Pheasant is one of the milder game birds, with a delicate flavour similar to chicken. They are farmed for commercial sale, and are also hunted for meat and for pleasure. In Europe, the birds were traditionally hung for weeks before eating, until they were almost beginning to decay. This is no longer done for food safety reasons, and pheasants are eaten within a few days like other poultry. They can be roasted whole, or butchered for their legs and breasts.
Set the pheasant on your cutting board and turn it so the legs are facing you. Bend a leg away from the body until the hip joint pops, exposing the end of the thigh bone. Cut the leg free of the carcase, taking care to get as much of the meat as possible from the bones.
Sever the leg by cutting through the hip joint. Turn the bird, and repeat with the other leg.
Reverse the bird, so the neck is pointing toward you. Cut the wings through the middle joint, leaving just the meaty "bicep" attached. Reserve the wings for soup or broth making.
Run your knife alongside the breast bone from back to front, freeing the breast on that side. Next, hold your knife horizontally and slide it along the top of the rib cage, freeing the breast from underneath. Follow the rib cage all the way forward to the base of the wing.
Position your knife at the top front of the breast, and cut down through the wishbone. Clean the meat from the wishbone with the tip of your knife, and twist the half-wishbone and pull it out with your fingers. Repeat with the other breast.
Locate the shoulder joint with the tip of your knife, and cut through the tendons holding the wing bone to the rest of the skeleton. The breast will now come free in your hand, with the first wing joint attached. Repeat with the other breast.
Reserve the carcase, wings and neck for making soup or broth. Package the breasts and legs for refrigeration or freezing, or cook and serve them immediately.
The bone structure of pheasant is very similar to chicken. If you are not accustomed to cutting up poultry, practice on one or two inexpensive chickens before butchering a relatively costly pheasant. If the pheasant has been shot in the wild, examine it closely for any shot that may still be in the breast or legs. Entry wounds may not be visible, but shot or shot-broken bones will often leave bruising in the meat. Trim away any damaged areas before cooking or freezing.
Pheasant purchased from a butcher should be kept refrigerated like any other poultry, and any surfaces that come into contact with the uncooked bird should be cleaned and sanitised. Wild-shot pheasant must be gutted and cooled as quickly as possible to prevent spoilage and pathogen growth.