Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How to Prepare a Whole Bird for Consumption

One morning our friends Jim and Karen texted my husband asking if we were interested in what they think is a duck. Apparently an unlucky bird flew into their house window, collapsed and died. We responded back with a definite "yes" and asked them to save the bird in the shade outside (as the temperature outside was slightly above freezing--as cold as the refrigerator). After I worked a busy shift at the clinic we drove to Jim and Karen's for a short visit and to collect the bird. Jim had it resting in a beer box on the porch. When I poked at it I was not surprised to find it already in a state of rigor mortis. 

this duck flew to its death and became my meal

Although it was stiff it looked fresh and healthy from the dim porch light shining on it. At first look I was sure it was a pheasant with its long and colorful feathers on its head and wings. However, upon full inspection in good light it turns out to be a duck. I did some research and came to a conclusion that it was a wood duck. Jim believes it broke its neck when it crashed against his house. I agreed this is most likely the origin of death as it probably flew head on into a glass window. Whatever the exact cause of its untimely death I am an opportunist and an optimist and I like to turn this bad situation into a more positive one. Due to the poor outcome for this duck my husband and I were able to sample a small but tasty appetizer!

If you have never prepared a whole duck, chicken or any birds in the past--de-feathering and gutting can be quite tedious for any first timer, but a simple process and anyone can do it. Growing up in Vietnam I observed my father perform such a task once on one of the chickens from our land. For the 36 years living in the United States my father bought a live duck only once and kept it in the house for about 24 hours--when I was about 12 years old. Of course it was just that one time Aimee, my childhood friend and next door neighbor happened to come over and caught a glimpse of it. She came up to me and demanded why we have a live duck in our tub. Even at that age I knew it was not normal to keep a live duck in the house that is not a pet in Bangor, Maine. I don't recall what I told her but I clearly remember that I did not want to tell her the truth for fear she would be traumatized for life or worse, turn herself into a vegetarian! Not that being a vegetarian is bad. I just did not want my family to be responsible for that outcome.

I am sure there are many better methods to prepare a live bird. Some of you may think this is not the best or most humane way but this is how I recall it to be done when I was a child of about 6. Of course I may have it all wrong and I may be making it up as I blog! The wings are tucked tightly by its sides so they will not be flapping during the procedure. The whole bird is held down with the lower extremities of whoever is performing such a task. The neck and beak are held firmly in place with one hand and with the other hand holding a sharp knife to make a clean partial slit across the throat deep enough to sever the major vessels. The bird is held so the head is tilted and the body is higher than the head in order for gravity to help drain the blood from the body into a bowl. This blood will be coagulated, cooked and eaten later. 

The next step is de-feathering or hand plucking the feathers from the body--for me it's the most time consuming. First start with boiling some water in a large pan or pot. Once the water boils turn the heat down a little and dip the bird's body in for about 20 seconds. This may require several dips especially if the bird has thick feathers. Be sure to dip just long enough for the feathers to come off the bird easily with a slight tug but not long enough to cook the skin or meat. Use your fingers to gently pull off the feathers away from the body, a small section at a time until you remove all of the feathers, long and fine. You may use tweezers to help remove some of the short feathers. Try to keep a good pair of tweezers in the kitchen for such purposes and not use the same one you pluck your own eyebrows. If you do this and I catch you, you can be certain I will not be returning for a second meal at your house. I can tolerate many things but not this one.
dip the duck in hot water to remove the feathers
(photo courtesy of my husband Paul)

Save the feathers if you want to use them later for other projects. I kept them on a cookie sheet to dry completely before bagging them. Some of the colorful feathers may be used to make fly fishing baits, earrings, hair decoration, some sort of art projects or other creations. The fluffy fine feathers may be used for insulation of coats or jackets. Although what I have is not enough for even an arm of a coat,  perhaps it may be sufficient for one child size earmuff! I wonder which one of my nieces or nephews will want to wear it?

plucked feathers drying on cookie sheet
After the bird is completely bald (free from even the fine feathers) then slice open the cavity (using scissors or a sharp knife) below the breast. 

-remove all feathers, long and fine
(photo courtesy of my husband Paul)
-my mother gave me the set of duck measuring spoons
(located in the background)

once all the feathers are removed this how clean it should look
For this duck I sliced open the entire center of the breast since I treat this more like an autopsy. I want to inspect the entire interior and look for any abnormalities. Fortunately I did not notice anything obvious. Remove all the organs, tongue and clean them if you want to save them for eating. Remove and discard the intestines. Cut out the end piece that is part of the intestine located at the middle of the tail. Trim off the nails if interested. Keep anything you want to eat--generally the tongue, heart, kidneys, gizzard, liver, the tail and if you are lucky some eggs. I prefer to keep the head to tail and feet intact as a reminder that my duck does not always just miraculously appear from a market.

opened cavity with heart, kidneys, and gizzard

The gizzard had only seeds and partial digested grass and plants. For the gizzard I sliced it open and removed the partial digested food bits, peeling the thin yellow visceral or covering and discarding it.

peel away and discard the thin yellow
visceral or covering from the gizzard

Well this is all there is to prepare a whole bird live or freshly killed prior to cooking. As for this duck, it is as natural and organic as one can get!

Addendum: I just completed making a feather hair piece (see photos below). I hand sewn the feathers on to an old metal barrette to secure the feathers.

feather hair barrette (front view)
feather hair barrette (back view)

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