IN choosing poultry, select those that are fresh and fat, and the surest way to determine whether they are young is to try the skin under the leg or wing. If it is easily broken, it is young; or, turn the wing backwards, if the joint yields readily, it is tender. When poultry is young the skin is thin and tender, the legs smooth, the feet moist and limber, and the eyes full and bright. The body should be thick and the breast fat. Old turkeys have long hairs, and the flesh is purplish where it shows under the skin on the legs and back. About March they deteriorate in quality.
Young ducks and geese are plump, with light, semi-transparent fat, soft breast bone, tender flesh, leg-joints which will break by the weight of the bird, fresh-colored and brittle beaks, and windpipes that break when pressed between the thumb and forefinger. They are best in fall and winter.
Young pigeons have light red flesh upon the breast, and full, fresh-colored legs; when the legs are thin and the breast very dark the birds are old.
Fine game birds are always heavy for their size; the flesh of the breast is firm and plump and the skin clear; and if a few feathers be plucked from the inside of the leg and around the vent, the flesh of freshly-killed birds will be fat and fresh-colored; if it is dark and discolored, the game has been hung a long time. The wings of good ducks, geese, pheasants and woodcock are tender to the touch; the tips of the long wing feathers of partridges are pointed in young birds and round in old ones. Quail, snipe and small birds should have full, tender breasts. Poultry should never be cooked until six or eight hours after it has been killed, but it should be picked and drawn as soon as possible. Plunge it in a pot of scalding hot water; then pluck oft' the feathers, taking care not to tear the skin; when it is picked clean, roll up a piece of white paper, set fire to it and singe off all the hairs. The head, neck and feet should be cut off:, and the ends of the legs skewered to the body, and a string tied tightly around the body. When roasting a chicken or small fowl there is danger of the legs browning or becoming too hard to be eaten. To avoid this, take strips of cloth, dip them into a little melted lard, or even just rub them over with lard, and wind them around the legs. Remove them in time to allow the legs to brown delicately.
Fowls, and also various kinds of game, when bought at our city markets, require a more thorough cleansing than those sold in country places, where as a general thing the meat is wholly dressed. In large cities they lay for some length of time with the intestines undrawn, until the flavor of them diffuses itself all through the meat, rendering it distasteful. In this case, it is safe, after taking out the intestines, to rinse out in several waters, and in next to the last water, add a tea-spoonful of baking soda, say to a quart of water. This process neutralizes all sourness, and helps to destroy all unpleasant taste in the meat.
Poultry may be baked so that its wings and legs are soft and tender, by being placed in a deep roasting pan with close cover, thereby retaining the aroma and essences by absorption while confined. These pans are a recent innovation, and are made double with a small opening in the top for giving vent to the accumulation of steam and gases when required. Roast meats of any kind can also be cooked in the same manner, and it is a great improvement on the old plan.