Plucking and gutting a bird I like to pluck birds outside if at all possible to keep any feathery mess out of the house. It’s also best to be seated, I think, as this stops you rushing the job – even the most momentary lack of attention can lead to torn skin
• Holding the bird firmly in one hand, start plucking the feathers along the back, 3 or 4 at a time. Hold the feathers firmly in a two-finger-and-thumb pinch and pull them briskly away from the bird, drawing them directly from where they join the skin (see right). Keep a firm grip on the bird, placing your hand close to the area you are plucking; if you do tear the skin, this should stop the tear running too far. Work across the breasts and down the legs (pic 1, p.148).
• Continue until the feathers on the body are all gone. Don’t bother to pluck the wings, neck or head as these will be discarded (pic 2).
• Remove the head and wings with a stout knife or kitchen scissors (pic 3).
• Remove the feet and the sinew from the legs at the same time (especially with pheasant). Begin by using the back of a knife to break the bone just below the ankle joint then bend the foot through 90° and rotate it three times to free the tendons. Holding the foot and leg firmly, pull one from the other (pic 4). The tendons should then come away with the foot of the bird. This should make the legs far more tender and enjoyable to eat. Trim off the ankle joints.
• To remove the guts, begin by making a small incision through the skin at the rear end of the bird (pic 5). Be careful not to stir the guts with the knife as that will cause unnecessary mess and possibly spoil the meat.
• Push the first two fingers of your hand into this small cut and run them along the underside of the breasts inside the cavity of the bird. Hook them over the whole parcel of guts and offal contained therein (pic 6).
• Gently pull out the guts (pic 7) and discard (keep the liver and heart if wished).
• Finally trim out the anus (pic 8) and check that the crop (a small, sticky white sac, which may or may not be full of food) is removed from the front of the breasts. Any remaining tiny feathers or down on the bird can easily be removed by briefly playing the flame of a cook’s blowtorch over the surface of the skin, taking care not to char it. Rinse the carcass to ensure it is clean.