can you eat peacock bird

In his Epulario, or the Italian Banquet, Giovanne de Rosselli offers instructions for a stunning 16th-century banquet centerpiece: a gilded, fire-breathing peacock. While the meat of the peacock is edible—the meat is carefully removed from the body, roasted, and then sewn back into flesh—the recipe is all about presentation.

Lavish dinners—and the cookbooks and instruction manuals for how to execute them—were popular during the Renaissance, and they emphasized the art of food, in addition to—and at times, over—its taste. Peacocks were thus an ideal banquet food because their colorful plumage made for artful display. But over the early modern period, turkeys came to replace peacocks as the customary food of ceremonies and holidays.

According to the 16th-century historian Francisco López de Gómara, turkeys (what were then called the “Indian bird”) were amongst the foods Christopher Columbus gave to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella upon his return to Spain. Of those foods—which included rabbit, peppers, sweet potatoes, and cornbread—turkey was the most quickly adopted into the European diet. It was the first American import to feature in royal cookbooks and, by the 17th century, the turkey regularly appeared on the menus for weddings, feast days, and holidays.

Turkey’s popularity has continued: by the end of the early modern period, the turkey was (and has remained) quintessential Christmas fare in England. The 18th-century gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote that “turkey surely is one of the most beautiful gifts from the New World to the Old.”

The immediate popularity of turkey can be explained by its similarity to (and, to people living in the early modern period, its superiority over) the peacock. The birds’ perceived interchangeability is exemplified in a pair of 1627 still-life oil paintings by Pieter Claesz. The first of the banquet paintings takes as its central subject a large peacock pie, a pastry in which the peacock’s meat is cooked. The bird’s neck and head are erected on top of the pastry and its wings and tail feathers are positioned around it, so that the pie represents the bird’s body.

The second is literally modeled on the first: grooves in the edges of the first painting suggest that Claesz not only used the same design for the second piece, but also directly copied from the first painting, creating a grid system out of strings to enable a more accurate transfer of the . As in real banquets, the peacock came first.

The peacock and turkey are the centerpieces of their respective paintings, which also depict other luxury goods imported from around the globe, such as porcelain plates from China, a nautilus shell from the Indo-Pacific, and ivory-handled knives. The pies themselves would have included South Asian and South East Asian spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and mace.

Not unlike gingerbread houses today, peacocks and turkeys and the elaborate pies made from them were not necessarily consumed, though people could and did eat them. Early modern banquets were a form of domestic theater: the staging and performance of food was carefully crafted to create an immersive experience.

Because of their similarity in size and appearance, peacock and turkey could be substituted in these performances. For instance, in his landmark book on meat carving, Vincenzo Cervio—a renowned Italian carver—treats peacock and turkey together. His method of carving—known as the Italian method—consisted of holding the bird in the air on a fork, so that the meat and its carving could be observed by all. The ready conflation of peacock and turkey in his 1581 book also demonstrates just how quickly turkey was adopted in Italy, following its introduction to Spain.

In the early modern period, there were complex systems of hospitality and gift giving, and food was at the center of these practices, as food was both required to be served to guests and the most common gift. For their beauty, utility, and novelty, peacocks and turkeys made excellent gifts, both dead and alive. Early modern English household accounts thus detail the difficulties of raising turkeys, a practice that took off in the mid- to late-16th century.

For all the attention that peacocks received as beautiful sights, they were thought of poorly as sources of nutrition. In his dietary treatise entitled Klinik? [i.e., the art of the doctor], or The Diet of the Diseased (1633), James Hart says that while “[i]t was esteemed a dainty dish among the antient Romans”, “[t]he Peacocke is of a very hard, solid and firme flesh, and hard of digestion, being of a hot and drie substance, ingendring grosse and melancholicke humours, and therefore need a strong stomacke,” though he qualifies that “[o]thers, again, esteeme this to be of as good a nourishment as a Turkie.”

In the Galenic humoral system, which was still common practice in the early modern period, a “hot and drie substance” was not necessarily a poor choice for all. Nevertheless, the peacock was not considered an ideal meat and so it was perhaps bound to be replaced. But most importantly, turkeys replaced peacocks because they tasted better: peacock meat was notoriously dry and tough.

It might come as a surprise to us that turkey—widely recognized as one of the driest meats—was considered an improvement over the peacock. Its dryness is perhaps one of the reasons many of the turkey recipes in the Folger’s collection of early modern recipe books include a lot of bacon and butter.

Today, Christmas and Thanksgiving turkey is traditionally served with gravy, which adds much-needed moisture. This history of consuming turkey with plenty of sauce goes back as far as its introduction in Europe.

It is telling that there are almost no references to peacocks at all in the Folger’s manuscript recipe book collection, while turkey recipes abound: most of our recipe books were compiled in the late-17th and 18th centuries, by which time turkeys had replaced the ‘dry’ and ‘heavy’ peacock on dinner tables.

Because Thanksgiving is not a holiday outside of Canada and the US, and because peacocks were not widely consumed as food after their introduction into North America, the peacock was never a substitute for the Thanksgiving turkey. In a post-pandemic world, one might feel inspired to try surprising one’s Thanksgiving guests with a fire-breathing peacock. But there are other reasons why the early modern peacock does not make a promising Thanksgiving display: peacocks drop their feathers in the autumn, and so this luxurious banquet piece would never have translated to a harvest feast.

is the Digital Research Fellow for the Before Farm to Table: Early Modern Foodways and Culture project, a Mellon-funded initiative at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She recently completed her PhD in English and Book History & Print Culture at the University of Toronto, where she specialized in womens writing of the English Reformation. — View all posts by Elisa Tersigni

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Cooking Different Parts of the Bird

Since they lack the fatty, slow-twitch muscle fiber of legs that responds well to prolonged cooking, these are likely the hardest to work with. Even though you can crisp the skin and pan-roast your plucked bird before slicing it thinly, most people will likely still find the meat to be tough.

If you’ve recently breasted out your birds or have been given some that weren’t plucked, forcemeat is a great trick to have up your sleeve for scrap or tough meat.

Dice the skinless meat and add a fake fat (usually a mixture of breadcrumbs, cream, or milk). I’ve used it to correct everything from flawed ravioli fillings to sausages without the right meat-fat emulsification ratio, and it works incredibly well on lean meat.

can you eat peacock bird

Of course, you could also just grind the meat and combine it with some milk-soaked breadcrumbs and eggs, just like in a meat loaf. This will result in a less smooth and more chunky texture that’s ideal for making meatballs or terrine.

Since they are surrounded by bone and fat, I knew these would be my favorite part. Confit chicken legs is, in my opinion, the best way to cook tough poultry legs. I sprinkle the legs with salt, thyme, and fresh bay leaves, and let them sit for the entire night.

The following day, I remove the legs from the fat and carefully remove all of the pin bones from the drumsticks by covering them with lard in a covered cooking vessel and cooking at 250 until the meat is nice and tender, which should take about two to three hours. The legs are then allowed to cool in the fat, and the meat can be aged for months or longer as long as the fat is sealed tightly.

can you eat peacock bird

To make them edible, I simply preheat the oven to 250–300 degrees, sear the meat, skin side down, and bake it until it’s heated through. My portion was roughly the size of a goose leg, but the peacock’s thigh was large enough for me to have a full meal. However, you could probably eat the entire, impressive-looking leg as a large entree or meal for two.

The Head, Neck, Guts and Feet

The funbits. The feet were cleaned and put into stock. I roasted the head to make the skull crisp and brittle, allowing you to easily cut it in half and remove the brains. The brains were delicious, mild, and not at all gamey; I like to eat them with a little olive oil and crunchy salt.

Since I only had one bird, I cleaned the gizzard, heart, and liver and soaked them in milk overnight before grinding them with some of the forcemeat I made from the breasts to make sausage.

The neck was the true prize; it was so long that I had never really seen anything like it before. I’ve never seen a carcass with such a long neck, but other birds like ducks and turkeys will have necks that are comparable in length. I wanted to use it for something special, so I stuffed the peacock neck with forcemeat sausage, and it worked out beautifully.

The focal points of each painting feature a peacock or turkey, along with other opulent items imported from across the world like Chinese porcelain plates, an Indo-Pacific nautilus shell, and knives with ivory handles. South Asian and South East Asian spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and mace, would have been used in the pies themselves.

Turkey’s appeal has persisted; by the end of the early modern era, it was (and still is) the traditional Christmas dish in England. Turkey is undoubtedly one of the most exquisite gifts from the New World to the Old World, according to 18th-century gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. ”.

Peacock and turkey could be used in place of each other in these performances because of their similar sizes and appearances. For example, the famous Italian carver Vincenzo Cervio treats peacock and turkey together in his seminal book on meat carving. His technique, dubbed the Italian method, involved holding the bird aloft on a fork so that everyone could see the meat and carving. The fact that he effortlessly mixed up turkey with peacock in his book from 1581 also shows how quickly turkey spread throughout Italy after arriving in Spain.

In the Renaissance, lavish dinners were popular, as were the cookbooks and how-to guides for preparing them. The emphasis was on the culinary arts rather than just the taste of the food. Hence, peacocks were a perfect banquet food because of their vibrant plumage, which allowed for beautiful displays. However, during the early modern era, turkeys began to supplant peacocks as the traditional holiday and ceremonial food.

The first painting’s grooves indicate that Claesz not only used the same design for the second piece, but also directly copied it, constructing a grid system out of strings to facilitate a more precise transfer of the original image. The second painting is literally modeled after the first. As in real banquets, the peacock came first.


Can people eat peacock eggs?

We have eaten goose, duck, pheasant, peacock and guinea hen eggs – pretty much any bird egg is edible, although tiny ones are hardly worth the effort. … To answer your question peacock eggs are white and, apart from their size, look pretty much the same as regular poultry eggs.

Are peacocks protected?

Peafowl are protected by cruelty laws. For many residents, peafowl are a valued part of their neighborhood and serve as a beautiful attraction for the area. For others, peafowl are disruptive and destructive, as they can cause excessive noise, as well as damage to roofs, cars, and gardens.