The three cockerels cock-a-doodle-dooing sealed their fate. We’d bred them from our own flock. They were handsome cross-breds out of our spunky Silver Spangled Hamburgh rooster, Dirk Diggler, and half Isa Brown half Coronation Sussex hens (I think). It was time to put into action what Jeff and I had been reading, watching on TV and talking about for a long time. Authors Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food), Joel Salatin (Food Inc and numerous books) and Matthew Evans (Goumet Farmer and The Dirty Chef) to name but a few had, over time, influenced us in a way that had made us want to get closer to our food, or rather, to source it closer to home. And how much closer can you get than raising it yourself?
At the moment, raising and killing our own fowl for meat is about as far as we are willing and able to go. The romantic notion of pigs, a cow for milk / beef or various other animals is unviable on our current 1-acre smallholding and we’re ok with that. This was, in itself, a very large first step for us and one of which we’re rather proud. It’s funny how killing your own animals for meat IS such a big deal. Probably the majority or the population eats meat but we have become so removed from that first step in the process that it has become thought of as an extraordinary act of brutality at which most people cringe. But now that we have gotten over the “hump”, done the deed once, I think it will become a much less gruesome task and one that I associate with fresh, delicious, complex meat for cooking and eating rather than the thoughtless killing of another animal.
I called Toni Carroll with whom I’d become friends through various chicken-related adventures and she came over on Sunday, 30 March to show Jeff and I how to kill, gut, clean, skin and pluck our young roosters ready for eating. While I admit it was a confronting task, at the end of it I was surprised to say I didn’t find it as bad as I thought I would. The most difficult part was breaking its neck. This is an optional step but one I wanted to learn how to do and it seemed easier than trying to chop the head off a live chicken, which I imagined would flap around like a crazy thing while I was wielding a cleaver. Not a comforting thought. So Toni showed me how to break its neck by holding on to its legs, lying it flat on the floor of the garage with a broom handle over its neck, standing on both sides of the pole and simply pulling the bird up hard till its neck snapped or stretched. Then came the worst bit. The inevitable convulsions of a dead but seemingly very alive bird which flapped, writhed and gasped for air. Despite assurances from Toni that it was very much dead and just its nerves were jangling, I found that part uncomfortable. Funny really given that I’d done the very same thing with a million fish before in my lifetime. Hopefully, this will become “normal” for me too over time.
Jeff had a go too but he opted to go straight to the beheading. And what I feared might happen, did. While making a clean cut, the convulsing bird slipped out of his grasp and went flip-flopping headless across the yard. I’ve got to say, it was a hilarious, if somewhat gruesome sight. Jeff and Toni got spattered in blood but he quickly retrieved the bird and we bled them into a bucket.
So onto the next step. We decided to skin two of them for a casserole and pluck one, leaving the skin on for roasting. I boiled a large pot of water and dipped one of the birds into it for about 15 secs before plucking, which I found surprisingly easy. Toni demonstrated on one and Jeff skinned the other. The gutting was unpleasant because of the smell but was over quickly. Then it was good wash under the tap and we were done. Toni advised the birds needed to rest for 2-3 days either in the fridge or the freezer to allow the meat to relax from the rigor mortis.
Then came the best bit – eating. On Sunday, 6th April, I prepared the most delicious casserole I think I’ve ever made, if I do say so myself.
Jo’s recipe for Edgefield Homegrown Chicken Casserole
Two whole chickens cut in quarters
Vegetable stock and water
Salt and pepper
I think that’s it for ingredients from memory. I just flew by the seat of my pants in terms of a recipe and it turned out great. The meat was really delicious. It was darker in colour, had more texture and was firmer than shop-bought chicken. The flavour was slightly gamier and more “chickeny” – just as Matthew Evans had described. Major thumbs up from all around my table so I was stoked.
So all round it was a very positive experience and one we are now prepared to continue doing, which is good because I’m rather enjoying breeding chooks and with that comes surplus roosters. This is by far the best thing I can think of doing with them.