As noted in last week’s column, game
birds and animals tend to taste better, and probably offer greater nutritional
values, if the skin is left on. Bones also probably are important, nutritionally.
Although it is impractical to leave the skin on such animals as squirrel,
rabbits or any of the fur-bearers that are consumed by man, leaving the
skin on larger game birds is not a problem.
I am thinking of pheasant, grouse, and waterfowl. My thinking does not
apply well to smaller game birds such as quail, dove, woodcock and others.
Thus, I skin the smaller birds because dry picking or scalding takes
much too much time. But I dry pick pheasant, grouse, and waterfowl
(both ducks and geese), and I cook them with the skin on.
Generally, to remove the feathers and retain the skin of pheasants,
grouse, and waterfowl (ducks and geese) I dry pick them this is hard, tedious
work and it must be done carefully to avoid tearing the skin.
Before starting the dry-picking process, I line a clean garbage can
with a large plastic bag. I hold the bird over the open bag. This allows
detached feathers to fall into the bag. My bird cleaning chores are done
in a warm room and arranged in a manner that will allow me to sit comfortably.
To start the dry-picking procedure, I remove tail feathers, and the
primary and longer secondary feathers of the wings. Then with the bird
in one hand (the back of the bird resting in the palm of my hand), I use
the thumb and index finger of the other hand to pinch feathers of the neck
and breast while pulling them gently toward the tail end of the bird.
There may be times when it will be necessary to pull off the feathers against
their natural flow, but this will often lead to tearing the skin. When
the larger feathers are removed, smaller, hair-like feathers (I call them
fuzz) may remain attached to the skin, and this is rubbed and pinched off
as much as possible as breast and thighs of the bird are cleared.
In the case of young birds, pinfeathers (those not well developed) may
stick tight. I remove these (one at a time, if necessary) by grasping them
between a knife blade and my thumb.
When feathers and fuzz of the breast, thighs, and legs have been removed,
I turn the bird over and remove feathers of the back in the same manner.
Feathers on the first joints of the wings are removed with the same pinch-pulling
If some fuzz remains at the end of the operation it can be rubbed off
with the pressure of the surface and the heel of the thumb (the part of
the hand where the thumb is attached). If this fails to remove some of
the fuzz, it can be removed by searing it with an open flame. This was
a common practice in the southern part of Indiana for many years when chickens
and other fowl were being dressed. The bird would simply be held by both
legs and subjected to the flame of burning newspaper.
Once feathers and fuzz are removed, the heads and feet are removed,
and the entrails and internal organs are removed by opening the body cavity
with a crosswise cut just behind the breast. Necks, livers, and gizzards
of larger birds are saved for cooking. Hearts, though not as popular with
many, are tasty.
I save (freeze) livers, gizzards
and hearts until I have enough for a dish that features these parts
by turning them into a stew (with lots of gravy) or goulash-like dish served
over biscuits or rice.
Hearts should be cut apart to drain, gizzards must be freed of the sandpaper-like
interior surface that functions as the bird’s “gristmill,” and the small
patch of gall must be removed from livers. But if handled well, they can
be turned into great dishes.
On a few occasions I have taken the time to dry pick quail and I tend
to think that cooking small birds with the skin on adds something to their
taste--especially when they are fried. But dry-picking small birds, as
note above, is a slow, tedious process. For that reason, I skin them.
There are no right or wrong ways to skin birds. The important aspect
is only to get feathers and skin off the edible parts of the birds, which
in most cases is the breast.
Here’s the way I handle the various birds:
WOODCOCK -- I remove the head and hold the bird
by one back foot. Then grasping the skin between thumb and index finger
of the other hand, I simply pull downward on the skin of the leg (just
below the foot) and the skin peels off easily. This is repeated on the
other leg and the skin is worked off the body and the first
joint of the wings. The wings are severed and feet are cut off, and the
entrails are removed. This saves the entire body (including the back) for
-- Holding the bird in the palm of one hand, I snip off the wings close
to the body and remove the head. Then I pull the skin away from the breast
and extract that heart-shaped chunk of meat by pulling it out with my hands.
Immersing the birds in clean, cold water prior to skinning will make the
feathers less sticky.
-- Coots are handled in much the same manner as doves but I also save leg
quarters along with the breast. Incidentally, the coot--though very dark
(even red) meat--is a tasty bird on the table.