taken from hunter/angler cooking website:
The current Authoritative Source on All Things Meat is Englishman Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who in his River Cottage Meat Book says “four or five days would be about right for me” if a bird is hung at 55 degrees.
This is what the food writers say, but to me that’s only a piece of the puzzle. What about science?
* * *Fortunately science exists on the topic of hanging game birds. My best source is an Australian government publication that did some rigorous experiments. For example:
Pheasants hung for 9 days at 50°F have been found by overseas taste panels to be more acceptable than those hung for 4 days at 59°F or for 18 days at 41°F. The taste panels thought that the birds stored at 59°F were tougher than those held for longer periods at lower temperatures. Pheasants hung at 50°C became more ‘gamy’ in flavour and more tender with length of hanging.
Aha! One issue solved. Food writers rarely talk about temperature of hanging because most of them think about hanging pheasants outside, which is fine if you don’t live in California; even now it is too warm to properly hang game. It seems 50 degrees is ideal, and the 55 degrees my fridge is set at is acceptable.
Furthermore, an English study from 1973 found that clostridia and e. coli bacteria form very rapidly once you get to about 60 degrees, but very slowly — and not at all in the case of clostridia — at 50 degrees.
That same study found that field care of the birds is vital. Under no circumstances should you allow pheasants to pile up in warm conditions because doing so will slow cooling so much that the dead birds will develop bacteria in their innards. This is no bueno.
All the bacteria and taste tests converge on two things: 50-55 degrees and 3-7 days. That’s your takeaway, folks.
Left undiscussed is the importance of feathers and innards. Brillat-Savarin speaks about a mysterious “oil,” and Wall talks about bacterial decomposition. Here’s my take: The feathers provide protection for the skin against drying out during aging. Pluck the feathers right away and you can still age the bird, but the skin will be unacceptably dried out and unusable.
As for the guts, I am on the fence here. I think they do add something: Fish guts will affect the fillets because of the animal’s digestive enzymes. No reason to think land animals aren’t the same way, although at 50-55 degrees this is going to take some time to develop — for what it’s worth, a pheasant’s body temperature runs about 105 degrees.
Yet, when I plucked and gutted my pheasants this week I noticed two things: One, they were pretty dry inside, and two, the innards in three of the four birds looked fine and wholesome, not ratty and stinky. Maybe this je ne sais quoi does not appear until later.
* * *
All of which brings me to my own first experiments with hanging pheasants. Like I mentioned before, I had one damaged bird I let hang for only a day. This bird’s body was drier and tighter than a fresh-killed bird, and I dry-plucked it because of the damage.
This pheasant went into a pheasant and pork pie
, which turned out to be an outstanding dish. Hat tip to Fergus Henderson
for the inspiration on this one. How was the pheasant? I noted two things: One, the bird browned better (less moisture?), and it was more flavorful — even after just one day.