Run chicken run!Home » Latest issue » Good, issue 3 » The goods » Run chicken run!
Keeping chooks is on the rise again—and you don’t need a farm or even a quarter-acre section. The very respectable, very urban Heeringa family show us how to keep, kill and eat a backyard chook
Eating chicken has acquired a bad reputation in recent years. Who wants to be responsible for all those miserable caged birds on battery farms? But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 50s, one in four New Zealand families kept chooks themselves. The ubiquitous roast chicken dinner was a post-slaughter treat, quickly followed up by as many chicken dishes as it took to finish up the carcass.
Now, keeping chooks is on the rise once more. And why not? They eat our leftovers. They give us free eggs. They provide educational material for our kids. And they bring some crazy countryside fun to the suburbs.
Baba Ghanoush, Hot Chick and Helen Cluck … our kids had lots of fun naming the hens. They were equally matter of fact about the idea of us killing the roosters and serving them up for dinner. Our suggestion? Discuss with your children what you are going to do before you do it—and don’t name any animals you intend to eat.
Hatch and dispatch
We’ve gone full circle with our chickens. We sent off the hens to be fertilised by our cousins’ roosters, raised the four hatchlings into chicks, then mature chickens—and then two were turned into roast dinner, chicken pie, liver pate and noodle soup. What follows is what happened after our roosters woke us up one too many times.
- There are several methods for dispatch. This one involves simultaneously stretching and bending the neck backwards until you feel the bones click. It’s physically tough; an axe is a good alternative but a bit messy.
- Hold the bird upside down to let the blood drain into the head until the flapping stops. Hang it by the feet and pluck from the extremities inwards. Plucking works best when the bird is still warm. Be careful to not tear the skin.
- Chop off the feet at the knees and the wings on the knuckle. Cut off the head at quarter of the neck. Reach in and pull out the crop from the throat.
- Slice open the anus, reach in and drag out the entrails. Be sure to keep the bile intact.
- Wash in warm water and burn the remaining feathers off with a small blow torch or candle. Fold the legs back to resemble the chickens you see in the shops and, presto, it’s as good as a bought one. Actually, better.
Three dishes, one chicken
Our whole family had a hand in feeding and raising our chicken from tiny cheeping fluff ball to strutting rooster. The process made the final plucked result seem far more precious than the usual anonymous frozen item pulled from the freezer for dinner.
Having come from frugal farming and immigrant stock, we both grew up in homes where our parents made the most of what they’d been given. So as well as several meals, we found a couple of other uses for our dearly departed cockerel. The claws were cut off and taken to school by our sons to tease their classmates. The feathers were used to fill a new cushion for the lounge. The chicken offal was buried in the garden and once the bones had been boiled for soup they were given to the family cat to chew.
Here are three hearty recipes that are easy to make and can be modified to include a variety of seasonal vegetables or leftovers lurking in the back of the fridge.
Sunday night noodle soup
- Put liquid chicken stock into a large pot and bring to a rolling boil. Use a slotted spoon to remove any bones.
- Lightly fry onion in a little olive oil. Add several cloves of chopped garlic and sauté gently for a few minutes before stirring into soup.
- Finely chop a selection of seasonal vegetables or vegetable leftovers to add. Grate a carrot or blend less popular vegetables (such as silverbeet or celery) before adding them to your soup. Root vegetables like pumpkin or kumara are ideal as they will soften and disappear into the liquid. To make vegetables such as turnip tastier, cut into small cubes and sauté lightly in olive oil before adding.
- Snap the fettuccine into thirds and add. Stir regularly and simmer until the pasta is al dente, adding more boiling water if necessary to stop soup from getting too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a splash or two of balsamic vinegar or Worchester sauce.
Chicken liver pate
Pate is surprisingly simple to make. Keep spare livers in the freezer and you can whip up a batch of fresh pate on a Saturday afternoon to take to a dinner party at friend’s place that night. It’s great as a starter served with thin slices of twice-baked focaccia bread.
- Melt half the butter in a frying pan and cook on a low heat until golden. Add onion, kumara and a little water and simmer until soft. Add remaining butter and roughly chopped chicken liver and stir over a medium heat until liver is just cooked. Stir in brandy or port and stir for another minute.
- Put mixture in a food processor with eggs and salt and pulse until it forms a smooth paste. Spoon into a small bowl, season with freshly cracked pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Homemade chicken pie
- Put chicken and several bay leaves in a large pot. Cover chicken with water and cover the pot with a lid. Simmer until fully cooked. Pour the liquid into a basin and put chicken on large plate, leave both to cool.
- Put flour and salt into a bowl and rub in butter. (This can be done in a food processor using a knife blade.) Gradually add the cold water and mix until dough begins to form a ball. Cover pastry and put in the fridge to chill.
- Once the chicken has cooled sufficiently use clean hands to separate most of the meat from the bones. Depending on the size of your chicken you may have more meat than you need for the pie. Any extra can be kept aside for sandwiches or another meal. Keep approximately 1 ½ cups of the liquid you have set aside for adding to the pie filling. Put the remainder together with the bones into a sealed container to freeze. This is the stock that will form the basis of your soup.
- Pre-heat the oven to 225°C. In a large pot lightly fry onion in a little olive oil. Add chopped garlic and any fresh herbs from the garden to taste (try parsley, rosemary or marjoram). Add the boneless chicken meat plus enough of the stock to stop the mixture catching on the bottom of the pot.
- Add a selection of finely chopped seasonal vegetables or vegetable leftovers (roast veggies are delicious when chopped up and added here).
- If you have leftover gravy or cheese sauce add it now, otherwise mix several tablespoons of flour into a smooth paste with a little of the stock and add. Heat mixture through thoroughly, adding just enough stock to stop it catching. Season to taste with salt and pepper, a little mustard and a splash or two of balsamic vinegar or Worchester sauce.
- Roll dough on a lightly floured surface, and line a pie dish. For individual pies use large muffin tins or small pie tins. Fill with hot mixture and cover with a round pastry lid, cutting a slit in the lid for the steam to escape. Bake in a hot oven for approximately 15 minutes, until golden.
- It will be delicious to eat on its own with tomato sauce, or served with mashed potato, a green salad and plenty of beetroot chutney.