I came home after a week away and was awakened the first morning by the rooster crowing at 4 am. That sealed his fate. It had been a long time since I'd had an uninterrupted night's sleep, and I wasn't ready to go back to a 4 am wake-up call. Since it is a lot of work and angst to butcher/cull/harvest chickens, I decided that two of my oldest hens who haven't laid an egg in a year or two would meet their maker as well. One of them received a last minute pardon from my nine year old son who claims she is his favorite chicken, but no one cried over the rooster or the mean old hen. (Except my daughter, but only on principal, not because she liked them. She is a tenderhearted girl.)
I think this brings me down to twenty chickens, seventeen of which are middle-aged, if not quite perimenopausal. I think that when they stop laying, their day may also come, most likely early September this year.
I feel a certain amount of fear over the chickens, not because I feel bad about eating them, but because I am so afraid of hurting them or killing them badly. To put this into perspective, I'm also afraid to trim my dog's nails. I finally realized that sometimes you can outsource, and it doesn't need to be a cause for shame. Some people have no problem trimming dog nails, some people can butcher chickens. I do other things.
My father and husband stepped in for the part where I had to look away, but I stuck around for everything else. I have enough trouble touching chicken feet when they're alive let alone grabbing filthy dead chicken feet to swirl a bird in hot water before plucking them.
Once I removed the head and feet I felt much more reassured that the bird was done suffering and the rest really wasn't too bad. In fact, once I saw the quality of the meat I knew I'd be doing this again. So if this is really disturbing to you, don't look, but if you were ever interested in anatomy, keep reading.
It's hard to post a recipe where every single picture looks like cat food. This may be a huge downfall, but rest assured, this tastes great. My children love it, and even I have been forced to admit that it's pretty good. This hails, more or less, from a recipe on Saveur.com. It's quick, simple, and turns something potentially icky into a luxury. If you buy whole chickens that come with the liver, save them in the freezer until you have enough to try this.
I used to hate this passionately. Somewhere along the line it moved from disgusting to sick fascination to occasional indulgence to near love affair. Now and then I even crave this, but it's my kids who love it. I guess not everything is genetic.
The original recipe called for chicken stock instead of water, but since it's all drained off except for 1/4 cup, that feels like a horrible waste to me. Also, sometimes I boil the eggs in the same water since I rarely have boiled eggs lying around.
1/2 pound chicken livers, trimmed of any tough or yucky bits
2 hard boiled eggs
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, minced
1-1/2 tablespoons brandy
salt and pepper to taste
some kind of bread for serving
Cook the chicken livers in simmering water just until no longer pink and barely cooked through. (Overcooked liver is tough and disgusting.) Drain it, but RESERVE 1/4 CUP OF THE COOKING WATER. Add the livers and the cooking water to a food processor. Brown the onion in the butter and add that to the processor bowl with the two hard-boiled eggs, the brandy, and salt and pepper. Blend it until it's smooth. Taste and season it for salt and pepper.
Maybe this is an odd recipe to post on Memorial Day weekend, when everyone in their right mind is either camping or grilling. This recipe is so simple I almost didn't post it, but after some thought I decided that was the charm. It really is easy. The yogurt gives the stew a nice tangy flavor, and next time I'd like to try this with cream instead of the yogurt. I'd also like to try some more exciting Afghani dishes, but this was easy on a weekday and great served with rice and a roasted vegetable. According to Helen Saberi in Afghan Food & Cookery, this dish can be made with chicken as well without sacrificing authenticity although I plan on doing just that when I try this with cream next time. You can make this ahead of time and reheat it right before dinner.
I have eaten amazing Afghani food and ho-hum Afghani food, but I am hoping to find the great recipes in Helen Saberi's book. Her vegetables call for vegetable oil, but I use a blend of equal parts olive oil, coconut oil, and sesame oil. I bet that the traditional cooking fat was lamb fat, but that is impossible to find. Some day...
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1/4 cup of oil
1 pound of boneless lamb or chicken
1 tablespoon on tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
2 whole cardamom pods
salt and pepper
3/4 cup full fat yogurt
P.S. My husband deserves full credit for the cream idea. I'll post an update once we try it.
I made a horrible, lean, watery cabbage soup that I had to feed to the chickens because it was so bad. I had trusted the cookbook author and followed the recipe exactly. Big mistake, but here is the antidote. Chicken, beef, AND pork! It's rich and satisfying. It won't leave you wondering if times are really so desperate after all, and it serves 12. So make it for a big group, or make it once and freeze the rest for future dinners when you need something instant. You need an ENORMOUS pot.
This recipe calls for yuca, or cassava. You can usually find it in a Latin grocery store, and sometimes already peeled in the frozen section. It has a nice gummy texture; I believe tapioca is made from yuca. The preparation is simple. Peel it, cut it into manageable 2" sections, and remove the tough cord that grows down the center since it's impossible to chew. It wasn't until later that I read somewhere that it's poisonous before you cook it. It would have been nice to know earlier, but I was never tempted to pop the woody tuber in my mouth anyway. Here is a complete step-by-step tutorial on how to prepare yuca for cooking if you feel like you need it.
The tomato sauce that seasons the whole dish is so good I will at least double it next time. It would be so good over eggs or spooned onto just about anything. This recipe is from Saveur, and they based it on a recipe from Secrets of Colombian Cooking by Patricia McCausland-Gallo.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large tomato
3/4 cup chopped scallions
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 whole chicken
1-1/2 pounds pork spareribs, separated
1 pound beef brisket or stew meat
a few springs of cilantro
1 tablespoon salt
4 cloves garlic
2 pounds cassava, peeled and cut into 2" pieces
2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 head of cabbage, thinly sliced
3 avocados sliced for serving
white rice to serve along with the soup
I promise I won't post every single time a chicken dies, but indulge me. This is the last time. I know no one cares, but this was truly awful. My pet, my beautiful rooster, the gentleman, the pimp... breathes his last today. He was beating up on one of the hens. I don't know what he had against her, but sweet little Martha, the first hen to accept him into the flock, has all of her feathers missing from the back of her neck. She is a bloody mess.
She hides from the rooster all day in the nesting box, and beneath the feathers she has left it is clear she is skinny since he won't let her eat. It's really hard to say when you've never had a rooster before what is normal and what is not, but this doesn't seem normal to me. I know when to fold.
Big Foot, a.k.a. Humperdinker, had a lot of really good days. He foraged. He mated with so many hens so frequently it would make most grown men jealous. He spent every spare minute crowing, confident that he ruled the world. He ruined an entire neighborhood's slumber at exactly 4:30 am every single morning.
I've temporarily abandoned my plans to raise birds or rabbits for meat. It turns out I'm too sensitive to live. I can't help making pets out of livestock. This means I will never be able to raise a goat for milk. What would I do with the cute little baby goats? I probably couldn't even fish successfully at this point.
Such a disappointment.
A Few Days Later...
Well, it certainly has been quieter around the neighborhood. I haven't slept this well in a few months. I'm no longer terrified that the neighbors are going to turn us in for an illegal rooster. Martha has been eating as much as she can and she already looks like she's put on weight. I do have to give Big Foot credit where it is due, however- the day after he left we lost a hen. He kept them in line and never let the stupid ones visit the neighborhood dogs.
And finally, as thrilling as it was to experience some quiet, there are three wild turkeys gobbling away behind our house. Just listen.
Long before I ever ate at an Indian restaurant, there was this chicken curry from Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook. When it cooks, I always think this is what chicken curry should taste like. It's also very simple and adaptable to what you have on hand. It is nothing but dump, stir, dump, stir.
2 pounds of chicken, cut in pieces if it is a whole chicken
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup cilantro or mint
1-2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
1-1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon chili (you can double this or leave it out completely)
1/2 cup yogurt
2 tomatoes, chopped OR 2 tablespoons tomato paste in a pinch
Blend the onion, garlic, ginger, and cilantro or mint in a food processor. You can, of course, chop it all up by hand if you choose. Fry it in a pot in a little oil until it has cooked a little. Add in the turmeric, garam masala, salt, and chili. Fry it for a minute, then add the yogurt and tomatoes. When the tomato starts to break down, add in the chicken. Bring it to a boil, then turn it down to simmer and cover it. You will have to check it and give it a stir now and then to make sure it doesn't burn. If it gets too dry before the chicken is done, add a little water. When the chicken is done, turn up the flame to evaporate the extra liquid and thicken the sauce. Serve it with rice and a vegetable or salad.
During an introspective moment (with an audio recording of Peter Pan playing in the background) I realized I had more in common with Captain Hook than any of the fun-loving characters found in Neverland. I bark orders, I occasionally resent the light-hearted children around me, and I do my best to run a tight ship.
When my son's history book suggested having a Moorish feast, I instantly recognized a chance to redeem myself. I would be light-hearted and fun, I would not spend hours researching and shopping for authentic paella recipes, and I would not take myself too seriously.
I got a little aggravated during the preparations and didn't come off as cheery as I'd hoped, but the kids had a great time in spite of me. We played flamenco music and ate by candlelight on the floor. It was lovely, and I will do it again.
This activity was suggested in The Story of the World Activity Book Two: The Middle Ages, edited by Susan Wise Bauer. The whole meal cost no more than $15.
Spanish Rice style Rice-a-Roni
one supermarket rotisserie chicken, cut in pieces
1 -14.5 oz. can Italian Style Stewed Tomatoes, strained
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
Dump it all in a pan, bring it to a boil, cover it, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve it on a plate with the chicken on the rice.
The Moors ate at long, low tables with cushions. We played flamenco and discussed bull fighting and soccer in hopes that our kids would make the connection, but it turns out we shouldn't have bothered. My son thought we were pretending to be in Pompeii.
I never knew Rice-A-Roni could be so good.
"Most disquieting reflection of all, was it not bad form to think about good form?
This post is about what happened to my chicken, what to do with a whole chicken, and of course a recipe for Chicken Paprikash. After what felt like an eternity of bleeding, hacking, dying, and disemboweling, we were finally ready to cook. I had considered freezing all the meat to give myself a little time to absorb and forget all the slaughter, but how many times in life does a girl like me get to taste fresh chicken? And how many times will I have a Hungarian in my kitchen offering to show me firsthand how to make Chicken Paprikash? I'm guessing only once. Here is a picture of what we were left with.
I know, I know. Me too. Yikes. You can imagine how I felt. But you will notice how red all the meat looks. The breast meat looks like dark meat. Everything had been rubbed down with salt and rinsed multiple times. The stomach had been cleaned out and then kissed (literally) to show that it was perfectly safe now. Into one bowl went the skin, the wing tips, the head, the back, etc, for making a soup. Into another bowl went all the pieces destined for the Chicken Paprikash. I lobbied for the feet to go toward the soup, but was overruled. Apparently feet are incredibly sweet. Same for the comb and the testicles.
There was a comic strip a few years back that shows a hen feeding her sick rooster chicken soup. "It's supposed to be good for you," she tells him. "And don't worry, it's no one we know." It's become something of a family joke, and it was a little difficult to eat someone we knew.
But the flavor was so much better than any chicken I have ever eaten before. It was a little tougher, but I don't think that meat should have the same texture as butter anyway. I must have had three helpings, and I sat there staring at the foot, thinking that if that was the best part, I was really missing out. So if you ever have the opportunity to try fresh meat like this, take it.
1 chicken cut in pieces with most of the skin and fat removed
3 tablespoons of Hungarian paprika
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon salt
fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup red wine
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup water
1/2-1 cup sour cream
Soup for the rest of the chicken...
I don't have all the pictures of this one, but I wanted to keep a record of it here anyway. Take all the rest of the chicken bits that seem a little exotic or unusable, like some of the skin, the head, back, etc, and put them in a stock pot. Add one unpeeled onion and fill it with water. Add about a tablespoon of salt, though you will need more later. Bring this to a boil and let it simmer for about an hour. Then add two peeled potatoes, two peeled carrots, a little broccoli, and a parsnip if you have it. When the vegetables are cooked through, remove them. Boil one pound of angel hair pasta, drain it, and toss it with a little of the broth so it doesn't all stick together. Season the broth and serve it with the vegetables and pasta in separate dishes.
It's been about a month since I realized we had three roosters, and I have spent the entire month debating the fate of my three pets. I know the answer is obvious, but sometimes you have to get there in your own good time.
I can be overly sensitive. I have tried at least twice to de-beard mussels, and each time I nearly passed out part way through. I start out tough as nails, and then I start to wonder what kind of pain they might be experiencing. Before I know it my whole body feels hot and the room starts to spin. It detracts from the dining experience enough that I stick to clams now.
Last summer my husband and I bought my dad an enormous live lobster for his birthday. It was a great idea until the pot turned out to be waaaay too small. Apparently you really have to measure the monster from CLAW to tail, not head to tail, for an accurate measurement. The tail thrashed in agony. My dad shouted, "It's SUFFERING!" and left the room. Tears were shed and tempers flared. It was more funereal than festive to say the least.
So for the roosters, I realized that research was necessary and that maybe, just maybe, I was not the person for this job. So I have been interviewing unwitting candidates for a while now, kind of the way you would start asking around if you were thinking about going back to work and needed to find a good nanny. I make mental notes- too brutal, too cavalier, too eager, not gentle enough, looks too hungry.
It's hard to find the right fit.
And with all this, I have three roosters crowing together every morning from roughly 4:30 to 7:00. They harmonize, and I'm pretty sure that all my neighbors hate me. Yesterday morning I saw the three of them ganging up and mounting one poor hen. Roosters don't seem to understand that no means no, and I was out there in the early hours screaming "get off of her, you pig!". I'm sure the neighbors loved that too.
Finally, we butchered the chickens with the help of a man who was raised on a farm in Hungary. (I say "we", but by "we" I don't mean "me," not at all. My long-suffering husband was the one who did all the nasty work while I hid like the coward I am.) It was a depressing afternoon for me. Every time I started to turn green, my husband would strengthen my resolve by reminding me of the gang rape taking place in our backyard.
They dug a hole in the backyard for the blood. We boiled an enormous pot of water, one much bigger than the one the lobster went into, and they were ready. The birds bled out pretty quietly, and once they were good and dead I came out to watch. Chickens take a lot of work. Way more than I had realized. After dipping them in boiling water the feathers came right out by the handful. The feet had to be dipped in as well, and then the scaly skin peeled off. Next the birds were singed over an open flame.
Inside, he rubbed them all over with salt to disinfect them. (This was supposed to be my job. No way. Just couldn't bring myself to touch it.) I'll spare you the rest of the gory details, but it was quite an anatomy lesson. Each part of the chicken was cleaned, rubbed with lots of salt, and then rinsed and set in a bowl of cold water. The innards did smell foul until it all got cleaned up.
I'm including some pictures below, but if you don't want to see any of this, feel free to skip it. I'm not going to claim that it will enrich your life.
The good news is that no one's dying, and the bad news is that the annual November cold has finally hit my kids. So it's chicken soup for us. I spent years making a Korean chicken soup, then a Vietnamese version, but this has been my favorite for the last few years. My husband, who hates the flavored water known as soup, genuinely likes this and is genuinely surprised every time that he does.
This was a happy accident. I tried a recipe which turned out to be really awful, and this is what happened when we fixed it. The addition of feta to chicken soup seems a little strange, but it's so good! It adds a nice salty note. If you hate feta you could use goat cheese or queso fresco. I would use 4 peppers, and I have in the past, but I'm afraid that it might make the soup spicy and I want my kids to eat this. I have a sneaking suspicion that these peppers aren't spicy at all, but it's been so long since I've used the full amount that I can't remember anymore and end up playing it safe every time. The rice will continue to swell over time, so one cup will make a really thick soup, but not until the next day. If you want a lighter soup, use only 1/2-3/4 cup of rice.
1. Wash out the chicken and remove the liver, neck, heart, and gizzards. (I put the liver in one freezer bag and save it until I have enough to make liver pate, the rest I put in a freezer bag with other odds and ends until I'm ready to make stock.)
2. Put the chicken in a stock pot and add barely enough water to cover the chicken. Less is better. Bring the pot to a boil and skim the scum off with a slotted spoon. Add the onion and garlic and turn it down to a simmer. Let it simmer for 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
3. In the meantime, place the 4 guajillo chiles in boiling water and boil away for 10 minutes until they are soft. Drain them, remove the stems and seeds, and blend them in a processor with the tomatoes. If the skins haven't softened or really broken down, you can press the whole mess through a sieve. Add it to the chicken when you're done.
4. When the chicken has cooked through take the chicken out and allow it to cool before removing the meat and chopping or shredding it. Stir in the rice and cabbage and simmer until it's cooked through, then add the chicken back in. Season it with salt and pepper and serve it with a sprinkling of feta and cilantro if you have it.
I love trying new foods, cooking, and gardening. I hope to share these experiences on this site. Thanks for taking a look!