The short version is that I pluck a bird whole, then fillet it off the carcass. Then I separate breast, leg and wing on the meat side so I can see exactly where the muscle groups begin and end, as opposed to guessing while cutting each carcass off the whole bird. This is also cool because you're removing those parts before gutting the bird, and gutting is when you're mostly likely to puncture intestines and get poop on your meat. This is not the end of the world, of course - a good rinse will make everything fine again. But still, better to be clean from the start.
The next cool thing is when you've taken all the meat off the carcass, you can pull off the breast plate like a lid and all the wobbly bits - heart, liver, gizzard - are waiting for you on top of the bird, no reaching up into the darkness and grabbing.
Here's the video that shows this process in detail. It's not short - just under 10 minutes - but if you're looking for a clean way to maximize your birds, this is it! And there's an FAQ below the video.
And here's an FAQ:
Q: Why not just cook the bird whole? A: Breast meat needs to be cooked hot and fast, and medium rare like a steak, and legs and wings need to be cooked slowly to break down the meat, which can be tough. If you cook the whole bird, you're either going to overcook the breast or undercook the legs and wings.
Q: Why did you save the feet? A: You can throw them into stock! Just like pig feet, which can be used for the same purpose, they contain collagen that makes your stock silkier.
Q: That duck looked easy to work with - why? A: Two things: First is after plucking it, I put it in the fridge overnight. It's much easier to slice a cold duck, especially if it has a lot of fat, which can turn your fingers greasy. The second is that he was a perfect specimen with very little shot damage to the body. The reality is that birds killed with a shotgun will be messier, especially if shot hits the guts.
Q: What do you use duck fat for? A: It's a great substitute for butter or cooking oil in many recipes. When I pan-sear duck breasts (my favorite treatment), I start with a bit of duck fat in the pan. I'll throw duck fat into the rice cooker too.
Q: If I break the gall bladder, will it ruin the meat? A: Nope. Just rinse whatever that nasty juice touched. If it still smells bad to you, pat it dry and put it on a paper towel in a covered container in the fridge and check it the next day. I find a lot of smells that are present during cleaning disappear with a little time.
Q: What do you do with all the parts after breaking it down? A: I rinse and pat dry everything then put the parts on paper towels in plastic containers and let them sit in the fridge for 2-3 days, changing the paper towels once or twice a day. This brings out extra moisture and the meat ages just a bit, condensing flavors. Then I vacuum seal and freeze anything I'm not going to eat within one week of the day I shot the bird.
© Holly A. Heyser 2017