at your doorstep from time to time. I love to dabble in wild game cooking.

    Nicely done, Conor, as always.


    • PotP, you are a true gentleman. My friend the Wicklow Hunter, who used to be my source of fine venison, has emigrated to Australia. Though I am on a promise of some more meat from another source. Many parts of Ireland are now overrun with deer and they need to be culled. Hopefully some of it will end up in my sous vide!

  • Well the photos weren’t really all that disgusting, but you did warn us so maybe that made it less so when it wasn’t truly ICK factor 10. My hubby probably knows how to dress a pheasant, however he’s not hunted for any in probably over 30 years (which is way before we met). I’m glad you have a friend who willingly drops you off some game from time to time!

    • Hi Kathryn,
      I really enjoyed preparing it. It brought me back to my childhood. Having a ‘source’ is great in the urban life I lead. Perhaps you should get that hubby of yours out with the gun?

  • Fair play Conor, I pride myself on thinking I could put my hand to most things but am not sure I could do that. End result looks delicious and must have been all the better for knowing all the work you did to cook your own food. g.

    • Thanks Grainne,
      I had a bit of fun doing it. It reminded me of home life as a kid as well as letting me get a bit more intimate with the preparation. All good,

  • Despite your warning, this was very tastefully (pun intended) done and so informative. That’s why you attract so many readers, Conor. 🙂

    • Thanks Debbie,
      I’m sure this sort of stuff goes on in the Mountain Kitchen all the time. It’s us urbanites who are losing touch with the origins of our food. We need to remind ourselves occasionally.
      Best as ever,

  • “You should end up with two legs and two breasts per bird”… I guess that depends on where you’ve been hunting eh 😜
    That looks damn tasty Conor. I would defo try it if you went to all of that trouble to prepare it for me 😂😂

    • You could get out and shoot a raft of them and serve them in the restaurant. Lots of work but think of the margins! I hoped somebody would pick up on the 2 per bird bit.

  • I have never eaten pheasant.I will admit to being a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to meat and of thinking how beautiful the bird was, but I often cut up whole chickens….and I am only one generation away from chicken-pluckers! Given the opportunity,I will gladly try a pheasant.

    • Thanks Tonette,
      It is tasty enough and worth trying. I wouldn’t do it for every meal! I think most of us are only a generation or two away from plucking our own.

  • When I was a little girl, I watched my aunt catch, kill and pluck a fowl. Yeh, dinner tasted “funny” after that. But I got over it. Thanks for this post, Conor. It brings back memories. And, oh, my dad calls that tail part “the parson’s nose” 🙂

  • The pictures remind me of the skit the Eagle did in the Muppets where he’s shocked to find out that underneath his feathers he is naked! 🙂 Great post.

  • This was a veritable feast of fowl punnage, Conor, sustenance for the brain as well as the stomach. As for the meat of the post, I’m a firm believer in not being squeamish about one’s food – except for large beans, they make me afraid – but if you had my knife skills, you’d bring them to a butcher too.

    • A suppressed bean fear is a terrible thing Sparling. You are right to bring it out in the open and talk about it here on this forum without fear of people laughing at you and deriding your shortcomings. I don’t find anything funny about a bean phobia. I had one once but in my case it’s ‘bean there done that’ at this stage.
      Stay well my dear,

  • I have two pheasants in the freezer that have been prepped for me but after reading this I think I’d be able to have a go myself. Have to say I did have a laugh at your parenting side notes, showed my 7yr old, she asked when were we going to try that!!

    • Seven is very late to be starting the education! Still, better late than never…

  • Hilarious! At 81, my father still shoots everything that moves. I have never been interested in the shooting part, but I suppose I should get him to teach me to dress things. (He did teach Steve to dispatch and clean chickens, but I cowered inside the house.)

    • I remember being on a family holiday in County Clare, here in Ireland. The mother of the house sent one of the kids out to get a bird for dinner. I went with him and watched as he caught a chicken, in a shed behind the house, wrung its neck and hung it up by the feet. I was a little shocked.
      Great to see that gentleman still active and outdoors at 81.

      • Yeah, that’s how my grandmother did it. 🙂

  • That looks bloody marvelous. Have just discovered your blog and have spent hours reading pretty much every recipe (am at work of course!). Some great looking food and photography.

    • Thanks Kieran,
      Very good of you to say so. I get great fun from the comments and interactions here. Do come back soon. I try to post something new once a week. The more I do it, the harder it gets as there is one less recipe to prepare…

  • I’m not someone who thinks meat comes from a supermarket. I think it comes from a high quality butcher, neatly displayed behind beautiful glass. And yet, I have an avid fascination for cutting up whole chickens – but never those with feathers! I think I scrolled past the pictures fast enough that I wasn’t scathed permanently.

  • I was with ya, Conor, right up until you put the bird in the bag for sous-vide. Maybe one day. It sure looks good, smothered in that sauce. I cannot tell you how many birds I dressed as a boy. Pheasant was a treat served every autumn but it’s been ages since I’ve enjoyed it. No one hunts anymore — at least not around here. Lazy bums.

    • Lazy, spoiled, bums, I’d say. They have it too easy nowadays (etc, etc, etc. ad nausium).

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