“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Notes on chicken butchery

Yum, homemade pizza!
I used the Penzey's Italian Sausage seasoning and made pork sausage some time ago. It is really delicious on pizza.
We made Chicken Apple Sausage today, using the recipe in the Aidells Sausage Book that I brought with me from the US. The recipe calls for 3.5 pounds of thigh meat and skin. I had to adapt the recipe, because we had two freshly killed roosters to use. Since plucking feathers is a huge pain in the ass, Darin pulls off the skin and feathers, leaving the meaty carcass behind. So, I needed a whole chicken with skin to make the recipe complete. I bought a free-range, corn fed Turks chicken at the supermarket.
First, let me say that I am glad to have the choice to buy a free-range chicken at all. They are typically more expensive, but I think it is worth the cost because I think the factory farming conditions are horrific. There is a recent article about the cost of fresh chicken (factory vs free range vs organic) in the NZ Herald (link here including stupid pun). I bought a "size 16" chicken, which says it weighs a minimum of 1.5 kg. Cost was about $14 or 15 NZ Dollars. Even your factory farmed whole chicken will cost about $8-10 here, which was a real shock. I used to buy whole chickens for about $.50 per pound in San Diego, or about $3-4/bird. And turkeys, they would just give them away at Thanksgiving time if you spent enough money at the supermarket. When I moved to NZ, I stopped eating as much poultry as I used to because of the cost and the realization of the sad reality of factory farms. I like chickens, not just for eating. Which reminds me: vegetarians and vegans, stop using factory farming/animal cruelty as an argument to join your ranks. Factory farming is a reason to seek out and buy free-range meat.
The increased cost in NZ vs the US is not because they raise the chickens longer in NZ. The standards seem to be pretty much equivelant; the chickens are killed at just 6 weeks. To my knowledge, the same variety of fast growing bird is used for factory and free range farming. Our roosters, in contrast, were Barred Rocks age about 6 months.
So, getting past the cost, what else are the differences? Have a look at the photos below.
Above is the meat from one of our roosters, and below is the store-bought chicken.The commercially produced chicken is much lighter, paler in color than our chicken meat. Like the store-bought chicken, the chickens were bled out after killing. When I mentioned the color difference to my coworker who used to own a chicken farm in the Phillipines, she said the chickens get washed in an antibacterial wash. This makes sense, because the chickens need to stay "fresh" on the grocery shelf until purchase or use.
The texture is also very different. I found our chickens much more firm and resistant to the knife. The tendons were tough, and I spent some time teasing out the tendons from the legs. In contrast, the commercially produced chicken was soft throughout. The meat was mushy by comparison, and I found my knife slipping repeatedly into the bones. I don't enjoy cutting up chickens. It's a bit like doing a disection, and I've done plenty of those in my scientist past. But with chicken you get to eat the results and it doesn't smell so bad. I am not easily grossed out, but that third chicken, which was the free range store bought chicken, was looking pretty gross. It just didn't look or feel anything like our backyard chickens. It was weird. I am sure I would have found it completely normal if I hadn't had experience cutting up our chickens.
Since we ground them all together, the relative toughness vs tenderness and flavor of the meat couldn't be determined. Sausage making is much more fun when done as a team, but it takes a good 2-3 hours. We have a hand-crank grinder which is slow, but very user-friendly. Darin really likes to crank it. Or maybe he just likes to see me handling the sausages.We used dried apples that we made using our apple peeler/corer tool and food dephydrator. They are way more delicious than the store bought ones. I was surprised that the amount of dried apple the recipe called for was the equivelant of about 4 or 5 apples, that filled our entire dryer and took about 12-14 hours. The apples are in season now, and I am a huge fan of the Jazz apple. This is a NZ variety that costs a bit more due to the royalties that get paid to the developers. I would love to plant one of the trees but they are not available except to commercial growers. Drat!