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Game birds offer the most varied and perhaps the most delicious wild
meat. Ranging from the rich, tangy flavor of the miniature woodcock up
to a magnificent wild turkey or Canada goose, they provide a range of
flavor delicacy as wide as the variation of the sport in hunting for
them. The quality and flavor of game birds, however, depends to a very
large extent, on the care they receive after the hunter has bagged them.
The simple rules to follow are these: The birds should be drawn soon after they have been shot. The body heat should be allowed to cool as quickly as possible. The birds should be kept cool or at cold temperatures until they are to be cooked. Game birds should be bled, cleaned and cooled quickly after shooting. And as you clean them, be sure to remove the oil sacs at the base of the back near the tail. Also be sure to carry a portable ice chest to speed cooling and to protect the birds from spoilage during the trip home.
When testing game birds to determine those which are young and tender, the stiffness of the bill is usually significant. If pheasants and grouse, for example, can be lifted by the lower jaw and nothing breaks, they are mature birds whose james are set. They will not be as tender and will require more cooking than the younger, less developed.
Game birds should be skinned if only the breast will be used or if they are tough and will be used in stews or casseroles. Otherwise, the birds should be plucked. This helps keep the meat more moist and tender.
Be sure you remove any shot pellets and cut away any badly shot up areas. Cut off the wings and feet of small birds with shears. Then, cut small birds up the backbone, remove the lungs, wash and drain.
Cut larger birds into pieces, the same as you would a chicken. You'll also find the livers from medium and large-sized birds are big enough to save and will taste very similar to chicken livers.
Here's another hint. Freezing a bird for a week or two will help tenderize it.
NOTE about DUCKS: In the fall, ducks usually have fine- flavored meat, and any stuffing can be used with them. At other times of the year, they may be more strongly flavored and are improved by soaking the cleaned birds for 2-3 hours in fairly strong salted water to which 1 tsp. baking soda has been added. If ducks prepared this way are to be kept under refrigeration for a few days, after wiping them dry, put a few slices of onion in the body cavity. This will help remove the excess gamey taste, and the onion is to be discarded before the ducks are cooked.
However, like all game birds, ducks should be allowed to hang at a temperature just above freezing for at least 48 hours before they are cooked. The length of time and temperature at which they are allowed to hang beyond that period will control how "high" or gamey they are allowed to become. This should be determined by personal taste.
When preparing game birds, you can cook young birds by broiling, roasting, or in any of your other favorite recipes. But older birds should be stewed or braised to tenderize them. Or if you wish, you can try a commercial tenderizer. Just sprinkle the tenderizer in the body cavity of the bird and let the bird stand in the refrigerator. The amount of time the bird needs to remain in the refrigerator depends on the size of the bird. For example, a large bird such as a turkey, will need 12 to 24 hours for the tenderizer to work.
If you're not sure how many servings you'll get from each bird this may help you: *1 serving = 2 quail, 1-2 squab, 2-3 doves, or 1 small duck. *You can figure on at least 2 servings from 1 pheasant or 1 large duck. *A 4-6 lb. goose should feed 4-6 people.