If you read the last post about our Dogpatch chicken plucker, I know you’ve been on the edge of your seat, wondering how Sam’s birds tasted. The short answer is, they tasted fine. In fact, they tasted fine for a long, long time as you tried to chew them to the point where they could be swallowed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I could reduce them to inedibility, I had to cut them up.
I’ve cooked hundreds of chickens in my life, but I’ve cut up very few. If I want a chicken in parts, I generally just buy the parts (thighs, which are the best parts). The whole chickens that come my way usually get cooked whole. So I was at a bit of a loss, and not happy to be flummoxed by such a basic kitchen task.
Luckily, the sequel to the chicken-slaughter video by Russ features Mrs. Russ cutting up the slaughtered chicken. I watched this video two or three times, and felt prepared.
But, after spending a good half-hour reducing two chickens to shards and shreds, I’ve concluded that Mr. and Mrs. Russ raise chickens with strange, easy-cut anatomy. It’s like they’re bred with unconnected limbs and nice dotted lines on their skin where the joints should be. They bear a passing resemblance to other chickens in that they have legs, wings, and breasts, but the similarity ends there.
Those ball joints that just pop out for Mrs. Russ stubbornly refuse to give for me. That “cartilage” that Mrs. Russ just slices through in her chicken is unsliceable bone in mine. The skin that stays firmly on her chicken parts comes off in my hand.
Either Russ raises alien chickens, or I really suck at this.
Don’t say it. Just don’t say it.
The time it took me to cut up the chickens was part of the reason my dinner plans fell victim to logistical problems. Since we had Sam’s family over for the Great Chicken Massacre, we wanted to let them taste the fruits of the event. Unfortunately, by the time the chickens came out of their ice-water baths, it was already late afternoon. By the time I’d finished butchering (!) them, it was downright evening.
Plan A was to braise them in beer with white beans, carrots, and mustard. It’s a dish we make regularly with either rabbit or chicken, and we thought it would be a good vehicle for a long, slow cook. Unfortunately, it was almost 6:00 by the time the chickens were browned and beginning to braise, and we couldn’t very well keep people waiting until midnight for their dinner. So, a little over an hour later, I pulled a piece out to test it.
Do you remember those Purdue chicken commercials from (I think) the seventies?” You know, the ones where Frank Purdue says, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” Well, this chicken tasted just like I imagine Frank Purdue would have. Tough. Rubbery. Stringy.
But not without flavor. There was a real meatiness that gave me a glimmer of hope.
Everyone was a good sport, and ate the white beans and carrots without complaint. I picked out all the chicken pieces and put them on to simmer in water, hoping to get a nice stock out of them.
I cooked them for a couple of hours that night, and another couple the next day, until the water had morphed into a beautiful, rich stock. I drained it, and was left with a pile of meat and bones. All the meat had fallen off all the bones, and I was looking at a pile of, more or less, shreds. I tasted it.
I won’t say it was delicious. It was still a little stringy, and it had lost a lot of its meaty flavor to the stock, but it was absolutely, positively edible.
It was absolutely, positively edible.
I know “edible” is a low bar when it comes to food but, given my recent track record, I’m figuring “delicious” is out of reach. I’ll take what I can get.
I separated the meat from the bones – no mean feat, since I’d managed to crush all the ribs into little teeny pieces in the process of cutting the birds into parts – and put the meat in the fridge.
The next day, I went for Plan B. I made a simple red chile sauce. (Sauté five chopped garlic cloves in olive oil, add five cut-up dried red chiles and water just to cover. Simmer until chiles are soft and puree the whole thing in the blender.) I added the shredded chicken to the sauce, and simmered for a few minutes. A little salsa, a little guacamole, a few beans, and we had burritos.
And they were good. They might even have been delicious. They were certainly way beyond edible.
I still have some meat left, and I’m thinking of turning my original braise into a kind of thick soup. Either that, or we’ll have burritos again.
Next time, I’m going with classic Coq au Vin, but we’ll schedule the slaughter for the morning to give me plenty of time to simmer.
I never bought into Frank Purdue’s tough-man/tender-chicken theory. Seems to me any bonehead with a backyard and Murray McMurray’s phone number can make a tender chicken. That’s what meat birds have been bred for. Making a tender chicken out of a long-in-the-tooth laying hen is a different proposition. Still, it’s not toughness that’s required. It’s just patience.