I must confess I’ve been avoiding letting Doris out of her cage this week. The days have been wildly calm and clear, the lure of the river pure and unrelenting. There has been little to no incentive for kitchen play, I’ve been surviving on day-cations, coffee and carefully rationed ragu leftovers care of cheffy three days ago.
Unfortunately however, I can no longer continue to ignore the rooster carcass sitting on the second shelf of our fridge since Saturday. Owing to a friend’s enthusiasm for a good beheading on Bastille Day and another friend’s necessity for a farm rooster cull, the stars aligned for a perfect friendly Saturday morning rooster dispatch.
Few things prepare one for the visceral experience that is the death of an animal by your own hand.
One thing that might stand you in rather good stead however is a former life as a chicken farmer who oversaw the methodical death of thousands of chickens at the abattoir on a fortnightly basis. You may assume, with this kind of blood-spattered history, that the former chicken farmer would possess superior skill and finesse when the final moment came to blows. Spoiler alert: this is not at all how things played out.
To my dismay, my cleaver wielding skills leave a lot to be desired and rather than one swift neck connection, I required a second go (or two). That first miss was also accompanied by an extremely high-pitched panicked squeal on my behalf that a friend so kindly captured on video and promptly forwarded on.
Crest-fallen by my failure, on the next round I redeemed myself with a demonstration of the break-neck method, which administered by hand only, is a more intimate but somehow more humane technique, if you ask me (I would say that, given my previous attempt).
Once we’d taken care of about 10 birds we sat to plunge and duck our respective birds by hand. This process can be rather tedious, particularly with roosters who are renowned for clinging to their feathers after death.
Following the plucking it was onto the gutting table for a swift removal of innards, during which one attempts to avoid getting poo everywhere, and a clean up.
It took almost two hours to process those 10 birds which is a far cry from ‘commercial’ production that takes place in abattoirs and requires approximately 100 birds to be processed in an hour to be financially viable.
As we’re all too aware, there is no doubt that we consume meat in a manner than is entirely disconnected from the violent, stinky, dirty process of death and disembowelment. It is no wonder that nobody wants to hear about how an animal finds its way to being wrapped in plastic on a supermarket shelf.
I watched a TV program the other day that showed a fully grown woman tentatively handling a whole raw chicken and being completely traumatised by the process. The trauma that baking induces, that I understand, but God forbid that we should have to handle the fleshy protein we so desire in a form that reminds us of its living origins.
I am no stranger to death yet I found myself oddly confronted by the culling of the goose on Saturday just as I made to leave. A goose! The goose was fuller and more fluffy and for some reason less easy to compartmentalise the death of than the chickens. Is it because he was bigger that I felt the little pang of demise? Was it simply because he was of a different ilk to the other chickens that he stood out? Why did the goose’s life appear to matter more to me than the chickens’?
How do we measure the value of a life taken?
I pull the rooster out of the fridge and hope to plop it in a stock pot on the stove and walk away. I had entertained illusions of granduer, brining and barbecuing and all the rest of it but I decide that soup will do.
The bad news is there’s no stockpot big enough for my little mate and I have to break him down. I squint my eyes and attempt to claw back the memories in my mind of the few times I’ve had to break a chicken down.
Alternating between the two least blunt knives (I can hear Cheffy wincing in discomfort even though he is not observing me) I manage to get things unstuck and bits distributed into two pots. I am particularly proud of my Maryland cuts which I promptly send a photo of.
The pots of flesh and bones are simmering on the stove at present and I am sitting on the couch quietly, still marveling at the mysteries that death continues to conjure in every day life.
Of course, there is always something sweet to distract oneself with and in this case that sweetness will be in the form of Nigella Lawson’s lemon polenta cake. For less death and more sex, you may want to tune in for that one instead.