Friday, 4 January 2008

Plucking Great

The past four months have flown by and I can't quite believe that I'll be starting my course at Leiths tomorrow. The nerves are beginning to set it and I've spent the last few nights tossing and turning in bed, with my dreams spent in kitchens full of sinking souffles and failed pastry.

Having skipped the first term, I'll be joining the course a third of the way in. I've spent the past months teaching myself all the techniques covered in the first term, everything from choux pastry to filleting flat fish, and hopefully I will be able to hold my own alongside the other students. I'm sure there will be others joining at this stage as well. Still, there is always the worry that I will not be up to standard and will be starting on the back foot rather than the front foot.

One of the stranger elements that appears in the first "basic" term is plucking and drawing a pheasant. I guess for those wishing to go into the service of the Duke and Duchess of Snootyshire, this is probably a vital skill to have, however for most of us ready plucked pheasants are widely available at this time of year. Nevertheless I wanted to cover this off before January so back home in Birmingham, my Dad had two birds hanging in the garage awaiting our attention over Christmas.

My Dad has been shooting pheasants for many years and when as a teenager I was still living with my parents I would idly walk into the garage and be scared witless by two dead birds hanging from a hook in the corner. After several days of hanging he would put on his surgical gloves and green plastic apron and begin the process of plucking and disembowling the birds ready for eating. I always remember the stench of entrails which would creep under the door and drive the cat bonkers with excitement.

Luckily then, I had a master to learn from and we went off into the garage, leant over a dustbin, and started to pull the feathers from the body while trying to not to tear the skin (not easy). I don't seem to be that squeamish about handling dead birds, in fact live birds freak me out more. Chopping off the head, wings and feet was a pretty painless task, and actually getting my hand into the bird and pulling out the digestive tract was also fairly simple, if a little smelly. The most time consuming task was removing all the tiny hairs and feathers that remain on the pheasant after the bigger feathers have been removed for which a steady hand, a pair of tweezers, and tons of patience is required.

Pheasant meat is notorious for drying out while cooking so I decided to pot roast my hen and make a creamy mushroom sauce with the juices.

Apart from the need to cover it off for the course, I'm really glad I learnt how to pluck and draw a pheasant. In the event of a war and food becoming scarce, I'll be able to hang out with Ray Mears and live off the land.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

My friend JP sent me your link and congratulations to an amazing blog.

I wanted to wish good luck tomorrow at Leiths. I did the same course in January '06 and I remember how nervous and intimidated I felt. I can't recommend Leiths more, as it's such a great environment to learn and develop your skills. The course is intense but after seeing your passion and enthusiasm on your blog I can tell you won't have a problem.

I gave up my corporate job before starting Leiths and now I'm a Food Stylist and Home Economist. Needless to say I have found the course life changing.

Let me know if you have any questions about the course (how the exams go) and I'd be happy to help.

Good Luck & enjoy!


Pete said...

Hi Sara

Thanks for reading my blog and it's great to hear from somebody who has done the same course. More importantly though, it's so encouraging to hear that you have succeeded in your career change and are are actually using your new skills to make a living.

I'll be keeping a full account of my time at Leiths on this blog so pop back and relive the dems you went to back in 2006!

All the best.


Glyn said...

Good luck Pete, all the best for tomorrow. Really enjoyed hearing all about your adventures so far (especially the New Year's Eve marathon), and looking forward to hearing more as you move onto the next stage at Leiths.

Pieman said...

Best of (p)luck from all us up north. Looking forward to a five-star meal next time we meet. (That's a good meal, not sharing some food with an 80's pop band.)
Have fun,

Pete said...

I would love to have dinner with Five Star (the band). I would sit between Doris and Steadman and ask them how they managed to squander all their cash.