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Playing (with) Chicken

Yesterday I went off to calygrey's house and learned quite a lot about the insides of chickens.

Chicken Butchering 101

(1) Catch your chicken. She already had the four roosters penned in an old dog house, so catching them today was relatively easy.

(2) Kill your chicken. No cleaver. The cleaner way is to hold the chicken upside down with your hand around its legs, get its head between your foot and the ground, and jerk up to break the neck. Then you drop it on the ground and let it flop frantically around for a few minutes till it realizes it's dead.

(3) Scald your chicken. Have a big pot of water ready with the temperature around 150-160 degrees Fahrenheit. Not boiling, because then it's hard to avoid actually cooking the skin. Leave the bird in the pot for a timed 5 minutes.

(4) Pluck your chicken. Push the feathers out with your thumb when possible, because that's easier on your hands. There will be a lot of feathers. Try not to be too surprised how small the bird is without its feathers.

(5) Remove extraneous parts. Cut off the head. Cut off the feet at the "knee" joint (anatomically closer to "ankle"). Peel the skin off the feet; it will come off like a tight glove, including little caps from over the claws and a bigger cap from the spurs. Save the feet for stock, and the head too if you've bothered to pluck it.

(6) Open the top. Slice the skin from the breastbone up along the neck and open the top of the bird. Find the long grayish ringed tubes of the trachea & esophagus and loosen.

(7) Open the bottom. This part is tricky because you don't want to puncture the lower intestines. Bend back the tail bump and make an incision very close to that, between the tail and the anus, trying not to slice too deep and not to cut your hand. Cut a slit about the width of the tail piece. Put a finger in and wrap it around the colon to keep it out of the way as you incise two more slits to make a triangle around the anus. Again, be very careful not to cut too deep.

(8) Gooey, gooey chicken guts. Once you've separated the anus from the rest of the bird, reach in through the cuts and pull out the internal organs in as complete a mass as possible. Which means digging around and ripping connective tissue first, but try not to squeeze or tear the actual organs.

(9) Toss out the parts not for general consumption. The intestines are obvious. If you're digging out the insides of a rooster, there's two small yellowish lumps that are testes. The gall bladder is a (usually) greenish sac stuck to the liver. Be VERY careful removing it, and do so by cutting or pinching the liver itself to be sure of getting all of it. If the dead chicken has been lying around too long a time, there'll be a streak of greenish on the liver where the gall bladder lay against it and "leaked." Remove that, too. The gizzard looks like a solid ovoid of tissue. Cut through it around the rim enough to butterfly it open and you'll find the inside is full of gravel and dirt. But there's an inner yellowish membrane between that and the meaty bit, so if you tease that layer apart then you can just peel the mess away. Throw out that membrane, and rinse the rest to be sure all the grit is really gone. If you didn't manage to pull out the trachea/esophagus tubes from the bottom, get rid of them now from the top.

(10) Keep the "good" parts. The heart is a rounded dense cone. The liver is floppy and a deep burnt-orangeish red. Keep the cleaned part of the gizzard. The spleen is a very small dark reddish lump. The lungs are small pinkish-red sacks and extra work to get out: they're underneath another layer of connective tissue and the lobes fit between the ribs. The best way to get those out seemed to be to dig fingers along the ribs, trying to get underneath the lungs and then separating them from the other tissue once loosened from the ribs.

(11) Oil gland: removing the oil gland from the tail is optional. If you want to, it sits on top of the tail piece near the joint. Slit around and underneath to remove. If some of the orange-yellow oil comes out, just rinse it off.

(12) Final clean up. Rinse the bird thoroughly, inside and out. Rinse the organ pieces you're keeping and put them in a separate container to use as soon as possible. The bird itself will keep much longer than one bought from a supermarket. Make sure to do a good cleaning of the sink and any other area you used. 

calygrey is a very knowledgeable and patient teacher with a great sense of practicality and humor, full of good information and tips. She offers these sessions fairly often, and I highly recommend the experience if you can handle it. (Maybe not for vegetarians, but I've always thought that if you eat meat, you should be able to take a certain degree of responsibility for knowing and caring how it gets to your table.)

Next post: Recipe for a Rooster.