Caffeine: the most potent artificial intelligence drink!

Caffeine: the most potent artificial intelligence drink!
Deep in the Lair of the Perpetually Curious Fox

Friday, 6 December 2013

Hunt for the Northern Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta)

Sorry for the long delay again in writing. Had a bit of a long-ish flu for a few weeks and still recovering.

Spent a few hours last Monday driving out of the city, to look for Rock Ptarmigans for dinner while waiting for our cat to have his teeth cleaned up at the veterinary clinic. Turned out he needed to have another molar extracted (ouch), but he's much better after the clean.

We did get a few (3, to be exact) ptarmigans for dinner, so I'm quite happy. They seemed to be more active just before sunrise, where they start eating up the grit off the roads to help them process their food. Ptarmigans (and all birds) don't have teeth, they rely on their muscular gizzards and small stones, sand and grit, to mush up their food prior to being absorbed. Although, strictly speaking, not all birds eat grit, either.

They are not the easiest bird to spot on snowy banks, or on the trees, as their feathers are completely white, and the "fluffiness" breaks up their silhouettes very well against the newly fallen snow. There are probably thousands of them out there, but we only saw a few groups that were flying as we passed.

They rely purely on their camouflage for defense, not being strong distance fliers. It's not uncommon for you to accidentally approach a flock sitting on the snowbank and suddenly there's a big flurry of flapping wings of birds taking off in a panic. They do not fly away very far (maybe 10 metres or so) after the first flurry, then they settle down again.

Thank you little birdies, for feeding us tonight!

Their feathers are very downy, it took nearly 2 hours to get home, and by the time I'm settled down to "dress" the birds (around 3pm -- we shot them around 10am), the birds are still very warm to the touch. That's how efficient their thermal wraps (feathers) are at keeping them warm in the ungodly cold (it was -35 deg C when we hunted) outside.

Processing game birds:

To be honest, this is my first attempt at processing a hunted game bird, and am very grateful for the wealth of knowledge out there on Youtube for step by step instructions.

A lot of people just "breast" the birds by doing the "step on wings and pull trick"

*** WARNING, the following video is possibly upsetting to non-hunters***

(all credit to Equip to Endure LLC for the video)

However, I tend to prefer the thigh and leg meat to the breast, so I tend to keep the whole birds whole by just skinning them. Birds like Ptarmigan are so delicate, I did not even need to use a knife, except for the initial cut just over their breast, and a pair of kitchen scissors to cut through the wing bone.

This video shows the method I followed to get the skin and feather off the birds we got. (All credit due to Sandrakarad)

It's not that hard to "peel off" the skin (and feathers) from a bird, especially if it's fresh (warm) and pliable. I imagine once rigor mortis sets in, and if the birds are frozen solid, the skinning trick might not be as successful.

And the results are:

Not to mention an extremely feathery kitchen counter, but not as feather as it could have been if you're plucking.

After removing the skin, gut the carcass as you would normally do for domestic fowls. I saved the livers, hearts and cleaned gizzards. They usually are the best bits (to me, that is). My other half prefers the breast meat, so we didn't fight over dinner ... much.

North American ptarmigans have feathered legs/feet, to help them walk on the snow better. It's like birdie snowshoes! Small mammals in the temperate zones that have long winters, such as Snowshoe Hares and Lynx also have the "snow shoe" adaptation to help them walk on snow without sinking.

Fluffy Bird Feet! Looks almost like rabbit's feet.

Thick feathers all the way down their fluffy toes
I did save the wings (drying them out), tail and feet. Might send them to some friends who like collecting "strange things from strange lands". :)

Cooking Ptarmigan:

There's no cut and dried methods of doing it, some people insist on aging them a day or two, but I do not find it necessary. I sprayed some olive oil, rubbed salt and pepper onto the whole birds, put them in a baking tin, and cover in foil. Then into the oven at 365 deg C for about 35-40 mins.

The general advice seemed to be not to over cook them; being game meat and very lean, it can get tough with over cooking. I did give a quick peek at minute 25 and squeezed some lemon juice on them, before recovering it with foil and back into the oven.

 Keeping things simple, nothing beats hot, fresh from the oven, baked ptarmigan, on jasmine rice, with generous pile of kimchi. Perfect winter's night meal.

And after I was done :) a fully picked clean roast birdie and the shots that was recovered. Taste-wise, it's like Very Tiny Tasty Goose. Red meat, not white. In fact it reminded me of Quail.

I was very curious about what the birds ate, so I took a photo of what's in one of the birds' crop:

The uneaten bits are given a decent Sky Burial and returned back to the wild critters. The local Ravens and Magpies ate well that night.

Perhaps for the next ptarmigan I'd boil it so I can rebuild the skeleton for display.

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