Out of the Closet: How to Clean, Prepare & Cook Small Game Birds

I was the first to arrive back to work after the afternoon siesta. Suddenly, a man wearing bright orange pants with a burlap sack slung over his shoulder burst into the kitchen.

"Tá Pepe?" he grumbled in thick, back-country accent.

In my best Catalan, I responded, "Encara, no". Pepe (my boss) had not yet arrived.

The man shrugged his shoulders, lowered the sack and spilled its contents onto the counter. Sixteen recently shot, small partridges lay in front of me.

Pepe entered the kitchen and gave the burly man two kisses and a bear hug. I learned this man's family provided the restaurant game birds since 1869! While technically, this practice is illegal in Spain, these two men upheld tradition and ignored the law.

Pepe scooped the partridges into the sack and led me downstairs inside the walk-in refrigerator. He pushed aside a vegetable rack revealing a hidden door. In the hundreds of times I had been in this walk-in, not once had I noticed the secret entrance. The cold rush of putrid air slapped me upside the head. Inside the dark closet were all kinds of hanging animals: pheasants, squabs, rabbits, and a large, hairy wild boar.

Pepe explained to me a technique called "faisander" (fè-zàn-dé) - in order to tenderize the meat, fresh game needs to be hung and aged before its cleaned and cooked. It is difficult to find fresh game here in the U.S unless you are a card-carrying member of the NRA and live in a particularly rural place. Ask your local butcher (or orange clad hunting buddy) what they can procure. Squab, quail or pheasant are usually readily available.

The following slide show will give you an idea of what to do when you find these special ingredients (without needing to hang them in your closet).

Get your game bird on!

How to Clean, Prepare and Cook Small Game Birds