Sunday, May 1, 2011

Homemade Rooster. From Scratch.

Some days start out with a plan, and those days at least resemble the idea that you had in your mind when you began them.  Some, the plans just fall through or get rearranged.  That leaves a small amount that fall in the last category.  Those days where you begin them as all other days, you have a plan and a general idea of your goings on, and then, all of the sudden, your day has been plucked up and plopped down in the middle of a crazed t.v. show, or an impossible cartoon, or outer space, or you just find yourself somehow, through a series of haphazard events, in a situation that you could have never imagined when you were brushing your teeth that morning.  Today, was one of the latter.

A few days ago, we bought 10 more hens and a rooster.  We needed a rooster to keep our ratio up.  Well, the Rhode Island Red that came to live with us was... borderline evil.  He never attacked us, but he was already pretty beaten up when he came here.  When introduced to another (larger) rooster, this guy went completely out of his mind- hungry for blood.  We;ve had roosters fight.  It's normal.  They fight, assume dominance, and then find a way to get along.  Not with Mr.  Rhode Island Red.  On more than one occasion I had to go save our other rooster from being innahilated.  Poor Andre would have his head shoved into a corner while Mr. Red was on his back, pecking and gnawling to blood.  I have no doubt in my mind that this rooster would kill any other roosters in his path.  We put him in a cage and fed him daily.  Not an ideal situation at all.

The other day, I was outside feeding this guy and complaining about his inability to get along with others when Asa looked up and said, "Well, let's eat 'em!"  I laughed.  But, Asa was serious.  He and Addison both agreed that something had to be done with this rooster.  I suggested letting him out of the fence so he could wander around and fend for himself.  Addison decided there were three options, kill him and eat him, kill him and sell him for someone else to eat, or just sell him.  Asa only had one option.  Dinner.

The rooster had gotten out of his cage and was terrorizing the chicken yard.  While Olive napped, the three of us ran around, sprinted around, the yard trying to catch him.  We tried to corner him, we tried to pounce on him, we tried to run him back into his cage.  At one point, the boys each had big limbs out of the burn pile and were waving them around on each side of themselves to try to help corral the ridiculous bird.  Finally, we got him into the cage.  Just in time to get Ivey from preschool.

I had talked to the boys a lot about how home raised meats are so much healthier for you than the bagged stuff you buy at the grocery store.  They know all of this.  On this day, they were trying to get me to take it to the next level.  As we left the house to pick up Ivey from preschool, I thought about the idea of doing this task.  I didn't know if I could, but I did know that it would be a great lesson in self-sustainability and in the importance of knowing where your food comes from.  Still, I didn't know if I could actually do it.

After we returned home and got Ivey down for a nap, we put Olive in her outdoor play yard and the three of us tried to make a decision.  I kept saying, "Boys, do you think we can do this?".  I said it so many times that Asa grew exasperated with me.  "Why do you keep saying that???  We can do it!!"  The decision was made.  We were going to actually kill this rooster, pluck it, gut it, and put it in a pot.  "Can we really do this?"

I found a traffic cone in the barn, widened the tip of it, and hung it in a tree.  I started a huge pot of boiling water on the outdoor gas range.  I took some rope, and the boys and I went to retrieve the villan.  Again, he bolted out of the cage.  We sprinted and dodged.  We ran and yelled and waved our arms.  We squatted.  We bolted.  At one point, I yelled to Addison, "This is P.E.!".  He yelled back, "This is FUN!".  Finally he was caught.  I think the racing around actually helped set the stage for the task at hand.  By the time we caught him, again, we were ready to kill him.  I just had to convince Addison that we couldn't "stone him to death" or shoot him.

I held the rooster by his feet.  As he hung upside down, he completely gave up any attempt to move.  The boys asked me how I had killed him already.  He did seem dead.  We decided that he knew that he was destined for the pot.  He is a chicken, afterall.  And, not a good one at that.  He never made a noise, never wiggled, he just knew he needed to be soup.  Before we got to any business, we thanked God for giving us the rooster to eat.  I think this was an important thing to do... It felt right.  Plus, I saw it in movies.

We placed the rooster into the upside down traffic cone until his head popped out the end.  Of course, I am an amateur at this killing cone business.  I had to widen the hole twice.  Finally, the head came out the end.  The boys and I had watched a YouTube clip of a man use this killing cone technique and chop off the chicken's head quite easily with hedge clippers.  I had hedge clippers, and an upside down rooster in a traffic cone... this should work!  With the boys standing behind me chanting things like "We eat chicken nuggets every day!" and "Just do it!", I finally snapped the clippers as hard as I could.  But, not hard enough.

It seems my ill prepared rooster killing left me with some fairly dull instruments of destruction.  I had to try again, and again, and again.  The rooster was most definitely dead (complete with the flopping around that you hear about, but in the cone, you don't see any of it except the neck/head), but the head was most definitely still attached.  After I realized that this approach was not working,  Asa found an axe (again, not the sharpest tool in the shed, I'm sure) and I laid the entire cone down, with the neck resting on a wooden block.  It took quite a few hacks (my aim is atrocious by the way), but the head did finally come off.  Any farmer who would have been unlucky enough to see this would have laughed his overalls off.  It was like if Lucille Ball tried to make a horror movie.

We disposed of the head, scalded the rooster, and I let the boys pluck the feathers.  Well, they both started out plucking feathers, but Addison ended up preferring Ivey and Olive duty.  I took over.  One this I noticed was that they came off way easier than you'd think.  The wings seemed like a huge waste of time and effort.  Lots of big feathers... very little meat.  So, I opted for chopping them off.  (Again, people who do this for real obviously have great knives and such!)  Towards the end, I realized that it would be very easy to just skin the thing.  So, I did.  Feet... removed.  Neck... removed.  Vent... Widened.  Innards... removed.  Asa tried to pick out the various organs and they were laid out on the freezer paper lining.  He hosed the bird off, remarking at how it now just looked like the ones at Publix.  We were done.

I cooked up the rooster in a pot with celery and onions, with the goal being to make soup.  However, we were so completely exhausted from the day of chicken chasing aerobics, adrenaline, running around looking for tools, and tending to little ones on the swingset, that it was now 7:30 and we were too tired to finish.  We went out for BBQ, and it was wonderful.

The outcome was not nearly as exciting as we had hoped.  My chopping and hacking job had left us with a 2 year old rooster, who likes to fight, who was not properly bled out.  I was terribly disappointed, but he wasn't really edible.  The good news is that Asa and Addison were very understanding when we explained that we had to have a "practice chicken"... and that a two year old rooster who likes to fight is the perfect practice bird.  Although we did not eat him for dinner, we learned some valuable lessons that will help us as we continue to homestead.... and help us as we are conscious of the connections that we have with our food.

And, the chicken yard is a quieter and more peaceful place...