Most of us will be familiar with the image of pheasants, grouse or other game birds, strung up side-by-side in a pantry. This isn’t just a strange way to store birds, there’s a reason this centuries-old, traditional practice still exists. And it applies to turkeys, geese and ducks, too. But why? And why should you want your Christmas turkey or Sunday roast duck hung up this way?
To answer that question, we must first understand how a bird is prepared for meat in the first place. It is not only the innards that must be removed; crucially, the feathers must be dealt with, too. This can happen in one of two ways: wet-plucking or dry-plucking. Wet-plucking is how most commercial birds are prepared (more on that later). Dry-plucking is a far older, more labour-intensive and desirable method, involving plucking the feathers using a small machine or by hand, and allows for game-hanging the bird afterwards.
Game-hung meat: “a huge gain in flavour and texture”
Jacob Sykes of Fosse Meadows Farm in Leicestershire says that game-hanging birds after dry-plucking (and before the innards are removed) adds “a unique and distinctive flavour by tenderising the meat”, much like hanging a piece of beef while it ages.
John Malseed of Frenchbeer Farm in Dartmoor National Park says the improvements to game-hung meat are far from negligible. He hangs his turkey and geese for at least seven days to tenderise the meat. Why? “Due to an enzyme change which breaks down the connective tissue in the muscle,” says John. Hanging, he says, incurs a cost of a 3% weight loss, “but a huge gain in flavour and texture.”
Why commercial producers avoid game-hanging
Game-hanging birds sounds like a no-brainer when it comes to producing quality meat. But some producers choose to prioritise cost over quality. Commercially produced birds often have their feathers dealt with by industrial machines, using hot water and clumsy rubber-gloved hands. A process which is far cheaper and quicker, but rapidly breeds bacteria.
This added risk not only makes hanging the birds impossible, but gives the meat itself a far shorter shelf-life. Farmdrop’s meat buyer, Jaks Pemberton, notes that wet-plucked birds’ skin will be “soft and pale.” The dry-plucking method, on the other hand, helps to retain the bird’s top layer of skin, as well as a hard layer of fat underneath. This means that dry-plucked birds will give perfectly crisp, golden skin when cooked.
Game-hung birds: a question of quality
Ultimately, both dry-plucking and game-hanging are what you’re looking for, but it comes down to whether the producers are in the business of quality or efficiency. John says the many-stage process of dry-plucking, hanging and then removing the innards costs about 10 times more in labour, but results in almost incomparably higher-quality meat. We know what we’re choosing.
Find the full range of game-hung turkey, geese and ducks on Farmdrop.com.