Game Birds And Specialty Products

In recent years, the availability of such birds as quail and squab has increased dramatically, and they are seen regularly on restaurant menus.The poultry items discussed in this section are classified as game birds, but they are all, in fact, raised domestically.While farm-raised pheasants and partridge lack the full gamy flavor of their wild cousins, they do have a richer, somewhat gamelike taste when compared to chicken.With bland, factory-raised chickens dominating the market, cooks and eaters are turning more and more to exotic poultry and are willing to pay the higher price.

Traditionally, true wild game is hung and allowed to age, usually before plucking and dressing.The purpose is essentially the same as for aging beef,namely to allow the natural enzymes in the meat to tenderize it and to develop flavor. Often, game is hung until it becomes high, to the point where spoiled meat is mistaken for aged meat.With today's farm-raised game birds, this procedure is not appropriate. Anyway, most customers prefer a fresh taste to a strong, gamy one.

Quail are small,weighing about 4 to 5 ounces (110 to 140 g) each. A normal portion is two birds.They have meaty breasts for their size, but not much meat on the legs. Quail are richly flavored without being gamy.The French name is caille.

Partridges are about the size of Rock Cornish game hens,weighing about 1 pound (450 g) each. It is important to look for young, tender birds because mature partridge is likely to be tough.They have excellent flavor, but not as delicate as squab or pheasant. The French names areperdreau (young partridge) andperdrix (mature partridge).

Pheasant is a popular game bird,and farm-raised pheasant is widely available. Most pheasant sold weighs from 2 to 2/2 pounds (900 to 1200 g), but young pheasant weighing 1 pound (450 g) or less is also available.This bird has delicate, light-colored meat with subtle flavor similar to that of chicken. Most recipes for chicken are also suitable for pheasant, but the simplest preparations are usually the best, because the flavor stands well on its own and is easily covered by too many spices. Pheasant can be dry if overcooked.The French name is faisan.

Many varieties of wild duck are eaten, but mallard is the most common. Farm-raised mallards weigh from to 3 pounds (700 to 1400 g). Unlike domestic duck,wild duck is very lean. It has dark, flavorful flesh.

Handling game birds is easy if you remember that their structure is basically the same as the structure of chickens. All the cutting and trussing techniques you learn for chicken can be applied to these other birds.

Because farm-raised game birds are usually young and tender, they can be roasted, sauteed, grilled, and barbecued.The most important thing to remember about them is that they are usually very lean.Therefore,they are best served slightly rare. If cooked to well done, they become dry.This is especially true of wild duck, which is almost inedible if overcooked.Wild duck is usually left rarer than the other birds discussed here. Its meat is then red and juicy.

Pheasant is also very dry if well done. Its light-colored meat is best if still slightly pink at the bone. Quail doesn't become as dry, but it too has the best flavor if still slightly pink at the bone.

Another category of farm-raised birds increasing in popularity is the category technically known as ratites. Ostrich and emu are the most familiar members of this category. Meat from both birds is widely available. It is lean and red and resembles venison or very lean beef in appearance, although it is slightly lighter in color than venison.

Because ostrich and emu are so lean, they are best cooked to the medium rare or, at most, medium stage to avoid dryness. Recommended internal temperature is 155° to 160°F (68° to 71°C). Grilling, sauteing,and pan-frying are the best cooking methods for small, tender cuts, while larger tender cuts can be roasted. Moist-heat methods, especially braising, are sometimes recommended for less tender cuts, but this often results in excessively dry meat because it is so lean.Take care to avoid overcooking if you braise ostrich or emu. Another option is to grind the less tender cuts. Mixed with seasonings and added moisture, ground emu and ostrich can make excellent burgers, meatballs, and meatloaf.

Ostrich and emu are best cooked like other lean red meats and game. Recipes for venison, in particular, are often excellent when applied to these meats, as are recipes for grilled or sauteed beef. Ostrich producers often recommend cooking their product like veal.This may be slightly misleading because veal is often cooked medium well or well done. Nevertheless, grilled, sauteed, and roast veal recipes can often be used for ostrich and emu as well, as long as the meat is not overcooked.Two recipes developed specifically for ostrich or emu are included in Chapter 13 as a sample. For other cooking ideas,look for appropriate recipes in Chapter 11 based on the guidelines just described.

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