Trapshooters Forum banner

Hanging Pheasants and Other Wild Fowl - Nebraskaland

2220 17
Hanging Pheasants and Other Wild Fowl
gerry steinauer

After a pheasant hunt last winter, I mentioned to my friend, Mace Hack, that we should go to my place and clean the birds.
“Oh no, I now hang my birds for a few days before I clean them,” said Mace. “My English brother-in-law turned me on to it. Aged birds are so much better eating.”
Though I knew that the choicest beef and venison steaks result from aging, the thought of hanging pheasants with feathers and entrails intact and letting them “rot a bit” sounded a bit repulsive. But I had to try it.
I laid a young rooster and an old, long-spurred rooster on my basement windowsill for five days. It was during a cold spell and the temperature on the windowsill over the period ranged from 40 to 45 F. When I cleaned the birds, the skins slid easily from the bodies and there was no foul odor.
The fried thigh and breast fillets of the old rooster were tender and tasty, not tough like many mature roosters I have eaten. The young bird was also good, though my girlfriend, Grace, thought the breast meat was too mushy, possibly over-aged, and less flavorful than the fillets of the old bird.
This experiment further kindled my interest in aging pheasants, so I e-mailed Mace’s brother-in- law, John Hall, who now lives in Greenwich, Connecticut. Aging game birds is an old European tradition, and who better to provide insight into the matter than an Englishman?
“Experience will teach you how long to hang a pheasant,” wrote Hall. “We hang them singly, sometimes in braces, from a beam in a shed using twine around the neck. We don’t clean or pluck the birds first, and hang by the neck to keep the blood in the carcass. The temperature in the shed was probably 40 to 45 F in November through January during our pheasant season. Under those conditions we hang birds for about a week, maybe as long as 10 days. Others say to hang them until the tail feathers pull out easily. Often we shoot on Saturday, then clean, pluck and eat the birds the following Sunday or refrigerate or freeze them for later use.”
According to Hall, aged pheasant meat is darker, has a more pronounced flavor and is noticeably more tender. He advised not to tell the dinner guests about hanging the birds.
The Science of Aging Game
Three factors affect the tenderness of meat in all animals, whether it be beef cattle or pheasant: background toughness, rigor mortis and aging the meat.
Background toughness results from the amount of collagen (connective tissue) in and between muscle fibers. The amount of collagen, as well as the interconnectivity of the collagen, increases as animals get older, explaining why an old rooster is naturally tougher than a young bird. Rigor mortis is the partial contracting and tightening of muscle fibers in animals after death and results from chemical changes in the muscle cells. Depending on temperature and other factors, rigor mortis typically sets in a few hours after death and maximum muscle contraction is reached 12 to 24 hours after death. Rigor mortis then begins to subside, which is when the aging (tenderization) of the meat begins.
Tenderization results from pH changes in the muscle cells after death that allow naturally occurring proteinase enzymes in cells to become active. These enzymes break down collagen, resulting in more tender meat. In beef cattle, the aging process will continue at a constant rate up to 14 days, as long as the meat is held at a proper and consistent temperature, and then decreases after that. In fowl, the rate of tenderization begins to decline after a few days.
A common misconception is that bacteria-caused rotting is responsible for meat tenderization, and this is why many find the thought of aging game repugnant. Warm temperatures and exposure to air promote bacterial growth and rotting. The greening of tissue and the telltale rotten smell – the latter caused by bacterial waste products – are signs of rotting. Maintaining a constant, cool temperature is key to preventing bacterial growth when aging meats. The sickness causing E. coli bacteria grows rapidly at temperatures at or above 60 F, but very slowly at 50 F.
Perfecting the Aging Process
Opinion has likely varied for centuries on how to best age pheasants and other fowl to reach perfection in tenderness and taste. In 1825, French intellectual and culinary expertise Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote in his famous book The Physiology of Taste: “When the pheasant is eaten only three days after its death, it has no peculiarity; it has not the flavor of a pullet, nor the perfume of a quail….. It is especially good when the pheasant begins to be decomposed.”
In the days of old in this country, hunters were often claimed to have favored hanging their wild fowl until green around the vent or until the body slipped from the head. Truth be told, in the days before electricity, hanging game birds may have had as much to do with meat preservation as tenderization. My girlfriend’s mother, Lucille Kostel of Wagner, South Dakota, said before they had electricity and freezers on their farm they let fall-harvested waterfowl and pheasants hang as long as possible on the north side of the barn as a means of storage. Only when a warm spell threatened to spoil the meat or a hard cold threatened to turn the birds into frozen blocks would they clean the birds and then can the meat. Tenderization was not an objective.
Recently science has tackled the issue of the perfectly aged pheasant. In an Australian study, test panels fed roasted pheasants found birds hung for nine days at 50 F to be more acceptable than those hung for four days at 59 F or for 18 days at 41 F. They found the birds aged for four days at 59 F were tougher than those aged for longer periods at lower temperatures. The pheasants hung at 50 F were considered more gamey in flavor.
Retired NEBRASKAland writer Rocky Hoffmann has been aging wild fowl for more than 25 years with excellent results. Hoffmann hangs birds in his shed when the temperatures are cool and stable, and uses an old refrigerator when temperatures are too warm, too cold or fluctuating.
Hoffmann has removed the racks from the refrigerator and fastened a grate to the top for attaching hanging hooks. He keeps the refrigerator temperature in the low 40s and hangs pheasants by the head, with the feathers on and entrails still intact. He used to hang them by the feet, upside down with the entrails suspended in the chest cavity. “This is supposedly an old English method to impart flavor into the breast of the bird, but I found no difference in flavor between birds hung by the feet and those hung by the head,” said Hoffmann.
Hoffmann explained that leaving the skin and feathers on pheasants while hanging prevents the meat from drying out or freezing if temperatures drop. The feathers are easily plucked after hanging if one desires. He usually plucks and guts waterfowl prior to hanging. He hangs birds for about a week. The skin on plucked birds that are aged turns golden in color.
“The best pheasant I ever ate, I hung for about a month under carefully controlled conditions,” said Hoffmann. “I plucked it and roasted it. Pheasants can taste a little bland, but this bird was wonderful. I have even hung some spruce grouse I shot in Manitoba. Locals claim that spruce grouse taste terrible, but these were young birds and after hanging a few days they were delicious.” He added that aged waterfowl have a mellow, somewhat nutty flavor.
“Nothing I have ever hung has looked or smelled bad, and I’ve never gotten sick from eating aged game birds,” said Hoffmann. He stressed, however, that he hangs meat only under very controlled temperatures and never hangs birds that are “shot up,” where intestinal bacteria could contaminate the meat.
Hanging pheasants and other fowl may not be for everyone, but for those who enjoy tradition and delectable meals, hanging may be just the thing.

1 - 18 of 18 Posts

· Registered
Joined
·
2,071 Posts
"Maintaining a constant, cool temperature is key to preventing bacterial growth when aging meats. The sickness causing E. coli bacteria grows rapidly at temperatures at or above 60 F, but very slowly at 50 F." Those temperatures seem way too high. Rot starts at like 40 degrees?
 
  • Like
Reactions: big kahuna

· Registered
Joined
·
2,154 Posts
I've hung all gamebirds for at least a week for the past decade or so, since I had a phone conversation with Ben O. Williams, the renowned bird hunting writer and dog trainer from Montana. He said anything under 60 degrees is fine.

My purpose in calling him was trying to find out how to make sharptailed grouse more palatable – they're fun to hunt, but I hated eating them. The hanging helped ... to some extent, anyway.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
4,685 Posts
My ducks and geese taste like ducks and geese. I have hung them for a week and they still tasted like ducks and geese. I shoot a whole lot of ducks and geese each year and if hanging them made them any better I have never been able to taste the diffrence.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
2,414 Posts
Back when I was a kid and my lake home was just a duck camp, all the ducks where plucked , gutted , rinsed and hung under the porch overhang until we left to go home. Now we have commercial freezer set at 35 degrees.
I have been contemplating building a walk in freezer in the corner of one pole barn.
My ducks and geese taste like ducks and geese. I have hung them for a week and they still tasted like ducks and geese. I shoot a whole lot of ducks and geese each year and if hanging them made them any better I have never been able to taste the diffrence.
Quite over cooking them.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
4,685 Posts
Back when I was a kid and my lake home was just a duck camp, all the ducks where plucked , gutted , rinsed and hung under the porch overhang until we left to go home. Now we have commercial freezer set at 35 degrees.
I have been contemplating building a walk in freezer in the corner of one pole barn.

Quite over cooking them.
I know how to cook a freaking duck but they are what they are. Hanging a duck does not make it taste wondeful. It still tastes like a duck and that is not a flavor many people are ovely fond of even when grilled properly at a nice rare to medium rare. An upland bird taste wondeful to most people with a pallet that is used to tame meat and can eat them easily. The same can not be said of ducks. I have killed thousands and thousands of them. Fed them to hundreds of people over a duck shooting life spanning now 40 years.Rare is the person that says that a properly grilled mallard is the best thing I ever put in my mouth. The same person will love deer or Elk and Pheasants, Chukar and quail. Now that is just the way it is and to say otherwise is too point out the one in a thousand. I never met a person that loved duck that didn't also love liver and that is just exactly what an overcooked duck tastes like. Liver.. Who am I telling that! Flying liver!
 

· Premium Member
Joined
·
15,887 Posts
I have to disagree here - a bit.

I've an acquaintance who worked for years as a game keeper. He makes a strong distinction on hanging birds...

A farm raised/pen raised bird doesn't need to be hung - a truly wild bird, well - OK. Age of the bird plays into this as well.

Most birds you'll run into in todays hunting fields will be pen raised birds.

In times of olde they would hang the birds by the head, and wait for the necks to rot through - you literally waited to pick the bird up off the floor before you cooked it.

Yes, we still age beef and the like, but that is after it has been gutted and at least partially butchered. And it is aged under very controlled temperature and humidity conditions.

E.coli, Salmonella, are not your friends...
 
  • Like
Reactions: mg1polo

· Registered
Joined
·
112 Posts
My career involved frequent international travel to Europe and I was amazed seeing small game (usually pheasant & rabbit) hanging almost as decoration in markets in small towns I was passing through. It would coincide with the cooler months and I now realize that it was more than window dressing. FYI - I attended a German hunt one day (strictly as a spectator) and witnessed the harvesting of a large lot of rabbits and pheasant by a group of 40 properly dressed hunters who circled a large field and closed in, shooting all game that tried to escape the gauntlet. I was surprised to learn the wild game was property of the state and all game was distributed & sold to several meat markets in town. Hunters who wanted to take home a bird had to purchase from the market.
 

· Banned
Joined
·
9,591 Posts
I know how to cook a freaking duck but they are what they are. Hanging a duck does not make it taste wondeful. It still tastes like a duck and that is not a flavor many people are ovely fond of even when grilled properly at a nice rare to medium rare. An upland bird taste wondeful to most people with a pallet that is used to tame meat and can eat them easily. The same can not be said of ducks. I have killed thousands and thousands of them. Fed them to hundreds of people over a duck shooting life spanning now 40 years.Rare is the person that says that a properly grilled mallard is the best thing I ever put in my mouth. The same person will love deer or Elk and Pheasants, Chukar and quail. Now that is just the way it is and to say otherwise is too point out the one in a thousand. I never met a person that loved duck that didn't also love liver and that is just exactly what an overcooked duck tastes like. Liver.. Who am I telling that! Flying liver!
I despise liver and love duck. When properly prepared, a fine cooked duck doesn't resemble liver. Possibly you should try some fine new recipes. There are many available on the internet.
MG
 

· Registered
Joined
·
4,685 Posts
I despise liver and love duck. When properly prepared, a fine cooked duck doesn't resemble liver. Possibly you should try some fine new recipes. There are many available on the internet.
MG
I despise liver and love duck. When properly prepared, a fine cooked duck doesn't resemble liver. Possibly you should try some fine new recipes. There are many available on the internet.
MG
If you read my post I said exactly what you said.
I despise liver and love duck. When properly prepared, a fine cooked duck doesn't resemble liver. Possibly you should try some fine new recipes. There are many available on the internet.
MG
I don't need lessons on cooking ducks. I never said they taste like liver. I said an overcooked duck tastes like liver and they do. I said that even when properly cooked most people do not love the flavor of a wild duck and that also is true. I also said that those same people who do not love duck will love upland birds. This is also true. I eat hundred of them a year but I wouldn't if I had upland hunting as good as I have waterfowl hunting. I bet you do not like the taste of overcooked duck because it does taste just like liver and everybody knows it. Anyway.. If you get out this way I have another 50 in the freezer that you are welcome to have. Properly plucked and frozen but you could thaw them and hang them till they turn green and convince us all you are eating choclate cake!
 

· Banned
Joined
·
9,591 Posts
If you read my post I said exactly what you said.
I don't need lessons on cooking ducks. I never said they taste like liver. I said an overcooked duck tastes like liver and they do. I said that even when properly cooked most people do not love the flavor of a wild duck and that also is true. I also said that those same people who do not love duck will love upland birds. This is also true. I eat hundred of them a year but I wouldn't if I had upland hunting as good as I have waterfowl hunting. I bet you do not like the taste of overcooked duck because it does taste just like liver and everybody knows it. Anyway.. If you get out this way I have another 50 in the freezer that you are welcome to have. Properly plucked and frozen but you could thaw them and hang them till they turn green and convince us all you are eating choclate cake!
I think you do not understand that the hanging process need to be done hole, not cleaned.
Hang them by there heads until the body falls from the head. Then clean and pluck, breast whatever you wish to do. The difference might just amaze you. Give it a try, It can hurt.
MG
 
1 - 18 of 18 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top