Thursday, May 5, 2016

Chicken Harvest

The chicks I raised from the day they arrived in the mail at the end of the December grew into beautiful birds.  Especially the roosters, who went from cute young chicks to pushy adolescents in just four months.  They created energetic flock dynamics, as they were always tussling with each other, but they were also starting to get loud, pick real fights, and be too forceful with the young hens.  The hens were spending all their time hiding from the roosters. Fourteen roosters is too many when they are four months old, so we knew it was time to harvest some chicken.  Knowing that it's best for the flock that most of them go made it easier for us to kill them.  

I've told you about our first chicken butchering adventure, which we did by lamp light since it took us all evening to figure out our plan of attack.  The second and third time we butchered chickens we had Joe and Jamie to help with the work, and Brandon and I stuck to plucking and gutting, and never actually did the actual murdering.  This time it was just us, so we knew we had to muster up the courage to do the deed ourselves.  We didn't have a killing cone, so we decided to give the traditional ax to the neck method a try.  Brandon made sure the ax was really sharp by using the grinder on the blade.  

We decided to butcher the roosters on Saturday morning.  The night before I picked up each hen from the roost and moved them to the other coop.  This way I was able to let all the hens out for breakfast in the morning, but we could keep the roosters cooped up and I could go into the coop and catch them one at a time and take them to the killing and plucking area.  They were easy to catch and didn't mind being carried in my arms.   

We set up our killing area away from the house, near the weedy fence line since we knew plucking makes a big mess.  We put two nails in an old railroad tie that we used for a chopping block on the ground.  The roosters were calm as I laid them on their backs on the block, and Brandon positioned their necks between the nails and I gently stretched them out so that the nails held their jaws.  Then one quick chop, and it was done.  Our hearts were pounding with the first one, but after we made it through that one okay, it wasn't so bad.  The worst part is holding their bodies after the chop while their muscles spasm.  I didn't let go though.  I've heard too many stories about headless chickens on the run to take any chances.  As you can see in the photo above, we killed the big barred rock roosters first, while the scalding water heated on the gas burner.  Once we had a few de-feathered, I moved to the kitchen to turn them into food while Brandon and the neighbor finished the killing and plucking.  

Butchering in the kitchen was much nicer than doing it on a folding table outside or in a garage, like before.  As Brandon or the neighbor brought plucked chickens to the door, I put them in cold water to chill while I worked.  I kept the necks, feet, hearts, gizzards, and liver from each.  Only the feathers, heads, and intestines with various organs went to the compost.  

Always before we wrapped the whole chicken in plastic and put it in the freezer.  This time I removed the wings and bagged them together, and removed the thighs and legs and bagged them in pairs.  The breast meat I left on the carcass, which fit nicely in a gallon freezer bag without the legs and wings attached.  

Anybody know how to cook a chicken gizzard?  

I've been looking forward to having more chicken foot stock.  It's the best stuff, as long as you don't look at the feet too closely while they are cooking. So creepy!  When I made foot stock before, I washed the feet, then scalded them, peeled them, and then removed the toe joint with the claw, as someone on the interweb suggested.  All that was a lot of work.  This time I just scrubbed them and put them in water in the crock pot for twenty hours.  The claws are ugly, but it was less traumatic than removing them.  Surely, any bit of dirt that didn't get scrubbed away was sufficiently sterilized after being cooked for so long!

After they cooked, I poured the stock from the feet, and then covered them with more water and a few splashes of vinegar, then turned the crock pot back on for another twenty hours.  

The warm stock looked clear and bright, and with a little salt tasted great.  I served Brandon a steaming cup of stock and he drank it all.  

After the stock cooled in the refrigerator, it turned to jelly.  I showed Brandon how thick it was and he asked "That's what I drank?!  But it tasted good!"  Ha!


Anonymous said...

Par-boil the gizzards then dredge and fry them. They're chewy, but good. That's the part of the chicken that the children got when I was a kid. Bit of a hierarchy: men got the white meat, women got the dark meat, and the kids got the organs, backs, and necks. My cousins fought over the gizzards so Grandma would buy extra.

In France (at least where we were near Nice) they boil the gizzards then serve them cold over lettuce with a vinaigrette dressing. DonnyWalrus was not enamored. Can't say I was totally in love with them either, but got mine (and his, secretly) down so as not to offend our hosts. Frying is much more palatable, but then I am an American with our taste for fried food and I don't like the taste of cold, boiled chicken - any part!


Anonymous said...

Oooh! Also, boil and chop the gizzard for your dressing/stuffing. The chewy is good contrast.


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