Murder most fowl

Posted by Anita on 10.31.07 7:05 AM

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reservedOnce upon a time, there was a spoiled teenager named Anita who refused to eat ribs, chicken legs, or any other meat shaped like a body part.

One year, the child’s mother took ill on Thanksgiving morning, with a gaggle of relatives due to descend upon the family home in mere hours. The mere thought of sticking her hand inside (inside!) the body of a turkey made the girl turn green around the edges, but there was nothing to it but to do it: In went the hand, out came the slimey giblet bag. In a word: Gack!

Years later, the girl grew up and got over herself. A culinary school butchery class, which involved parting out cases of chickens and breaking down sides of beef, rid her of the last vestiges of meat squeamishness. The woman became secure with her place on the food chain, an unrepentant carnivore at last.

Flash forward to 2007: In a crisis over the disappearance of Hoffman Farms chickens from the local farmers market, we started buying our weekly roaster from Marin Sun Farms. We’d blithely strolled past their stand for months, seeing the signs for chickens, never venturing in to price them; our Hoffman loyalties were that strong. But the disappearance of their main competition emboldened these farmers, and they began putting their wares on more prominent display: First in bins by the edge of their stall, then moving to a large, copiously iced display — complete with protruding chicken feet — right out in the pathway. (Just the other day, I saw a group of tourists laughing nervously and taking pictures; it’s quite the sight if you’re not used to such things.)

The first afternoon of our patronage, we brought our fine-footed fowl home. The idea of cutting off chicken feet didn’t faze me a bit, I smugly noted. It wouldn’t be any worse than snipping off wingtips, really. I’d seen enough dim sum to grasp the comic possibilities of disembodied chicken feet, and I knew their gelatinous cartilage would add body to our next batch of stock.

I plopped the bagged bird in the sink and turned on the water. Cutting through the rubber band that held the bag shut, I accidentally grazed my arm on a stray claw. (Note to self: Chickens — at least the ones that aren’t factory-gorged on corn — scratch for their supper.) But the sting of avian revenge was no match for the shock I got when I pulled Henny Penny out of the bag: Her frickin’ head was still attached!

Or, well, mostly attached. The neck had been slashed (quite tidily) and her noggin wobbled around on the impossibly long neck in a rather ghastly fashion. Her tiny eyes were mercifully shut, but you could quite clearly make out what her features must have looked like, mere days ago. A tiny comb was clearly visible at the crown of her egg-sized skull. Oh, my…

Snapping out of my guilt-laden reverie, I laughed aloud, amused at how a small, dead hen could rattle me so. Would I have bought her, had I know she came fully equipped? Probably. But coming upon an unexpected beaky face in the bottom of the bag was more than I was expecting. I wondered whether the farmers enjoyed imagining the shock they inflicted on unsuspecting city slickers, but most likely they never gave it a moment’s thought. It’s a chicken, to them. Their livelihood, our supper.

It gets easier, week by week, staring my dinner in the face on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve even come to see the gallows humor in the macabre ritual of removing heads, necks, and feet. I’m not sure I could ever kill a chicken, maybe not even gut a dead one (I’m still not all that happy about innards, truth be told). But if I’m going to be an ethical carnivore, I figure that looking my meat in the eye is the least I can do. And so I do, with silent thanks to the farmer and the chicken.

And then I cackle like a fiend as I throw the dismembered bits in the stockpot. Muuu-huuu-huuu-ahhh!

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved

Chicken Stock, Simplified
4 to 5 pounds raw or frozen chicken bits (wings, backs, necks, and feet)
6 quarts filtered water

1 pound mirepoix, very large dice (1 inch or so)
- 1 large onion
- 2 medium carrots
- 2 large celery stalks, trimmed

Bouquet garni
- 2 cloves garlic
- 8 peppercorns
- 3 whole cloves
- 2 fresh thyme sprigs
- 6 parsley stems
…tied with twine in a cheesecloth bundle

In your largest pot, bring water and chicken parts to a simmer; reduce to a lazy bubble and cook for 3 hours. Add the mirepoix and bouquet garni and cook for an additional hour. Strain through cheesecloth or a very fine mesh sieve into a large bowl (or a cool stockpot). Cool to room temperature using an ice-water bath or immersible stock chiller, then chill completely overnight.

The next day, skim the fat and measure stock in 2-cup portions into quart-size freezer bags. Holding the bag upright, squeeze to remove excess air, then seal. Freeze bags flat on a rimmed cookie sheet until completely solid; they can then be stored in your freezer’s pull-out bins, filed like flip-cards along with pasta sauce and other flat-packed liquids. Any odd measures of stock can be frozen in ice-cube trays for quick use in pan sauces and other recipes requiring small amounts of liquid. Store frozen stock for up to 6 months.

cooking, farmers markets, locavore, meat, recipes



Comment by Michael Dietsch

That’s funny. I’ve yet to see an intact chicken at any of the Greenmarkets in New York, but I had the exact same reaction the first time we bought a guinea hen and I realized the head was attached. I had to email a farmer friend to ask whether the head and esophagus were usable. (She said no.)

Posted on 10.31.07 at 8:22AM

Comment by erik_flannestad

Wow! Great pictures for Halloween!

For some reason the one with the black background and the nails that look like they’ve been for a mani-pedi is the most compelling to me.

Well, that and the first, “still life with giblets.”

Posted on 10.31.07 at 9:20AM

Comment by Anita

Michael: that’s odd — I could swear that our farmers sell the heads in bulk, so presumably they’re not just for show :D (Mine go straight to the compost, much to the dismay of the dogs.) I’ll have to check this weekend. I know for sure they sell the feets.

Erik: Doesn’t that one look like it’s had its nails painted? (That was the first one we bought, the one that lacerated me.) I am oddly fond of the lead photo, as well. It’s been quite popular on Flickr, too.

Posted on 10.31.07 at 9:28AM

Comment by erik_flannestad

Well, use able is relative.

Chris Cosentino has been known to use Cocks Combs over at Incanto, (here in SF,) from time to time, and the neck can certainly go in soup.

Beaks, eyes, and brains I’m not so sure about.

Posted on 10.31.07 at 10:51AM

Comment by Anita

I should clarify about chicken heads in the compost: We have a fancy curbside compost program in San Francisco that accepts anything edible — including the usual no-nos of fats, meats, bones — and food-soiled paper like pizza boxes.

Posted on 10.31.07 at 12:19PM

Comment by sam

I had hate mail when I posted similar pictures a while back.

And David does sell head by the bag now.

And of course the heads are perfectly fine to go in stock.

And my mum made me clean out a chicken giblets when I was 9 years old. Actually – it was so i could pass a Brownie cook badge or something.

Posted on 10.31.07 at 4:40PM

Comment by Anita

So far, no hate mail, thankfully. I was worried about grossing people out, but everyone who’s commented (both here and on Flickr) has said nice things.
But then, Sam, you do have a lot more readers than I. :D

Glad to know I wasn’t just imagining the heads-in-bags. I don’t think I could bear putting them in the pot, not so much the idea of seeing them bobbing about so much as unearthing the little skulls at the end.

(Rocky, are you laughing at me yet?)

Posted on 10.31.07 at 4:49PM

Comment by Diane

I ALWAYS put feet in my chicken stock…they make it yummy. My grandma did it, and so do I. Once a month or so I make a big pot of stock with lots of little feet scrabbling to get out. I’ve never chopped them off though.

I remember being given the chicken heart as a treat when my Mom roasted chicken. She’d boil up the giblets/heart for the cat, and fish the heart out of the boiling brew and give it to me to eat. I loved it. Recently I saw some at Berkeley Bowl and bought a few, but at the same time I remember thinking, “if I had to approach those now, as an adult, I’d think twice about chowing down on chicken hearts.”. Luckily I didn’t know any better as a kid, and luckily that was prior to my Mom going vegetarian. Mmmmmmmmm….

Posted on 10.31.07 at 5:58PM

Comment by Kalyn

Love the idea of the immersible stock chiller. Never seen anything like that before, but what a great idea. (BTW, when I went to China lots of restaurants were selling chicken feet, apparently quite popular there, but I just couldn’t eat them.)

Posted on 10.31.07 at 8:41PM

Comment by annalise

I’m not one of those vegans who is insulted- or insulting- about other peoples’ choice to eat meat… but, I am a little taken aback by the fact that you consider your vegetarian self to be self-absorbed… and the decision to eat meat involved growing up and ‘getting over yourself’?

I’m having trouble suppressing my bitch reflex at the moment.

Anyway. What I came here to say is, the photo with the silver pot is really beautiful.

Posted on 10.31.07 at 9:16PM

Comment by Anita

Diane: I agree, at least about the feet. Can’t go with you on the hearts, but Cameron does save the livers for pate.

Kalyn: Isn’t the stock chiller a swoopy tool? It’d great for sauces and other hot liquids you make in bulk, too. The day I first saw one used (at school), I marched straight to the restaurant supply and bought one for home. I only wish I had enough freezer space to keep it filled and frozen all the time.

I’ve eaten chicken feet before, but I can’t say I get the appeal. To me, their cartilage is much better spent in stock than stuck in my teeth.

I try very hard to be a thoughtful omnivore, and I appreciate your being a respectful vegan. Your bitch reflex is very well behaved, although I can guess that I must have struck a nerve because you aren’t responding to what I wrote, exactly.

Although I went pretty far out on my narrative limb, I never said I thought my young picky-eater self was self-absorbed (although I certainly was in many other ways, at that age), merely squeamish and spoiled. And I also was never a vegetarian by any means — I just refused to eat meat that looked like body parts. I very deliberately meant to say (even if I didn’t get the point across) that ‘getting over myself’ involved overcoming my denial regarding my food choices and my omnivore status.

I’m a strong believer that if and when a person chooses to eat meat, they have an obligation to be honest about where it comes from and all of the collateral effects — to the food-animal, to the environment, to their bodies — that they’re complicit in. Meat that comes in nuggets or unrecognizable blobs on a styrofoam tray is part of the problem, in about a dozen ways I can think of off the top of my head. I’m guessing that, as far apart as we are in our food choices, we can agree on that much at least.

Thanks for the photo compliment, by the way.

Posted on 10.31.07 at 9:54PM

Comment by Cindy

Nice pictures there!

Posted on 10.31.07 at 11:16PM

Comment by kitchenMage

I love the pictures! It’s all so anti-denial and all. The stock-cooler bottle is a pretty slick tool. I am guessing that a wine bottle would work…? (she, who has a smaller kitchen now than a month ago and can’t deal with more *stuff* at the moment, asks hopefully)

Posted on 11.07.07 at 1:17PM

Comment by Anita

Cindy: Thanks!

KM: Thanks for the picture praise.

I think you’re onto something with the DIY chiller, although I wonder if the thermal shock of immersing frozen liquid into hot stock might crack the glass.

Another way I quick-chill stock is to take the frozen contents of last few bags of the previous batch and toss them into the hot stock. It’s not nearly as swell as the chiller, but it does speed things up. And moving the strained stock into a cool pan or bowl is also a big help.

Posted on 11.07.07 at 1:24PM

Pingback by FoodieView Blog » Recipe Roundup: Cold Weather, Hot Soup

[...] A good soup often requires a good stock or broth made from vegetables, poultry, meat, or seafood, and you can make your own or use a purchased stock for convenience. Making stock is relatively easy, you just need to plan ahead and allow yourself enough time. Often ingredients for stock are saved as scraps and frozen until ready for use, though you can also purchase stock ingredients. You can find instructions for making stocks at Married with Dinner (chicken stock), Clifford A. Wright (beef stock), and Andrea’s Recipes (vegetable stock). Some of the following soups require stock, but some use other liquids for flavor. [...]

Posted on 01.07.08 at 10:46AM

Comment by Dan Ancona

The discussions people have about stock! I love it.

I’ve made stock with the CSA chickens we get (yeah, I’m in SF too) that come equipped with heads and feet a couple times and it really is amazing stuff. The floating head bobbing around in there thing is a little freaky, but at the same time it feels respectful. We’re definitely getting every last bit of nutrition out of these noble little beasts as we can.

Secret ingredient that my caterer/foodie inspiration pal swears by: a little white vinegar. Apparently it helps the bones let go of the good stuff, I don’t know or remember the details.

Posted on 05.08.08 at 12:24AM

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