Saturday, September 1, 2012

Turning a Rooster into a Meal

This past spring, we fell for the trick at the local feed supply store, where if you buy a bag of chicken feed, you get six chicks free.  We split them with a friend, and they were supposed to be pullets, or female chickens.  Apparently someone at the hatchery isn't very good at their job, or the feed store got a deal on chicks and didn't care what they were.  Either way, the three chicks we raised and nurtured, hoping that one day they would repay the favor with fresh eggs for our family, turned out to all be roosters!  All of them!  Roosters!

With a flock of only 15 hens, having three roosters is at least two too many.  Once we figured out that at least one was a rooster, he ended up on Craigslist.  The rooster was posted just before I left for work on a Friday evening.  Before I could get half way home, I already received a call.  The post was very clear that I didn't care if it was for breeding or for their pot.  The rooster had to go.  One down.

The Oldest Son got somewhat attached to the other roosters, and was trying to convince the Good Wife and I that we should keep them, at least one.  Since it was warm this summer, the windows were closed, and the chickens in their coop at 5:30 in the morning when the roosters would start to crow.  Their crowing could be faintly heard if already awake, but it wasn't too strong to wake you up early.  Kind of a novelty around the place, having a rooster that actually crows.

This happy, "Let's keep the roosters!" attitude all changed a couple weeks ago when they started getting aggressive and attacking the boys.  One chased the Oldest Son all the way from the coop to the house.  When Youngest Son went to get the eggs in the afternoon, he also go chased away from the coop.  These "stories" were brushed aside.  Until one chased the Good Wife.  At that point, everyone else in the house was abandoning their chicken chores, and I was getting stuck having to feed them, water them and collect the eggs.  The roosters had to go!

The family and the Good Wife's sister headed to Virginia Beach for Labor Day weekend so the Good Wife could run in a half marathon.  I stayed home since the usual dog sitter was not available.  No time like the present to "turn the roosters into a meal."

**WARNING - From this point on it is more of a pseudo tutorial on processing a chicken.  Some photos may be graphic to some people.  However, if you eat chicken, it is a fact of life.  **

My friend Scott, who got me into the whole "meat chicken" concept, was also in town as his wife was running the same half marathon with the Good Wife.  So we decided to take care of them at their house, since he had a large stainless steel counter outside he had gotten from a hospital when it was renovated.  So step 1, catch the roosters.

This wasn't as difficult as anticipated since they were still in the coop.  Corner one and grab it's legs.  Grab the other one off the roost.  Put them into the dog crate in the back of the car.  Yes, the car.  The Good Wife and family had the Expedition at the beach.  I guess it was payback for having put the "CKN FRMR" license plate on the Good Wife's car.

At least I put down some plastic garbage bags to keep them from making too much of a mess.  These roosters had gotten big in the six months we had them.

These are Barred Rock, or Plymouth Rock chickens.  Actually very nice looking roosters.  It was decided to do the smaller one first, in case things didn't go as planned, and we could only do one, then I could keep the bigger one for a little longer.  Step 2: Tie the rooster upside down by their feet so you can slit their throat and let them bleed out.

This was much more difficult than with the Red Rangers this spring for several reasons.  These chickens have a lot more feathers around their necks, which makes it much more difficult to get down to the skin and the veins on either side of their necks.  Also, not having a "kill cone" to hold them still, they tend to flop around when trying to cut their necks.  But as you can see, the job got done.  After a few minutes of bleeding out, Step 3: Plucking.

Although we had a large pot of water up to 150F for scalding, we decided to try dry plucking, just for the learning experience.  It wasn't too difficult, but not as easy as the Featherman Plucker.  The small downy feathers started floating around and made it difficult to breathe.  Instead of the 30-40 seconds with the Featherman, it was more like 15 minutes!  The second rooster we scalded just for comparison. It did seem easier to pluck when scalded, but the feathers were all wet and stuck to your hands more, making it a bit messier.

Step 4: Cut off the legs.  As you bend the leg, you can feel the joint where the lower leg and the upper leg come together.  Cut in between that joint, cutting the tendon holding them together.  This is easier to find after processing a few chickens.

(We didn't pluck all the feathers on the butt since you never hear anyone at the dinner table say, "Please pass the butt."  We cut that off anyways, making it easier.)

Step 5: Cut off the neck.  It is best to cut all the way around the neck and then snap the neck bone, so that you don't end up with splinters of bone in the meat at the end.

This step is a preference issue.  How much neck do you want left on the chicken.  Most Americans aren't used to getting much neck on the chicken and don't prefer it, but there is a lot of meat on the neck and is great for making stock.  We decided to cut toward the lower end of the neck.

Step 6:  Cut off the butt.  Actually, what you are doing is cutting off the oil glad up on the top of the butt area.  You don't want the oil gland to get cut up and get all over the meat contaminating the meat.  The easiest way, just cut it all off.

Step 7: Roll the chicken on it's back, and pinch the skin just above the anus.  Then cut a slot in the skin, being careful not to cut deep into the cavity of the chicken.  This slot will allow you to open up the chicken to clean out the inside.  If you cut deep, you risk cutting into the intestine and contaminating the meat.

Step 8: Pull the carcass apart at the bottom, making room to reach in and get all the insides out.  It isn't easy as you pull the cavity open.  It takes some strength to break some of the connective tissue, but the wider you can spread it, the easier to clean out.

Step 9: Reach in and pull out all the insides.  This is easier said than done.  The main parts are easy to get out, but you have to make sure to get the esophagus out, which is tough and slippery.  You almost have to wrap it around your finger and pull.

The other tough part is the lungs.  After getting everything else out, the light pink spongey areas stuck in the cavity are the lungs.  They make tools specifically for this task, it is that difficult.  But if you are patient and careful, you can get your finger under the upper end of the lung and pull it out.

Step 10: As seen above, cut around the anus and pull it out without cutting the intestine that is attached to it.  Again, easier said than done, but not overly difficult.

Step 11:  Rinse it off, do a quick quality control check for pin feathers, and bag it up, ready for the refrigerator.  The meat needs to "rest" for 24 hours before freezing, so the meat will be tender.  Although, with these older roosters, they still may require slow cooking.

And there you have it, the basic process of turning a rooster from a backyard bully into a meal.  By the way, we have 129 Cornish Cross chicks growing, getting ready for the freezer later in October.  But more on that later.

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