Spring Rain Farm is now down to only 492 chickens (give or take.) The culprit? An owl we think, though there are many natural predators in the area: coyotes, neighbor dogs, the occasional cougar and eagles. Yesterday evening as farmers John and Roxanne were making the rounds and shooing the birds back into their coops for the night, they found the Unfortunate 8 and brought them home to the cooler. The first task of the morning? Firing up the hot water bath, bringing out the knives and finishing the job.
First you get the water up to at least 145 degrees – you don’t want it boiling because that ruins the skin of the chickens. A 45 second plunge for each bird and then onto the table to pluck out all the feathers, and this is no small feat, tedious as it may be. Chicken pluckers were invented for a reason (a vat with rubber “spikes” with a centrifugal motor spins the chicken round and round and gets pretty much all the feathers on a bird).
Once you’ve gotten the bird as clean as you can, clip off its feet at the “knee” hinges and its head, turn the bird belly-up and make a slice (poultry scissors look like regular scissors except they have a metal ball on the end of one of the legs, this is so you don’t have to worry about puncturing something inside the skin where you can’t see it) just above its anus to just below the breastbone. There’s a lot of fat here and you can clear that away, then eviscerating is just a matter of pulling out and tossing everything except the liver (be careful not to puncture the gall-bladder, it spills over everything with the neon-green bile and leaves a nasty taste in its wake) the heart and possibly the gizzard, if you’re into that. Also, don’t forget to nip out the little oil gland on the bird’s behind just above its tail, removing this little pocket makes for a better tasting chicken dish. The bird is now ready to be given a good rinsing to the inside and either frozen or cooked immediately.
We froze 2, put up 4 in crock pots to slow simmer a stock which we will can in the next couple of days, and the other 2 birds were further cut up and baked. Sorry for the chickens, but they had a quick end of it and will nourish us with young, free-ranged meat for the next few weeks.
*Note: the term “Free-Range” on packaged poultry or eggs in the grocery store DOES NOT mean what you might think; it only means that somewhere in the birds’ pen they have an opening that allows them the option of going out into natural sunlight. But most birds in larger operations may never venture out that far and can be just as packed as conventional chicken. The best thing is to KNOW YOUR FARMER and even go see how the animals are raised.