Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Deed Gets Done

Stop right here. This is a friendly warning. I'm posting some pictures of the butchering (my first) at Mike and Lori's from Sunday and a description of what I learned. I have pretty tastefully cropped and blurred the photos so that there isn't any bright-red blood, but there are some up-close ones of me skinning our rooster. Yes, I held it together and was able to participate somewhat.

Mike started with one of his own roosters to see how I would do, and while it was slightly alarming, I didn't get woozy or feel the world fogging in on me from the edges. (I've fainted enough to know when it's coming--usually in response to seeing my own blood.) To be as quick and painless about it as possible, he makes two long slits along the neck so that the blood spills out fast and the heart pumps it all out of the body. Of course, the chicken flops around after it's dead -- like we all know they do -- but one of the benefits of hanging them is that they're not running around. That could have gotten to me. (My mother and sister-in-law have horror stories of being chased by headless chickens.) So, when it was time, I got Camillo out of the cage and hung him myself. That's how I got all the feathers stuck to my hand. But I did not slit his throat. I wasn't sure I could do it in a way that would make the process quick and painless.
Then, once all of their roosters had also been butchered and the blood drained out, it was time to skin. Mike and Lori's new fire pit isn't finished yet, so instead of plucking these, he just skinned them. So we'll be using them for soup, not roasting, grilling or smoking. (Actually, we'll be making the roosters into Grandma Carrie's famous chicken-pot-pie!) Anyway. After watching him skin two, I said I was ready to try skinning Camillo. After he started turning them inside out, they really started looking more like "meat" and less like "rooster" -- and I've worked enough with supermarket chicken/turkey carcasses for that to feel familiar, so I was pretty sure I could do it. Mike got the legs started, which is tricky, but once he got that done and the entrails out, it was my turn.
That leg sticking out did hit me in the face a few times as I was trying to get my hands in the right position. Annoying. (In the background you can see their extensive gardens which supply us with a vast majority of our vegetables since we get a CSA box from them - MiLo Acres - every week.)
Here Mike is telling me that when I pull down on the skin, I'm supposed to cut at the point of greatest tension and keep working my way around, pulling down. My doctor husband pointed out that I have my knife at the wrong angle for cutting fascia (the connective tissue that surrounds muscles). You're supposed to hold the knife at a 90 degree angle to the muscle and just saw lightly back and forth. I altered my technique and of course, it worked much better. (I tried not to think about the fact that he knows this not from butchering chickens but from cutting humans! In medical school/residency, in surgery, of course. But still. Ugh.)

Or maybe that's Mike pointing out the wing joint that I had to sever. I had a tough time with it, but I got it eventually.
Next time, my challenge to myself will be to reach in and pull out the entrails. Actually slitting a throat may have to wait for the third time--or fourth. Who knows. We left the necks on, since they make for great soup meat. Then once they were rinsed off, we took 'em home to chill. (Mike and Lori graciously cleaned up.) Right now we have three birds tenderizing in the refrigerator. I also learned it's best to let them sit in the fridge a few days before freezing them or cooking them. Who knew?

Also interesting to note in this process, though I don't have a picture of it, was the color difference between our bird and the others. It could have been just a difference in breeds or ages, but my husband suspected it had to do with quick-twitch muscles. Our rooster got to free-range through the yard (and subsequently had to outrun the dog) so had developed his leg muscles more than Mike and Lori's who have a large outdoor pen, but don't actually free-range. I can look in the pan with the three birds, and easily pick out Camillo's purpler legs. Odd.

In hindsight, I'm glad I did this, and am proud of myself that I saw it through. If push came to shove, I've proven to myself I could provide for my family some of our meat-eating habits. I could raise and butcher chickens should the world collapse around me.

I was able to eat food that night and have not sworn off meat by any stretch of the imagination. We do buy nearly all of our meat from local farmers and are making a concerted effort to avoid supporting large, cruel farms with our purchase dollars. However, homesteading is not something I'm ready to commit to 100%. I have, however, offered to come and help with other butcherings in the future -- if for no other reason, so I can learn how to pluck.


alessa said...

I guess growing up watching Salmon and moose move from river to my mom's butcher block to freezer to table, I always knew where my meat came from, but I'm proud of you nonetheless, city girl! Sorta city girl? Ok, girl. : )

Victoria Solomon said...

I wish I could click "like" on this post about a 100 times! So awesome. I can't wait to be back in the States to do shit like this.
By the way, when I heard that rooster crowing unmercifully in the middle of the day at your house, your boys told me excitedly that they couldn't wait for him to be pot pie. Ha!