The Game Larder: Hanging and plucking game birds

Close-up of the plumage of a brace of Ring-necked pheasants, with the female bird to the left. Some feathers are damaged from the hunt. There can be a fair bit of bravado when it comes to the subject of how high people like their game. More often than not, the end-of-day nip in the game larder will find gruff old soldiers going toe to toe with equally gruff old earls, each party claiming to leave their birds hanging longer than the other. Generally speaking, the higher the rank or title, the longer the hanging time: Brigadier-Generals and Viscounts or above may be expected to leave their pheasants till the body drops to the floor – or so they’ll claim. Mere mortals (and most chefs), however, will tend to recommend somewhere between three and seven days depending on the size and age of the bird in question and the temperature: the colder it is, the longer you can string them up; conversely, a brace of young grouse can be ready after just a few hours’ sweltering drive south at the end of August. The only really important thing, of course, is to find somewhere that’s not only cool enough but also impervious to flies and next-door’s cat. Aside from imparting a good, strong gamey flavour, hanging also makes the business of plucking easier. And whilst we suspect that a good many of our customers have the technique well and truly mastered, we thought it might be an idea to double check that we’ve been getting it right all these years. So as we load up in preparation of a relaxed and bountiful Boxing Day shoot, why not take a couple of minutes to refresh your memory?