Monday, October 26, 2009

the longest and grossest post I have ever written

In pausing to reflect over last week's events, it would seem that I've once again violated the terms of my Humane Society endorsement. Dangit!

However, if you believe, as I do, that animal protein is a necessary (although preferably smallish) component of a healthy diet, then it's nice to know that the animal you're eating has been treated well, fed wholesome food it would have ordinarily eaten (none of its own species, for example--although I do let my chickens eat leftover eggs, since they do that anyway), and killed as quickly and painlessly as possible.

But on with the excitement!
Here is the wee little teal that Jason brought us. I think my face sort of looks like a horse when it's feeling wiggy--something about the nose.

Last Monday our neighbor brought us a duck he had killed, because I had mentioned that I would like to roast a duck, just to say I'd done it. But it was small enough that I decided against doing anything but breasting it.
Teals--and perhaps all waterfowl, what do I know?--are very easy to pluck. The breast feathers came out lickety-split.
Doesn't he know that ducks wear shirts, not pants?

Five minutes later, there he/she/it was, all barechested.
Then we singed off the downy fuzz. And we didn't even scald it--The Joy of Cooking recommended against it with a game bird, because it makes the skin tear more easily.
Then I cut down the breastbone and commenced my embarrassing crime against butchery.
Ugh. Look at all that wasted meat. I hate inefficiency.

We fried them up in a pan the next night, along with our Pad Thai, and the children descended upon them and devoured them like starving wolves. And you know how wolves are!

It was more difficult than I thought it would be. He was so tiny and weightless and soft, and he smelled clean and downy, like a pillow.
Clockwise from left: Pad Thai, kimchi, marinated tofu.

Above is the Pad Thai I made from Alton Brown's recipe. It was fairly well-received, even by The Hulk, if you can imagine. I don't know what's gotten into him.
Evidently Skiver doesn't care much for the taste of mouse.

Thursday we came home from buying our milk, and Superman found this on the carpet. It's one of the mice that has been making himself free with our food storage. He has gotten into my giant bag of chocolate chips and I may have said some swear words beginning with D and H when John told me about it.
Saturday was killing day. It has been the killingest week ever at our house! We processed seven chickens--skinning three and plucking four. Thankfully our magic neighbors (as my sister-in-law calls them) are prepared for all chicken-killing emergencies. They brought over their contraption composed of a fifty-five gallon drum topped with a board and two traffic cones.
At first we held the bird over the cone and cut his throat, but before too long we started pulling the head through a hole cut in the end of the cone, slitting the throat and letting the bird bleed out. It worked much better the second way.
It really is an ignoble way to die . . . as opposed, I guess, to the way that animals normally die? Not likely. But at least it's better than flopping around and flinging blood everywhere.
Once the bird has bled out you can begin processing it. These we skinned by slicing a Y-shaped cut into the skin on the breast and down the legs--sort of like an autopsy. Loosen the skin and peel it off the meat, then slice the breastbone off and cut off the thighs and legs.
We skinned the first three, because they're over a year old and are bound to be tough, so there's no point in plucking them for roasting. They'll most likely have to be pressure cooked to be edible.

Then we processed our four big guys. Since they were chicks this spring, I'm hoping there's a chance they'll make halfway decent roasters.
It was a little bit ten pounds of chicken in a five pound pot.

The internets told us to hold each bird in the hot water for 1 1/2-2 minutes, then pluck them. So we did. It was harder keeping them in the water than I thought it would be--they're surprisingly buoyant.
Trying to get every last little hairlike feather off the breast. I'm very detail-oriented.

The plucking was far easier than I anticipated. Sort of time-consuming because they have these tiny little hairlike things that you have to pull out, and of course it was a misty day and we were wet from the scalding pot, so the feathers stuck, and also it was stinky times a lot, but I thought it would be more physically challenging.

The sheer redneckery of us standing in our backyard pulling feathers off of dead roosters was something to behold. But as Wade said about shoveling gravel, you just make yourself get stupider, and then you can do the job without thinking about how much you hate it.
Ready to be cut into pieces. Look at his legs, holy cow!

It's surprising how much smaller they are without their feathers. Once the birds were plucked, I cut off the oil gland on top of the tail, then we cut off the feet and head.
Now comes the really gross part. I thought it was yuck sticking my hand up a goat's bajingo, but that's nothing on cutting the anus and bowels out of a chicken. Which brings me to a story:

When I was in college I worked for a company that did telephone surveys. Surveys, not sales, so I was only Satan's-minion-adjacent. I hated it precious, and was complaining about it to my mom, and she, ever the compassionate nurturer, said, "Well, you could be working at E.A. Miller (a meat-packing plant) cutting buttholes out of cows." Ah, perspective.
Once the dangerous stuff is out you can go spelunking to extract the rest of the entrails. Chickens are small and I ripped a number of gloves trying to perform the dilation and curettage. Perhaps that reference is in poor taste as well as technically inaccurate.
Captain America helped a little with the plucking.

Cutting out the vent--that's chicken-speak for butthole.

John removing the innards.

Finally, a million years later and just in time for me to shower and get in costume for my piano recital, we finished. We were ready to not be smelling chicken anymore.
What I learned:
1. It was a good experience overall, because I would have felt so wasteful if I'd just thrown away all that meat.
2. It's hard to kill an animal when you're not used to it, and I think that's a good thing.
3. It was a good class in beginning butchery.
4. The difference between a sharp knife and a really sharp knife. Thank goodness for my Grandpa Herd and the filleting knife he gave us for Christmas.
5. It takes forfreakingever when you are an ignorant fool.
6. I don't want to do this very often.

Sorry if anyone is a vegetarian now because of me. I think it's good to know where your food comes from. I like that my kids can look at a cut of meat and know what part of the animal it was, and I hope they don't take eating it for granted.


tipsybaker said...

what a great post. very informative and also funny.


oh the good old days...I could not do it again...guess we will send you our chickens & goats...:(

All8 said...

Yep, nothing like the warm (yucky) smell when you remove the guts. {{shudder}}

If the older chickens aren't softening up, follow the directions in a good canning book and pressure can them. Delish!