Saturday, August 1, 2009

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

We've been on the Chicken Channel all summer - all chickens, all the time. Feeding chickens, watering chickens, moving chickens (which, given the creativity of Himself in designing the "portable" coop was a soap-opera all of its own), frantically trying to keep chickens alive, and now, helping them onto the Heavenly Roost.

Killing cone #1. This is supposedly the standard size killing cone for the breed of chicken we raised, Cornish Giants. I'm here to testify that if I'd managed to get the head of one of these birds through the hole at the bottom, it would have been already dead by crushing. There was no way. I phoned the dealer to ask, but he was very huffy and implied that only an idiot wouldn't be able to figure it out. I think we'll be dealing elsewhere next year when we buy the next size up.

So we had to come up with something else. This was Himself's idea, augmented as we went along by more and more twine, grocery bags, and duct tape to reinforce the widening rift that threatened to part asunder. It'll last until we finish the last 11 birds this weekend, but only just.

The first weekend we had a go at this, we spent most of our time running back and forth trying to heat up water to the right temperature from the stove indoors, and then carry it out for scalding the birds before plucking. Very stressful, a little dangerous, and definitely very time-consuming. Between that weekend and the next, I made my way to Canadian Tire and picked up this turkey deep-fryer, which works like a charm and really shaved a lot of time and hair-pulling off the whole endeavour. The idea of deep-frying a turkey gives me indigestion, but I'm sure glad of the appliance for our purposes. I'd never heard of deep-frying a whole bird like that before. Live and learn.

The first two weekends we plucked by hand. Oh my Lord, mercy, mercy, mercy. Not so bad if you've only got a handful of birds, I suppose, but looking at 60, more or less, and figuring on at least 20 minutes each, if we were really rolling.... well, I was getting desperate for a plucker.

Hallelujah! I had a new client show up, and he was curious about what we were up to with the chickens. We chatted a bit about the show, and when I was mourning my whole summer disappearing under the weight of wet chicken-feathers, he volunteered his plucker that was "somewhere in the garage". You're not supposed to grab your clients and kiss them, but I tell you, it was a pretty near thing.

And what a difference! It doesn't take every little thing off, but certainly about 95%, and it reduces the yuck-factor of wet, poopy chicken-feathers by about 150%. If we do this again, there WILL BE a plucker lined up BEFORE I order any birds.

Bless Poppy. Just when I want my picture taken - in my ragaday best, with my hand up a chicken's arse. Anyway, yes, I was the guttress. I've done about 50 now, and I'm getting better and faster at it, but they're not exactly prize-winners of chickenly beauty. The lady who showed me on the first two hadn't done it in many years, and had only done it as part of an assembly line (de-sembly line?), so she'd forgotten a lot. But I've got the basics, and I watched some You-Tube clips that were helpful, so it's not too bad. I wouldn't mind a lung-ing tool though - my already minimalistic fingernails are splitting down to the bed.

End product. I had three bins of cold water at the ready - first, second and third baths, and the third one had a big block of ice that I'd frozen in an ice-cream pail. I wanted the birds thoroughly washed out and chilled for food-safety, of course, but I also wanted them good and cold before going into the freezer. Friends of ours, who'd done a lot of birds at one time, said that they lost a lot to going moldy in the freezer! I've never heard of that before, but they attributed it to the fact that there was such a lot of unfrozen meat going in at the same time and some of it not properly cooling down. Given that we're only doing about 10-12 per day, I don't think it's an issue, but still. Raw meat + cold is a combination that doesn't twig off all my bacterial fantasies.

The three in the final bucket there remind me of three Renaissance muses dancing; robust, buck-naked and upside-down.

I think we'll be able to get them all into the deep freeze. Somehow there are more of them than I thought, about 60, and we rather poorly planned and underestimated the freezer space, having ordered half a beef not too long ago. If not all, then certainly almost all, and if worst comes to worst, I guess it'll be a chicken feast this week.

CG was very helpful with my questions along the way, and she was wondering how the meat was, unaged. It would be better to age it for a few days in the fridge before freezing, for the sake of tenderness, but we can't do that with so many birds. Here's my two cents. I cooked two this past week; one frozen solid and straight into the roaster, the other I allowed to thaw. The frozen one was tough, the thawed one was really gorgeously tender.

And that is the final chapter on the broilers for this year. Eventually we'll probably get layers, but right now we're all in need of a rest from chickens. The peach has lost its bloom, so to speak. Monday we'll deal with the final 11, and THAT'S ALL FOLKS!!! Yay!


kiwi said...

Hi there Madcap...that sounds like a LOT of work! We just skin our chooks (feathers and all). Very much quicker and easier than plucking.

小貓咪 said...
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an encourager said...

I am still laughing over your comment "all chickens all the time". Your sense of humor is great...and with all that slaying, needed! My favorite grandma used to wring her chickens' necks and hang them to drain on the clothesline. After seeing that as a kid, I'm surprised I love hanging clothes on one!

Madcap said...

Hi Kiwi - always nice to hear from you! So, I'm trying to imagine that process - how do you get the skin to peel off without spending the winters tearing phone books?

A.E. - glad you like it, wanna come help tomorrow? ;-) I'm wondering though, how did the birds bleed out if she was wringing their necks? I've only done it by this method, so they're bleeding out through the cuts we make, but if there aren't any cuts?

CG said...

I'm thinking the skinning chickens thing is why I grew up eating skinned fried chicken . . . because my mother's mother would go get a hen and skin her and fry her, evidently fry her right away if there were more people showed up for Sunday dinner than she had expected. We pluck because we freeze most of them, and by hand, but more like 12 in a week, not 12 in a day!

CG said...

oh, and congrats on getting to the END!

kiwi said...

My DH skins them, so I don't speak from first-hand experience! He says it's easy, and I find they freeze and cook well...and we sure don't need the extra fat to eat. I'm not as brave as you....I lurk behind the shed with hands over ears and eyes tightly shut when all this butchering is happening!!

Madcap said...

CG - So here I am, not knowing... is there a problem with freezing skinned chicken? I've bought skinless chicken breasts before, and frozen them, and didn't notice anything different than skin-on.

Yeah, 12 in a day is a bit grueling somehow, even with a plucker. I noticed that the tendons around my thumbs are still pretty cranky even this far into the week. Too much of the same thing, I think.

Kiwi - Well, I would have put my hands over my ears, but that would have been a little messy after a certain point!