Partially inspired by Tim and Miranda’s amazing chicken experience I went for a vaguely similar present for James this Christmas… A Wild Meats day at Empire Farm in Somerset which took place yesterday. James has always shown an interest in the provenance of his food and it’s of great importance to him, hence the Abel and Cole box, so the course I took him on seemed a good way to get really hands on with the meaty side of things. This post is not for the squeamish – there is a lot of animal chopping up about to be revealed.
The day’s course is an absolutely brilliant one, focusing on gutting, plucking and butchering three different wild animals dependent on the season. We had a go at a pheasant, a deer and a rabbit. Our teacher, Marc, was a super hero – hugely knowledgable and guided us through every step with a perfect balance of expertise and piss-taking humour. He is also a charcutier and seems to know more than possible about the skills of meat curing, have a look at his blog to see what he gets up to: Le Charcutier Anglaise.
So here goes. Animal by animal:
Pheasant’s are hung by the neck and the length of time depends on how gamey you like your bird – to Marc’s taste he recommends no longer than 1-2 days. We were taught how to pluck them so you have a whole bird at the end of the arduous job – it is fiddly and time-consuming, but a good skill nonetheless. He showed us a fancy trick should you just want the breasts, which involved lying the bird on the ground (belly up), spreading it’s wings out and placing each foot on either wing with your feet as close up to the breast as possible. You bend over, keeping your legs straight, get hold of the bird’s feet and steadily pull as you stand back up. This skins the bird to expose the breasts which you can then use however you choose. Very nifty.
So here’s how our pheasants looked before we attacked them:
And once we had done as instructed, plucking only a couple of feathers at a time, starting at the wings, slowly slowly and careful not to tear the skin.
Some of our birds (James) looked like this:
And some like this:
Mine was somewhere in between, probably nearer James’. Later we took the pheasants inside to draw them (‘draw’ being the pheasant equivalent of ‘gut’) and get them to a state where we could all take them home to cook. We’re cooking ours tonight, so recipe for that to follow shortly. You start by getting rid of the neck, but you want to keep a bit of the neck skin – so you make an incision up the neck and release it from the bone which you then cut off. Next is the drawing. At the leg end of the bird you make an incision, get your hand in there and pull out the insides, this is pretty stinky so I recommend not breathing at this stage. Now you can snap off the feet, wash the bird and it’s ready for the oven.
Buying a deer and preparing it yourself saves you lots of money! Marc reckons you can get one for around £35-40 and that will give so much delicious venison at about 1/4 the price of a butcher, so well worth a bit of effort. The deer had already been gutted for us as you don’t really want to leave it hanging around with its guts in, it does it no favours. We hung the deer to a forklift and began to skin it which seemed surprisingly easy. James went in with a knife to cut the skin away from the meat on one leg – once you’ve removed a certain amount you can start tearing it away, releasing occasionally with the knife. The other leg was done and then it’s simply a matter of carefully pulling the skin away down the body and when you get to the feet pull it off with a bit of might.
Once inside, we butchered the venison. There is no joint / tendon at the foreleg of a deer as they are running animals and the joint is made of muscle, so it is pretty easy to remove them. You then cut of the hind legs, using a saw when you get to the bone. Separate and trim them. Trim any scrag off and save for use in sausages, stews, etc. Then you remove the fillet by cutting it away from the bone.
We then minced the venison, mixed it with some pork and some of the trimmings from the pheasants and rabbit. Mixed it all together with some spices and seasoning and made some game pies. We were also given some fillet to take home. The pies were absolutely delicious, such fresh and amazingly tasty meat and Marc’s fantastic pastry recipe.
This is the one that I found the hardest, I had to try very hard not to picture Billy who was my very dear pet rabbit. Once over the sentimental moment, you have to chop all the feet off with a big cleaver. Then from this point you pretty much treat the skinning in the same way as the deer. Ease the skin away from the legs then pull over the tail and then down the body and over the hind legs. Chop off the tail, remove the organs from inside and clean out the tract with your small finger (not pleasant).
They are jointed into six pieces: the two back and two front legs and then the saddle (body) into two parts. I think we’re going to make a casserole with it for tomorrow night, I will post the recipe for that once it’s done.
All in all, it was a really great day. We both learnt a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you to all at Empire Farm! Recipes to follow…