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Celt's Garden - Start with a Live Chicken (Rated NV)

That would be rated NV for No Vegans. No 12 year old girls either, who are shocked, just shocked, to find out that meat comes from DEAD ANIMALS and spend the next ten years living on spaghetti with plain Marinara sauce and Cheetos. Vegans, perhaps you would like to check out "That French Feeling" which is a nice earlier post about growing herbs.
To go from live chicken to dead chicken, first you have to catch the chicken. This can be tricky, as chickens are telepathic about being approached with a sense of purpose. Food works sometimes, but your best bet is herding the chicken into a corner. If you have control over the birds' last night, it's best to segregate them about the time you would be locking them up for the night and don't feed them in morning. That gives them a chance to calm down after the catching. Starving the chickens overnight makes cleaning them a lot less disgusting.

In the morning, set up your work area. You will need a place to kill the chickens, a large pot of almost boiling water to get the feathers off (your canning kettle is a good size), a very sharp large knife, a work surface that you can keep clean, a small pair of needle nose pliers, a covered container for the guts, another container for the feathers, and a bowl for the innards. If you are refrigerating or freezing your chickens, a cooler of ice water to quickly bring down the body temperature is very helpful.

For one or two birds, killing them outside and plucking and cleaning them in the kitchen sink works fine. For a big chicken killing day, an outside work area is much easier to clean up afterwards.

Here's my method for killing chickens: one at a time, hang the bird securely by its feet. It will flop around a lot, so I wire it up with piece of electrical cable. Being upside down sedates the chicken. Then hold the head firmly and thank the chicken. If you feel too self-conscious thanking an upside-down chicken, take a minute to reflect on the oneness of all being, or bless the chicken. I am partial to "Blessed are you, the source of all life", which is not from any organized religion. Not addressed to the chicken, of course.

Then take the knife and quickly cut its throat. Watch out for your knuckles. Hold on to the head. The wings will flap furiously. The wing flapping helps to pump out the blood, which you want for better meat. After scrubbing chicken blood off vinyl siding, I learned to keep holding the head during the flapping stage and just let the warm blood run down over my hand. It's respectful to the chicken. You're not twelve years old, right?

If the chicken gets loose, you will have a graphic example of the expression "run around like a chicken with its head cut off." This is bad, because you want to keep the wound clean and have the chicken rapidly bleed out. It's also a big mess.

Other methods for killing chickens can be found on you-tube. The one of the two good old boys, fairly lit up on beer, using an orange traffic cone to hold the chickens, is at least good for entertainment value.

Once your bird stops flapping, take it down and cut off the head the rest of the way. Hold it by the feet and immediately dunk it in a large pot of water just off the boil. The hotter the water, the easy to pull the feathers off. Grab handfuls of feathers and stuff them into the receptacle which you conveniently staged during set-up. Get off as much as you can, using the pliers to pull out the wing feathers as needed. Then cut off the feet and put them in the offal container. There will be pinfeathers left on. Best to clean the guts out before rigor mortis sets in and come back later for the pin feathers.

The chicken is starting to resemble something you would buy at a supermarket. Take a sharp knife and cut carefully around the anus, being careful not to pierce the intestines. Make a shallow cut from thigh to thigh to increase the opening. Now, reach in and remove the guts. You're still not twelve years old, right? Gently reach up the back of the opening and pull out the insides. Here's where starving the chickens overnight really helps. The intestines go in the offal can.

The liver looks just like what comes in those little paper packets inside a purchased chicken, except that it's attached to the gall bladder. The gall bladder is full of green bile, which will ruin the liver if it ruptures and spills. Carefully cut off the gall bladder and set aside the liver in the bowl. The heart is recognizable, set it aside as well. The gizzard is a large nasty looking ball that holds gravel. Chickens have no teeth; they digest food by grinding it up in the gizzard. Slice the gizzard along the equator and open it up inside out. Pull out the gravel and food remains. There is a tough membranous yellow muscle covering the gizzard. Peel it off and put the gizzard into your useful parts bowl. Sometimes the lungs will partially adhere to the inside. It's not a problem. If you have ever wondered what that stuff is on the inside back of a purchased chicken, it's lungs. Cut off the neck and set it aside. Remove the crop, the sack the chicken holds food in.

If you are butchering an old layer, you will get quite a bit of egg laying apparatus out. You may find a fully formed egg. The egg is fine to eat, and the immature eggs are fine to use in cooking if you care to. Retired layers are mostly feathers, fuss and egg laying apparatus. There's not much meat on them, but they make superb soup.

Now, rinse off the chicken and use your pliers to remove the pinfeathers. This is the most time consuming part. If you are freezing or refrigerating the chicken, drop it in a cooler of ice water to cool down, then drain and package. If you are eating it immediately, cut up (if desired) and cook.

If you are butchering a retired layer or cull rooster, the best cooking method involves liquid and long, slow cooking. A true free range chicken is a tough bird. If you want to raise your own meat chickens, get a breed intended for the purpose. Plan to raise a batch to the age of 10-12 weeks and have a chicken butchering day.

In countries without refrigeration, the chickens run around until they are eaten. Authentic chicken curry and chicken tandoori recipes involve sauce and hours of cooking on low heat.

The feathers can go straight onto garden beds, or into the compost. The heart and gizzard can go into stock. The liver is delicious cooked up immediately. If you have a lot of livers, they freeze well.

Turkeys are butchered just the same way. I like to respect the bird's life by using every bit except the offal.

The first time butchering a bird takes a while, and an emotional readjustment from buying packaged, impersonal food. You will pick up speed with practice. Be sure to allow time for clean up and packaging and freezing your birds. If you have have household members who bond unduly with dinner, send them out while you do the deed. Otherwise, they may be so emotional as to be unable to eat the nice meal that you have worked so hard to prepare for them.

It is about impossible for a backyard chicken grower to sell a plucked and drawn bird legally in the State of Washington. However, if you buy (or get free) a live bird and butcher it yourself, the transaction is totally above board. You might be intending to to keep it for a pet, eh? There are folks who don't want to butcher the layers they have grown attached to, and don't want to keep feeding them in their dotage, either. Try to get the old girls for really cheap or free. There's not much to them, for the amount of work involved.

Liver and Eggs:
hard boiled egg
chicken or turkey liver
Slice onion, saute sliced onion and liver. When liver is brown outside, but still a bit pink in the center when sliced through, mince up liver, onions and hard boiled egg. Season with salt, thyme, savory and coarse black pepper. Originally a recipe for stretching a single liver to make an appetizer for many, this is excellent on crackers or toast rounds while you package up those birds for freezing.

If you have meat chickens or a purchased bird, you may want to cook up only the breast and legs for dinner, saving the neck, back and wings for stock. Reserve the heart and gizzard.
Put legs, neck and wings in a baking pan. Cook in a 300 degree F oven for an hour, turning halfway through. Put the meat pieces, heart, gizzard, a bay leaf, rosemary, thyme and savory in a four quart soup pot. Pour some water or wine into the bottom of the pan the chicken pieces baked in and scrape off the bits. Pour it into the pot and add water to cover. Simmer on very low for one hour. Strain out the pieces and remove the meat from the bones. Put the bones back in the pot, with a chunk of carrot, some celery and a piece of onion. Simmer for another 1-2 hours on very low heat. Strain out the broth. This makes about two quarts of stock. The meat and stock can be used to make soup immediately. Otherwise, use the meat in something strongly flavored, such as curry or tacos. It won't keep long.
Stock stores very nicely in quart canning jars in the fridge. Mayonnaise or spaghetti sauce jars are not recommended. I've had them literally burst at the seam, spraying boiling stock everywhere. A layer of fat will rise to the top of the jar as the broth cools. Don't disturb it. The fat seals air out and preserves your stock. When you are ready to use the stock, you can peel off the fat layer if you like. Traditionally, the schmaltz (the fat layer) was used to brown the onions and garlic for the soup. Home raised birds sometimes have a lot of yellow fat, which was used for cooking in the days before vegetable oils were readily available.
If you intend to freeze the stock, leave a full inch of head room in the jar and let it cool first in the refrigerator. Then put the jar in the freezer with the lid off. When it freezes solid, put the lid on. This keeps your jars from cracking.

Coq au Vin Rouge:
That extra rooster that came in the shipment
2-4 cups red wine
plentiful garlic, carrots, onions, black peppercorns, rosemary and a bay leaf
A crock pot or heavy soup pot.
Butcher rooster. Assemble rooster and other ingredients in the pot. Add stock or water to cover. Cook a long time on very low heat, adding more water if needed, until the meat falls off the bones.
Serve meat and broth over cooked egg noodles or red potatoes. Amazing.

Consult the Joy of Cooking, Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook, or other general purpose cookbook for directions on freezing your birds.

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Comment by Celt M. Schira on July 5, 2010 at 10:41pm
Danah and Walter, thank you. When we eat the work of our hands, from the garden or in the soup pot, we approach meals with intention. I like happy food. Happy chickens, with chicken lives.

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