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.
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.
- 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 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.
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.
- 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.
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! )