Poultry and feathered game

Poultry and feathered game

Leiths School of Food and Wine
47 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
Peter Cassidy

While poultry, particularly chicken, dominates our tables, game birds make an excellent alternative. Although often an acquired taste, game has a rewardingly rich flavour and leanness, with the meat ranging in colour from pale guinea fowl to the deep rich pinky-red of grouse. Almost every part of a poultry or game bird can be used, and just a little knowledge of basic butchery skills means you can easily prepare them at home. The broad range of suitable cooking methods for poultry and game, and their ability to take on other flavours, make them incredibly versatile.

Roasting whole birds

The traditional method of roasting a chicken is to cook it for 20 minutes per 450 g at a fairly high temperature. However, cooking at a moderate temperature after an initial browning is more popular these days, and generally considered to give excellent results. In this recipe, once the chicken has browned for around 20–30 minutes at a high temperature, you can turn the oven down to 180–190ºC to roast the chicken a little more gently and slowly. It will take an additional 20–30 minutes to cook, but will potentially be more tender and juicy.

Carving a whole roast chicken

It is a good idea to remove the wishbone from any poultry you are going to carve to serve before cooking, as it makes the process easier.

1. Carve slices from the length of the breast, about 3 mm thick. Alternatively, carefully remove the whole breast, without the wing attached, and slice across the breast into slices 7–8 mm thick. This is often useful for a large chicken or turkey as it gives more manageable pieces.

2. Cut through the thigh joint to remove the thigh and leg and then divide the thigh and leg through the joint (as for jointing a raw chicken, step 3). The legs/drumsticks can be served as they are or you can carefully carve slices from the thicker end.

3. Finally, carve the meat from both sides of the thigh bone.

Jointing a chicken after cooking

An alternative to carving chicken to serve it is to joint it after cooking. This can be done in almost the same manner as before cooking, but it is easier to remove the complete back bone first, by carefully turning the bird onto its breast and cutting down each side of the back bone and removing it. Then turn the bird breast side up and proceed as for jointing a chicken before cooking. Extra care needs to be taken as the chicken will be hot.

Roasting times for turkey

The cooking times given below may vary slightly, depending on the initial temperature of your bird, its shape and exact size, and upon the accuracy of your oven. It is essential to cook turkey thoroughly, in order to destroy any bacteria that could otherwise cause food poisoning. Test the bird to check that it is cooked and to allow it to rest for 20–30 minutes before carving.

Oven-ready Approximate Cooking time at 200ºC Cooking time at 180ºC Internal temperature turkey weight number of servings (stuffing included)

4–5 kg 8–10 2½–3 hours – 82ºC for turkeys of every size 5–6 kg 10–12 3–3¾ hours –

6–7 kg 12–14 30 mins, then > 3¼–4 hours

8–9 kg 16–18 30 mins, then > 4–4½ hours

9–11 kg 18–20 1 hour, then > 4–4½ hours

A note on stuffing the turkey...

It is important to stuff the neck end of the turkey, not the main cavity. Stuffing the main cavity can impede heat penetration, preventing the temperature in the cavity from becoming high enough to kill any bacteria present, which can cause food poisoning. If preferred, you can cook the stuffing separately in a small roasting tin.

Defrosting a frozen turkey

If you buy a frozen rather than a fresh turkey, it is essential to defrost it thoroughly before cooking and you will need to allow plenty of time for this. The fridge is the safest place to thaw a turkey, to ensure that the outside does not warm up, allowing potentially harmful bacteria to multiply, before the bird is fully thawed. You will need to allow 10–12 hours per kg.

If you do not have room in your fridge (or time for defrosting is limited), it is possible to defrost the bird in a cool room (such as an unheated conservatory), ideally well below 18°C and certainly not above this temperature. Allow at least 3–4 hours per kg at cool room temperature. Do not plunge the turkey into warm water in an attempt to speed up defrosting.

Turkey leftovers

Cooked turkey can happily be used in a whole host of recipes and, of course, is a must for a cold Boxing Day spread. Just don’t leave the carved bird sitting around at warm room temperature long after you have eaten. As soon as it is cooled, wrap well and refrigerate. Sound food hygiene applies and if you are reheating the turkey, in a pie or curry for example, make sure it is piping hot before serving.

Pot roasting and braising

Pot roasting involves baking food in an enclosed pot, either in the oven or over a low heat. Usually, the poultry or meat is browned, then cooked in its own juices or in a very small amount of liquid. For a braise the poultry or meat is cooked on a bed of vegetables (a mirepoix) with a little liquid in a covered pan. Vegetables cooked with a pot roast are traditionally served with the meat, and the cooking juices used as a sauce. In the recipe below, the vegetables are discarded for a more elegant dish.


A poached chicken has myriad uses. The shredded meat can be used in salads, curries, soups and sandwiches. Not only is the meat succulent and tender, but the stock that it is cooked in will be delicious and should never be discarded. If you do not want it for a soup within a day or two, reduce the strained skimmed stock by boiling rapidly and freeze it for later use.

It is important to use a good quality flavourful bird and to poach it very gently, with a small bubble only breaking the surface of the liquid occasionally. If it is cooked too rapidly the meat will toughen.

Jointing chicken and using chicken joints

As whole chickens are often the same price as a couple of breast pieces, it makes sense to know how to joint a chicken yourself and use the portions you don’t need in other dishes. Cooking with joints that include bones rather than boneless portions will also result in a much more delicious sauce.

Jointing a chicken into 8 pieces

1. Place the chicken breast side down on a board with the neck end away from you. Make a cut through the skin, down the middle of the carcass, from the neck end to just above the parson’s nose. Make a cut on either side of the parson’s nose.

2. Identify the oysters, which lie on the carcass at the top of the thigh. Make a cut across the top of the oysters, then release the sinew holding the oysters in place with your knife and release the oysters with your thumb.

3. Now turn the chicken so it is breast side uppermost, still with the neck end away from you. Pull the skin over the breast to ensure it is fully covered. Cut between the drumstick and breast, keeping the knife close to the breast, but on the outside of the carcass bone at the entrance to the cavity, until the joint holding the thigh to the carcass is exposed. Do the same on the other side. Place your fingers under the thigh and your thumb on top of it and push up with your fingers to ‘pop’ the thigh joint. Repeat on the other side.

4. Tilt the chicken to one side, pulling the thigh/leg backwards towards the carcass, helping to expose the oyster. Release the oyster using a knife and continue to pull back the thigh/leg. You will need to release the tendons holding the thigh bone to the carcass. Once this is done, pull the thigh/leg back towards you to release the joint from the carcass. Repeat on the other side and put the thigh/leg pieces on one side.

5. Now turn the chicken breast side uppermost and stretch the skin over the breast. Cut down one side of the breast bone – either side will do, but not both – until the knife blade comes into contact with bone. Use a pair of kitchen or poultry scissors to cut through the breast bone completely.

6. Put the chicken on its side and from the point of the breast, using the scissors, cut through the ribs following the fat line around the wing and through the wing joint. Repeat on the other side; it might be easier to start at the wing end.

7. Now the 4 pieces need to be divided again. Place the leg/thigh pieces skin side down on the board and, using your knife, cut through the joint, using the fat line covering the joint as a guide. If the knife comes into contact with the bone, move the knife a little to the left or right and try again. It should cut cleanly through the joint. Repeat with the second leg/thigh piece.

8. To divide the breast pieces, tuck the attached wing tips behind them, then take an imaginary line from the bottom of the wing to the ‘cleavage’. Cut through the meat with your knife, then through the bone with a pair of scissors to leave a diamond shaped tapering piece of breast and a smaller, but thicker, piece with the wing attached. Trim off the end wing pinion. The chicken should now have been jointed into 8 pieces.

9. The carcass can be trimmed of excess fat and used for making stock.

Chicken breasts

Chicken breasts can be stuffed, flattened, poached, roasted or griddled. Their convenient one-portion size and the mild flavour of the meat make them a popular and versatile cut. Use the best chicken you can afford and cook the breasts carefully to avoid drying out the lean meat.

Cutting supremes from a chicken

A chicken supreme is a breast with the wing bone attached. The method below can be used to remove the breast and wing from any poultry or game bird.

1. Place a chicken, breast side up, on the board and, using a sharp knife, cut down one side of the breast plate until the knife comes into contact with bone.

2. Now angle the knife slightly towards the wing and carefully cut the chicken breast from the bone, keeping the knife blade against the bone to avoid leaving meat on it.

3. As the breast is released, open it out (like a book) away from the breast bone until the wing joint is reached.

4. Cut through the wing joint, leaving it on the breast and trim the breast away from the ribs on the side of the carcass. Repeat with the second breast.

5. Now remove the last 2 wing pinions by cutting through the joints. Use these wing pieces for stocks and sauces.

6. Release the meat close to the breast on the rest of the bone and scrape it away to expose the bone. Finally, cut off the knuckle end of the bone cleanly.

Note: The thigh/leg pieces can be removed as for jointing a chicken and used for recipes requiring dark chicken meat. The carcass can be used to make stock.

Chicken thighs and wings

Often considered the tastiest meat from a chicken, the brown meat from the thighs and wings also has the advantage of being more forgiving in the pan. Whereas chicken breast must be cooked carefully to avoid drying out, the legs and wings can be adapted to slow or quick cooking. Boneless chicken thighs are an excellent alternative to breast meat in recipes, such as curries, where a longer cooking time is desirable to develop the flavours, but can render breast meat dry and stringy.

Spatchcocking poultry

This method of flattening out any poultry or game bird is a useful preparation, as it creates a layer of meat which cooks more evenly, greatly reducing the cooking time. It is an ideal way of preparing birds for grilling or barbecuing.

1. Place the bird breast side down on a board and, using a pair of kitchen scissors or poultry shears, remove the back bone.

2. Pull the bird open and turn it skin side uppermost. Press down firmly with the palm of your hand on the thicker end of the breast to flatten. Tuck the legs close to the breast. Remove the wing tips.

3. Insert 2 skewers diagonally through the thigh, leg and breast to keep the bird flat.

To part bone a spatchcock

The breast bone and rib cage can be removed from the chicken before skewering to make it easier to carve: Place the chicken skin side down and, using a small knife, release the meat from the ribs, scraping down to the joint attaching the thigh and leg to the carcass. Cut through this joint, then continue to release the meat from the breast bone. Carefully cut off the breast bone – there is only a thin layer of skin covering the breast plate so take care or you will cut the chicken in half. Skewer the chicken as above to hold its shape.

Boning poultry

Boning out a bird before cooking makes it very suited to stuffing with any number of flavour combinations. Tightly rolled and shaped, boned dishes are simple to carve and highly portable.

Boning a chicken

1. Place the chicken, breast side down, on a board with the neck end away from you. Using a small knife, make a cut through the skin, down the middle of the carcass, from the neck end to just above the parson’s nose. Make a cut on either side of the parson’s nose.

2. Start to release the skin and meat from the carcass from the neck end, working your way down the length of the chicken. It is important to work your knife on the outside of the shoulder blade near the wing end of the chicken and to release and retain the oyster with the skin. The objective is to remove the skin and chicken meat intact from the carcass. Repeat on the other side of the chicken.

3. As the skin and flesh continue to be released, the thigh and wing joints will be exposed. Cut through the wing joint carefully, without cutting through the skin on the underside. Place your fingers under the thigh and thumb on top of it and pull the thigh backwards to ‘pop’ the joint, then release the joint with the knife.

4. Continue working down the side of the chicken, releasing the meat. At the top of the ribs the knife must be placed on the outside of a small bone to leave it on the carcass.

5. Scrape the breast meat away from the wishbone at the wing end and continue scraping until the false fillet and main part of the breast is released from the breast plate. Work your knife down the length of the breast bone, scraping away the meat at the point of the breast cartilage. Be careful in this area as there is only a very thin layer of skin covering the breast bone. By now the whole of one side of the chicken should be released from the carcass. Turn the chicken around and repeat on the other side.

6. Once the second side is released, all that should be holding the carcass on to the chicken is the skin under the breast plate. Hold the chicken carcass up and carefully release the skin and meat by carefully cutting along the breast plate. The knife must be kept as close to the bone and cartilage as possible to avoid cutting through the skin. The chicken will fall away. Put the carcass aside.

7. Now tunnel bone the thigh and leg and wing bones. For the wings, hold the last 2 pinions so the exposed joint is uppermost and cut around the exposed joint, then scrape the meat away from the bone. Turn the wing the right way up and cut through the pinion joint closest to the breast. Set aside the last 2 wing pinions that have just been removed. Turn the wing inside out again and pull the wing bone out and set aside. Repeat with the other wing.

8. Hold the thigh, exposing the joint uppermost, and as with the wing, cut just below and around the end of the bone. Scrape the flesh away from the bone until the knee joint is reached.

9. Cut over the ‘knee’ cartilage, allowing you to hold the thigh bone to release the meat from the leg bone. Cut away the meat from around the joint and scrape away the meat from the bone. Once the leg bone is fully exposed, turn the leg the right way and cut around the leg about 2 cm above the ankle to release the skin and tendons fully.

10. Turn the leg inside out and the thigh and leg bone should be able to be pulled through, rendering the thigh and leg boneless. Repeat with the other thigh and leg. The chicken carcass and bones can be used for stock.

11. Lay out the chicken skin side down on a board, feel over the meat for any bones or cartilage and remove. Also remove as many of the tendons in the leg and thigh meat as possible. Distribute the meat evenly over the skin to ensure there is an even layer of meat surrounding any stuffing. The wing and thigh/leg areas need to be brought inside out. You may need to cut into the leg meat to help distribute it evenly. Remove the false fillets and place between the breast, leg and wing areas.

12. Scrape the meat off the edge of the chicken skin towards the middle and trim the skin a little to remove excess fat and any overlap. You should be left with a rectangle of chicken skin covered with an even layer of chicken meat, both white and dark. The chicken is now ready for stuffing and rolling.

Part boning a chicken

The chicken can be left with the wings, legs and thighs intact so that after stuffing it can be reshaped. Follow the steps for boning a chicken to the end of step 6, stopping before the tunnel boning.

Preparing a chicken for a ballotine

This technique involves boning out a chicken to leave only the breast meat to be stuffed. An extra couple of chicken breasts are required.

1. Bone the chicken as described to the end of step 6. Instead of tunnel boning the wings, legs and thighs, they are removed whole, with bones.

2. For the leg/thighs, first cut off the lower knuckle through the joint, then carefully pull the leg/thigh away from the skin. You may need to use a knife to help release them, but take care not to cut through the skin. At the knuckle, keep pulling and the leg/thigh should be released from the skin.

3. For the wings, cut off the last 2 pinions, then pull the pinion closest to the breast away from the skin on the inside. Use a knife if necessary to release the pinion.

4. The wings can be used to make stocks and sauces and the leg and thigh meat used for stuffing the ballotine. The meat will need to be stripped from the leg and thigh bones and tendons trimmed away, leaving only the dark meat.

5. Carefully pull away the chicken breasts from the skin and set aside. Scrape away any other meat and fat from the skin; you should be left with a rectangular piece of skin. Season it lightly. Then replace the breasts with an additional 2 breasts to cover the whole skin with breast meat. Pull the false fillets from the breasts and use these to fill in any gaps. The objective is to create an even layer of chicken breast meat on the skin, about 1.5–2 cm thick. You may need to cover the meat with cling film and pound the thicker ends of the breasts. Alternatively, trim a little of this meat off and use to fill in gaps as with the false fillets. Cut off any excess skin. The chicken is now ready for stuffing and rolling.


Duck, with its dark, flavoursome flesh, works well when paired with bold flavours, particularly those with some sweetness or acidity, from the classic combination of duck with orange, to Asian pairings with tamarind, plum and star anise. It is best served pink.

Aylesbury and Gressingham duck are generally plump and well flavoured and perfect for roasting or for when you are looking for crisp skin. Wild duck, usually mallard, has a stronger flavour and tends to be better suited to braised dishes.

Jointing a duck after cooking

1. Place the duck on a board breast side down and, using a pair of poultry shears or kitchen scissors, remove the back bone.

2. Turn the duck over and cut down the middle of each breast to remove the middle section of the breast completely.

3. Use a knife to cut through the meat, then use scissors to cut through the bone.

4. The breast piece tapers slightly. Divide it into one-third and two-thirds, the smaller piece being the thicker end of the breast.

5. Divide the leg and thigh from the remaining breast and wing. Trim off the outer wing pinions.

6. Repeat on the other duck half to give 6 pieces of duck. The leg and thigh pieces can be divided at the joint to give 8 pieces.


A gastrique is a sugar and vinegar/acid reduction, in which the sugar is sometimes caramelised. The vinegar is added to halt the caramelisation and to add an acidic or sour note. This combination of sweet and sour flavours, added judiciously to a sauce, helps to round out, balance and enhance the underlying base flavours in a sauce as well as imparting a dark colour. It works particularly well in savoury fruit-based and tomato sauces.

Feathered game

Game birds are very lean compared with farmed poultry and so need to be cooked carefully to ensure they do not dry out. Most benefit from being served slightly pink, as more moisture is retained in their very lean flesh. Also the meat is often marinated and stewed, or covered in bacon before roasting to keep it moist.

Game is hung to develop the flavour of the meat, but also to tenderise the flesh as the enzymes start to break it down. The length of time game birds are hung for varies according to personal taste. While some people like their game well hung and ‘high’, many prefer a less gamey flavoured bird and therefore do not hang it for long.

Feathered game should be hung by the neck in a cool, dry, dark place. There must be room for good circulation of air around the birds and they should be hung away from other food to avoid cross-contamination.

Game bird seasons and classic serving suggestions

Most game birds are only available during a certain part of the year or ‘season’, to ensure breeding stocks are high enough to guarantee an annual supply. Some birds, such as quail, are farmed, which provides a continual supply.

Pheasant 1st October – 1 pheasant serves Serve with a thin gravy, 1st February 3 or 4 people bread sauce, fried crumbs and game chips

Grouse 12th August – 1 grouse per person, or Serve on a croûte with thin gravy, 10th December a very plump grouse could feed 2 people fruit jelly, fried crumbs and game chips

Partridge 1st September – 1 partridge per person Serve with a thin gravy 1st February and game chips

Snipe August – January 1 or 2 per person Roast on a croûte to absorb the juices, and serve pink

Woodcock 1st September – 1 per person Split in half and serve on a croûte 31st January

Pigeon Farmed – all year 1 pigeon per person or 3 breasts Serve breasts pink

Quail Farmed – all year 2 quail per person when served plain roasted Mild flavour, can be served pink

Plucking and drawing a pheasant

1. Cut a large bin bag down one side and across the bottom and open it out on your work surface. If you have a drawer under your work surface, open a second bin bag and tuck it in the drawer, then close the drawer, leaving the bag open. If you don’t have a drawer, then place a chopping board over one top side of the second open bin bag. Squirt a thin line of washing up liquid around the inside of the bag; this will help to keep feathers in the bin bag. Lay the pheasant on the opened-out bag on your surface, breast side down.

2. Now begin to pluck the pheasant. On the non-breast side, legs and thighs, you can pull out the feathers in the opposite direction to the way they lie, but on the breast side, where the skin is delicate, you need to pull them out in the same direction to avoid tearing the skin. Support the skin with one hand, take a few feathers in the other and pull firmly to pluck, dropping the feathers into the bag.

3. Either pluck the wings up to the first joint, then cut through the joint to remove the outer 2 wing parts, or cut off the outer 2 wing joints before starting to pluck the bird. Continue to pluck the bird on the non-breast side until the back is fully cleaned of feathers up to the head. Turn the pheasant over and start on the legs and thighs, then finally the breast. There will be a few small soft feathers still on the bird but these can be scorched off later.

4. Turn the pheasant breast side down again and cut through the neck as close to the head as possible, discarding the head. Now make a cut down the length of the neck and pull the skin from the neck. As close to the body as possible, cut off the neck and reserve. Take care not to puncture or break the crop, which is found at the base of the neck in the body of the pheasant at the top of the breasts, and can be carefully released away from the pheasant and removed whole. If you don’t manage this, don’t worry, as the crop is only filled with undigested grain, which can be wiped away with kitchen paper. Trim the neck skin.

5. To remove the feet, make a shallow incision around the knee joint to release the skin, then place the pheasant on the surface with the feet hanging over the edge. Bend the feet over the edge, twisting and pulling as you do to help pull the strong tendons from the legs. The feet should pull away with the tendons attached. Discard the bin bag covering the work surface and clear all feathers from the area.

6. To draw (gut) the pheasant, locate the vent. Insert the point of a knife into the vent and cut down to extend the opening.

7. Then, for a two-fingered draw, place your middle and forefingers in the cavity, keeping them as close as possible against the breast bone. Push your fingers as deep as possible, as close to the neck end of the pheasant as you can get them. Then move them left and right, down to the back bone to release the entrails. Once released, use your fingers to pull the entrails towards the entrance of the cavity and out. Make sure you remove all the entrails and wipe out the cavity with kitchen paper to clean it.

8. Place the entrails on the board and pull away the gizzard, liver, kidneys and heart. Discard all other entrails. Pull away any extraneous bits from the heart, liver and kidneys; set aside. Take the gizzard and, using a knife, make a shallow incision halfway around it. Open the gizzard and rinse out the ground grain.

9. Carefully pull away the inner membrane from the gizzard and rinse again. Set the entrails aside until ready to use. Hold the pheasant over an open gas flame to scorch off any remaining feathers. If you do not have a gas burner use a blowtorch, but don’t get so close to the pheasant as to scorch the skin. Wipe over the pheasant with kitchen paper to remove the remains of any scorched feathers. The pheasant is now ready to cook.

Poultry offal

Poultry offal is still undervalued but chicken, duck and goose livers, in particular, lend themselves to tasty, nutritious and economical dishes, especially pâtés and salads. Freshness is of the essence with offal, so choose carefully, keep refrigerated and use within a day or two.


This technique is used to burn off alcohol quickly and to caramelise the essence of a spirit or wine around meat or poultry. You need to make sure the pan and food in it are hot, so keep the pan over a low to medium heat.

Pour in the measured amount of alcohol, strike a long match and light the alcohol. Or, if you are using a gas hob, put the alcohol in a ladle and warm over a direct flame, then tip the ladle a little to allow the alcohol to catch alight. Immediately pour the flaming alcohol over the food in the pan, tilting the ladle away from you.

Take care to ensure your arms are covered with long sleeves and you are not standing directly over the pan. Sometimes the alcohol will not light, but the alcohol in it will be evaporated off through simmering and the flavour will remain. Always have a pan lid or baking sheet close by to smother any excessive flame.

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