WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS
SOME GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS AND MAY OFFEND SOME READERS
For the better part of my life, I’ve thought that if a person wants to benefit from the consumption of an animal, a person needs to be able to undertake the act of taking the life of the animal. I struggle with meat eaters who bemoan the loss of a lamb, but still gladly hoe into their lamb chops of an evening. I also think this separation from the process, desensitises us to the point that we have allowed a food system to develop that is outrageously inhumane. The human species has evolved eating meat and large scale soy production and processing has its own environmental issues. I have no problem with people eating meat as part of a balanced diet. But I do think we should all make more conscious choices about our meat consumption: the quantity of meat we use, the respect we pay to the meat from the entire animal, the care with which we treat animals in life, and the consideration we have for animals in their last moments.
You may remember from my posts about Meat Free Week that I have a particular concern for the conditions in the Australian poultry industry. As a child, I remember asking my grandpa about a large-ish aluminium, bottomless cone he had nailed to a fruit tree in the garden. He wasn’t comfortable telling me what it was. As a wee child I had always been friends with the chooks. When I was small enough, I used to follow them around the chook run, out the tiny little chook door. My Grandma used to rehome chooks from the battery farm, so they mostly had Iza Browns. There was one chook I loved. I called her ‘Blacky,’ she was different in the obvious way, and used to pick her up and take her inside with me, sitting her on my lap while I sat in the arm chair in my grandparents’ lounge room. If I recall correctly, my Grandpa told me that when the chooks stopped paying eggs, they were killed and cooked for dinner. This cone is where that happened.
This weekend, I finally took that step of responsibility and killed my first chook. She came from an organic free range farm where she’d been bred and kept for her eggs, but nearing the end of her natural life, she’d stopped laying. I was one of a small group of participants in a workshop run by Rohan Anderson of Whole Larder Love. We were all going through this emotional experience together. I wanted to go first to get it over with. I picked my chicken, a white one – unlike those I knew so well growing up, and held her comfortably under my arm. I gave thanks to her, for the eggs she’d provided, and the meat she would soon too. I gently placed her upside down in the killing cone and fished out her little head. I felt her jugular and with an extremely sharp knife, I slit her throat, breaking her neck and cutting off her head. It was not a pretty sight. When her blood had drained away and her dead body relaxed, I pulled her from the cone for plucking.
The first step is to dunk the chicken in a bucket of very hot water. This helps release the feathers from the skin, making the plucking easier. Then, with the aid of a friend, the feathers need to be plucked. The feathers in the wings and bottom are the hardest, so it’s best to do those first. I found the breast feathers to be easiest. Once the feathers are gone, you literally begin to see what you are used to seeing of chicken meat. I found the gutting process quite fascinating, though a little gruesome. I was very glad for Rohan’s guidance throughout the process. Breaking the carcass up into useable portions was not something new to me; I buy nearly all my poultry whole these days, I find good savings that way and prefer knowing that I am effectively using the whole bird. I kept the crown and feet. I understand the crown is considered a delicacy in France; and the feet (if I can get them clean enough) will make a good addition to a stock. Because this chook was bred for laying, the carcass had a different shape to a whole chook you’d normally buy. It had noticeably smaller breasts.
Because of it’s age, this chook will need long slow cooking. I have decided to pay homage to where it lived and, after browning the meat, slowly cook the meat on the bone with the crown in a casserole with local Riesling and crisp local bacon. I think I’d like to serve it with kale and white beans, and some mashed potato. I’ll let you know when I’ve cooked it.