Vamos a la playa, caliental sol. (The sun is heating, let’s go to the beach)
It was this old Spanish tune that my Abuela Rora would sing as we’d walk in the early, salty, brisk air of Chipiona, Spain. One hand clutching her wheeled market bag and the other mine, we’d head off to the Plaza to buy our food for the day. On one particular morning, instead of our normal route we ventured off course. With her market bag thumping behind us, we winded down a small cobblestone street when I began to hear noises. “What is that?” I asked my Abuela. “Gallinas,” (Chickens). I slowly looked up at my Abuela when she said, “we’re here.”
I was 11 years old when my Abuela taught me what to look for in a live chicken. She told me to look at their feet and bright red tallons. If they looked tired in the eyes… pass. It had to be a gallina, an older chicken, which carries the most fat. As we looked them over one by one, she let me choose which one to bring home.
In today’s society, chickens are no longer bred or raised as they were in days past. Today an average chicken is raised for a mere 5 weeks. They are bred to be breast heavy weighing anywhere from 6 to 8 pounds. If one of these chickens lives past 6 weeks, they will die of internal collapse. We have bred obese chickens void of any fat or flavor.
Being from Iowa, I live within our industrial food system. It only takes ten minutes driving out of the city to see where most of our processed and fast food industry gets their chicken.
|Chicken confinement without any windows stretches over a half mile.
Eating chicken was once a luxury. The Sunday roast was a special occasion meant to be saved for the finest meat and eaten as a family. Today, chicken is cheap. Plastic wrapped in single pieces, tossed with plain veggies and fat free spray oil. And the nourishment in this chicken? Well… how healthy would you be if you never saw the day of light and were kept in a tightly squeezed room with thousands of other people?
Heritage breed animals are traditional breeds of animals that were raised in the past. Due to our industrial food system, their numbers have drastically fallen and in the last 15 years, almost 200 breeds of farm animals have gone extinct worldwide. Heritage breed animals are better suited to open pastures, to withstand disease and tolerate the open environment.
I now understand why chicken meat was once a luxury. It takes time and energy to raise these chickens in a sustainable manner. For 16 weeks, I started every morning by moving my chicken tractor to a different part of my yard. I fed them a natural feed and towards the final weeks gave them extra weeds from my community garden, whey and clabber from fresh raw milk. The whey acting as a natural dewormer. I paid attention to them as they basked in the sunlight with plenty of room to spread their wings. This is how God intended for animals to be raised.
What will follow are the next steps to raising your own meat. Field dressing a chicken. As difficult as this may seem, it’s how I feel I can do my part to ensue sustainability. By giving these live stock the best conditions in how they are raised and humanely take their life, I feel it’s showing my utmost respect to the animal. After all, we are all living and breathing. Remember, in order for one to keep living, one must die (spiritually as well).
Field Dressing a Chicken
There are plenty of websites that can show you the graphic representation of culling a chicken. My step by step process is not graphic and meant to encourage you to think about raising your own chickens even in an urban backyard.
Step 1: Mise en place.
Before starting on the process, make sure to gather all necessary equipment and set up your stations for organization and hygiene.
What you will need:
- A sharp knife.
- A culling station with somewhere to hang the chicken.
- A rounded cone and bucket for the cull and to drain the blood.
- A large container with water at 180 – 190 degrees fahrenheit. Just under boiling.
- A de-feathering station.
- A cleaning station with a water hose or outdoor sink.
- A trash can.
- A large container or ice chest filled with ice.
- 2 1/2 gallon ziplock bags.
- A mason jar to save the chicken fat within the cavities.
- Small ziplock bags to save the chicken livers and/or gizzards.
Step 2: The Cull. Catch a chicken and place him into the cone facing head down. This will allow his wings to be held together and not flap so violently after death. Bring the chickens head down and with a very sharp knife, slice just below the jaw line and into the jugular, an artery. This will allow the blood to drain. As soon as the blood starts draining the chicken immediately passes out and dies.
Allow the chicken to hang for a minute or two and then cut the head off. Once the head is cut off, let the chicken hang for another minute or two to make sure all of the blood has drained (It’s really not that much blood).
Step 3: Plunge the chicken
into the hot water bath for 45 seconds to 1 minute. This allows some of the fat to melt around the pin feathers making it easier to de-feather.
Step 4: De-Feather. Quickly tuck the chickens legs under his breast and begin to pull out the pin feathers from around the wings and tails first as these can be difficult to pull out once the bird cools.
Step 5: Cleaning the chicken.
Cut the feet off at the joint.
After you have cut the feet off, starting at the neck, find two tubes that are binded together. The crop and the esophagus. Separate them and pull each one down the neck as far down as you can and cut them off.
Next. Turn your bird around, feet facing up, to begin to cut the bird open.
- Make your first cut right below the chickens vent.
- From the tip of the rib cage, in a triangular shape, cut down to where you made your first incision. Make sure to cut through the fat until you start to see the inside of the cavity.
- Grab the open flesh and coming down in a triangular shape on the other side, cut it off.
- Stick your hand into the open cavity and with your fingers curled, starting from the back, scoop everything out. (You may have to tug a little, but that’s it!) Make sure to scrape the lungs out that are embedded into the back.
Save any internal fat from the cavity and around the organ meats as well as the chicken livers. Make sure to cut off the bile sac from the liver without puncturing it. (Next year I plan on saving the gizzards, hearts and combs)
Rinse the cavity with a water hose or outdoor sink.
Before moving on, I wanted to focus on this picture.
Look at how much nourishing fat is on this traditional heritage breed chicken. All poultry fat contains the monounsaturated fatty acid palmitoleic acid, which boosts our immune system. Chicken fat has more palmitoleic acid than most other types of poultry. The main monounsaturated fatty acid in poultry fat is oleic acid, well known for its beneficial effects on cholesterol. To top that off, if your chicken has been pastured on grass and weeds, it’s fat also has a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin d.
On a culinary level, chicken fat is low in polyunsaturated fatty acids making it a great fat to cook and fry with as it’s heat stable at high temperatures. In terms of taste and flavor, wow! I can’t wait to make traditional chicken confit or chicken rillettes.
Once the bird is rinsed and clean, cut off the tail which holds it’s oil gland and package each chicken into individual 2 1/2 gallon ziplock bags. Immediately place them into a large bucket or ice chest with enough ice to cool. Once cooled they can be transferred to the freezer.
(* The best thing about blogging is meeting new friends with experience and wisdom. Diane from Peaceful Acres let me know that you should leave the chickens in the ice for 2 – 3 hours. After this time they should then be transferred to the refrigerator to cure for 2 days before storing to the deep freeze. Thank you Diana! )
For nutrition, taste and flavor, save your chicken fat and render it for future culinary uses.
I was a little hesitant to share this post for challenge #4 of Project Food Blog because in our day in age this entire process can seem, well… ghetto. However, when we start to embrace tradition, visually see how it’s done and understand the environmental and nutritional benefits, we can begin to make change. We don’t all have to do this in our own backyards but we all can support local family farmers. Let’s make our chicken a special meat once again and give it the value that it deserves.
I encourage you to not frown at the price difference between a store bought chicken and a locally raised chicken but instead learn to stretch the meat. Buy your chicken whole, learn to enjoy the dark meat and save your bones for mineral rich bone broth. Let’s all make that same trip with Abuela Rora and re-learn what we once intuitively knew. Pastured, free range chicken with fat is incomparable in taste and in nutrition.
If you’d like to see me move to challenge #5 of Project Food Blog, please vote for me
. Thank you to everyone that has voted for me so far.