When it comes to the culinary arts, my skills admittedly rest at the consumer rather than the producer end of the spectrum. I would never think of challenging a trained chef in the kitchen, but at the dinner table I can hold my own with the best. In short, I like to eat.
And with this skill, and a knife and fork in hand, I have consumed my fair share and then some of upland birds and waterfowl for the past few decades. At British Gundogs, over the course of a season our dogs retrieve a wide variety of game including quail, pheasants, ducks, geese, woodcock, dove, snipe, partridge and grouse (and others I am probably missing). We do our best to care for the birds properly to ensure that when they finally reach the dinner table, the meat is in pristine condition.
With that in mind, we thought we would offer a few tips on how to store your harvest until it is time for cooking.
1. Ideally, you want to get the birds in a cold and dry place as quickly as possible. Bacteria build up in the bird carcass with heat, so the faster you can get them cold, the better the meat will be. At British Gundogs, we use our Orion coolers on the hunts for exactly this purpose. And when I say dry, I mean dry. Don’t drop the birds in a watery slush. Use a tray, Tupperware or even a garbage bag to keep the birds away from any water.
2. Don’t stack your birds (I’m looking at you “stackin piles” social media warrior). Stacking birds concentrates the body heat in the birds which promotes bacteria growth.
3. Some people prefer the taste of the gamebird after hanging it. If you haven’t tried this method, it’s worth a shot. For pheasants, think 3 days minimum at 50 degrees Fahrenheit or so. (Larger birds would be a longer timeframe, smaller birds would be shorter. Experiment to get it right.) One caveat: if the bird is gut-shot or you think it may be gut shot, then forget hanging. Quarter the bird and serve it in a nice gumbo or similar dish. Don’t forget to invite your favorite dog trainer, he loves gumbo.
4. If you skin your birds (philistines all of you), make sure you wash and dry the birds thoroughly before putting them into a bag for storage. Again, water and bacteria are not your friends.
5. When you freeze a bird for later use, make sure to wrap the bag tightly around the bird so that no air pockets remain. A vacuum sealer is great for this.
6. When you defrost a frozen bird, thaw the freezer bag in cool water (not hot) or better yet leave it in your fridge or Orion cooler overnight.
7. And when you clean a bird, always use a clean knife and keep it clean during the process. The knife blade can transfer bacteria to parts of the bird that you might like to eat at some point.
Hopefully these tips will make your next meal a great one and if you need any help with leftovers, you know where to find me.
Professional Gundog Trainer and Amateur Gourmand