DISCLAIMER: This post does talk about butchering an animal – if this is not your thing, you’ve been warned…
So, from the beginning, my plan was to one day come to the point where I could source my food completely from my land. But not just the “land” being my garden. I’m talking real meat and potatoes here. Meat, dairy, veggies. You know what I mean.
The vegetables have truly been a thrill. Being able to harvest bushels of beans multiple times, as well as kale, garlic, and everything else, has been more than rewarding. The eggs? Everything I had hoped for. Meat? Well, we were thinking that would be awhile – as our ram and ewe have not yet, um, made their union “official”. This week, however, we found that things have changed a bit…
We have this rooster. For those that know us, I’m not talking about Doris Day – our rooster we thought was a flamboyant hen – but that’s another story altogether. I’m talking ’bout Cockadoo, our sexlink rooster that has ALWAYS made it clear that he is THE rooster here. Well, Cockadoo has always been a bit… cocky. When myself or the girls would come out to feed them or collect eggs, he would puff up and do a bit of a charge in our direction, but he kindly reserved the attacking and spur-directing towards the defenseless goats. Nice guy, right?
So fast-forward to this past week. When I heard Emma screaming from the pasture. Screaming. Here was the rooster – chasing her. Fast. By the time I had gotten out there, he had backed off and she was attempting to regain her composure. Then comes the next day. Condensed version: I get cornered in the 4-foot tall goat shed by the rooster. Spurs come flying. I kick hard. Repeat. I feed chickens. Attacked again. Kick again. I am angry. I tell Micky that the rooster is out of chances and I have already planned his dinner. I’m sure you can see where this is going.
So after spending the weekend avoiding the chicken pasture – for my safety, of course! – Monday comes. The determined “day.” Now, keep in mind, while Micky has butchered his share of deer and elk, we haven’t done a chicken before. After a you-tube-ish crash course in chicken butchering, we came up with a game plan:
- Rig up a traffic cone upside down to place the bird in
- Knock out the bird before cutting it’s throat. For some reason, the ONE thing I felt bad about was that the damn rooster would be aware of us cutting it’s throat. Go figure. A blunt blow to the back of the head did the trick. Kind of.
- After chicken bleeds out, remove head and dunk in simmering water to loosen feathers and de-feather the beast.
- Butcher! This was in Micky’s court.
- Clean up bird, let rest for a couple days, then FEAST!
Ok, now here is how it really happened:
- Traffic cone: Good idea. Trimmed the skinny part of the cone to help the huge rooster’s head fit through. After we had reached the point of no-return, realized…. We had a big rooster and it didn’t quite fit. But we made it fit.
- Thought the bird was knocked out. After the throat was slit, realized he wasn’t quite. I think Mick got tired of watching him struggle and move around – so the head just got cut off. Eh.
- De-feathering: This actually worked awesome! Water temp at 175, dunking up and down for 30 seconds. Perfection. If any of this could be considered perfection.
- Butchering:. My husband truly rocks at this. Our only road bump was the crop. This is a sac-like structure partway down the esophagus that holds food, debris, and whatnot before it heads down towards the gizzard. Our well-intended attempts to avoid puncturing this failed, but clean-up was easy. Everything else went great, until the wings. It was the end of the process for us, and after Micky said “You don’t really eat the wings anyway, right?”, the wings were gone.
- Clean up went uneventful – aside from the fact that my bird was a little odd looking without wings, but hey! Our first time pretty much rocked!
So, moral of the story? Don’t expect it to go as you thought it would – the first time. Clearly, we have some learning and adjusting to do, but all in all, I think we did pretty damn good.
I then had 2 days to come up with the BEST POSSIBLE way to cook this guy. The thing with pasture-raised, free-ranging poultry is: this is not the chicken you are buying in your standard market. These chickens are active, have the ability to forage for their food, and have wide open spaces to develop in. If you were to cook it up like you would a standard store-bought bird, you could likely end up with something drier and tougher than you would like.
My conclusion ended up being to cook this bird slow and low. Our bird ended up being between 3 and 4 pounds. I was uber excited to finally taste real pasture-raised poultry, so I kept the seasoning to a minimum: Drizzle of EVOO, sea salt, crushed pepper, and a smattering of dried sage. That’s it. Popped in a stoneware baker and baked at 275 degrees for 3 hours, then upped it to 375 for another 30 minutes, until the internal temp was about 175.
The result? Hands down, BEST. CHICKEN. EVER. The meat was much darker and more flavorful than I had expected, literally fall-off-the-bone tender. And I wasn’t the only one that felt this enamored with the food. Around the table, we were all in awe. 🙂
Wait a minute… I am NOT done. I have to tell you about the best part of the whole meal! “Huh? The chicken wasn’t the best part?” Nope. This was our FIRST meal that we were able to completely produce: Mashed taters from the garden, roasted green beans from the garden – oh, and the chicken!
THIS is what I have been yearning to do.
THIS is when all the researching, sweating, and hard work has led up to.
MY CONFIRMATION: We can do this. And we will continue to do this. Finally, I feel like I am meant to do this.