Tag Archives: Cock-a-doodle-doo

Beer-basted Chicken + Chicken Stock

My sister and I ate General Tso last week, and he was delicious, though the cooking part didn’t exactly go as planned.

The original plan was to do an Asian-style tea smoked chicken, which is delicious but hasn’t graced my kitchen in a few years (I have a feeling it will soon, though.) But that plan shifted when we made a shocking discovery:

The General only had one testicle. And it was enormous.

To give you some perspective, a chicken’s brain is about the size of my thumbnail. The General’s lone gonad was nearly the size of my fist. Suddenly, his aggressive behavior made a lot more sense.

So back to the recipe. We’d talked before about making Beercan Chicken, mostly in jest, because we used to have a Speckled Sussex hen named Beercan. But now we had to, because of a favorite local beer: One Nut Brown Ale.

Unfortunately, Oskar Blues had One Nut on tap but not in cans or growlers. I briefly considered ordering a pint at their restaurant and smuggling it out, but instead I settled on the next best thing:

old_speckled_hen

Only, the Beercan Chicken idea didn’t work out so well either. I decided to try doing it in the oven instead of the grill since it was getting dark outside, but the can slid around on the cookie sheet and collapsed. I tried for a few minutes to get the whole mess balanced, even using a different size can and spilling most of the beer in the process, but I soon gave up. It seemed disrespectful somehow, trying to balance a chicken impaled on a beer can. I can’t imagine why.

So instead, I laid the whole chicken down in the spilled beer (about half a can’s worth) and rubbed it all over with olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped fresh thyme. Then I added a few pats of butter and some chicken stock to the pan and put it in a 325 degree oven until the thigh meat reached 165F (this took about an hour and a half for a nearly 4 pound bird.) I turned it over halfway through the cooking process, and basted every 15 minutes or so.

general_with_herbs_and_butter

The meat was tasty, and not at all tough (partly because we let it rest in the fridge for a couple days, partly because Speckled Sussex roosters are slow to mature.) The recipe I based mine on used a lot of pepper, and that plus the beer flavor was a bit overwhelming — I wouldn’t necessarily do it the same way next time, but it was still the best chicken I’d ever eaten because I grew it myself.

The leftovers were made into frozen burritos, assembly line style. And everything else went into the stockpot, soon to become several pints of rich, velvety chicken stock.

chicken_stock

To make stock, I cover the carcass with filtered water (add in any unused giblets, too) and throw in a bunch of carrots and onions. We have a huge lovage plant that comes back every year, so I use that in place of celery (but you can use anything you like.) This time I also threw in a few handfuls of thyme, tarragon, and whatever else needed to be cut back in the herb garden.

I boil it for as long as I can (about 9 hours, this time) then strain it into glass jars. Once cool, I freeze it in plastic tubs and then vacuum seal the frozen stock so I can reclaim the containers. Then I have chicken stock whenever I need it — for soups, or as a vehicle for poached eggs.

Stock is infinitely better when made at home, and it’s a perfect way to make use of every last bit of the chicken (and fill your house with delicious smells in the process.) So please, never throw away a chicken or turkey carcass — why would you want to waste all that, especially when it’s so easy? If you don’t have time to make the stock right away (I usually don’t) just seal up the carcass and stick it in the freezer.

 

Where’d all these chickens come from?

The chicks aren’t chicks anymore. They’re about to turn 6 weeks old, and now, they’re chickens.

#41

The boys are starting to make themselves known, with big combs and little scuffles popping up everywhere. We’ve identified 10 that seem to be cockerels, exactly what we’d expect from the 19 chicks we hatched. I’ll go into detail about sexing chickens in another post, once I get photos of everyone. Not that I’m an expert or anything, quite the opposite. But I am finding it a lot easier to compare boys and girls now that there are so many of them.

FiveSpice

The easter egger chicken above, known as Five Spice, is 100% boy. The large comb and the coloring are dead giveaways, even to me (and I convinced myself that my last two roosters were hens.)

Crispy

This is Crispy, one of our assisted hatch chickens. Remember Crispy? We’re thinking girl for this one, but not sure yet. The other rough hatch chicks, Shelly and Sesame, are almost certainly girls. Glad I helped them out!

cutlet_preening

We ended up with 5 Easter Egger/Speckled Sussex chicks, which we refer to collectively as “The Cutlets,” after their mother. They are all very similar in appearance and turning out to be great little chickens — wily and very pretty. I think 3 of those are roosters, including this guy:

cutlet_sunbathing

And last but not least:

Asada

This little barred easter egger, called Asada, is by far the friendliest chicken I’ve ever met. She flies up to perch on my shoulder when I bend down to refill their feeder, and settles in my lap for a nap if I sit down in the run. So far she looks like a girl, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed a while longer. Maybe you can cross yours too?

General Tso’s Bad Day Pâté

Early on the morning of Memorial Day, our brave rooster General Tso crowed his last.

the_general

The General was a Speckled Sussex rooster, and he was not altogether a bad guy. He always let the ladies eat first, and he was very protective of his flock — especially Kung Pao, who hatched and raised him from a chick. But as the General’s testosterone surged, things got to a point where we couldn’t take food out to the chicks or change their water without fending off an attack. Everything was a threat: The big plastic waterer, the bucket we carry feed in, the reflective stripes on my sister’s running pants.

general_tso_on_the_warpath

Clearly, we were headed for another Colonel Sanders. Though he hadn’t actually drawn blood from any visitors yet, the prospect of having friends bring their kids over to meet the chickens made me shudder. And the poor hens, much fewer than he should have had, lost most of their back feathers and ran from his advances. The flock dynamic was all wrong.

And so with heavy hearts, we decided it was time to butcher our rooster.

This was my first time killing a chicken, at least directly. Over my lifetime, without really acknowledging it, I’ve commanded the deaths of thousands of chickens. Ordering it in restaurants, buying pullets from a feed store; it’s not really any different when you slaughter your own bird. It just seems that way, because it’s right there in front of you.

We helped some good friends with a few of their chickens last year, so we knew what to do and how to process the General afterward. But I’ve never personally taken the life of a creature in its prime, looking it in the eye and breathing the same air. It was a heavy prospect for me, and I shed a few tears in the days leading up to it as we made preparations. As I’m sure I will this fall, when it’s time to process the roosters from the chicks we hatched last month. But I knew I could handle it, because I realized long ago that if I’m going to keep eating meat I should be okay with where it comes from.

In the end, it was not an easy morning but it went exactly as we hoped. The General went to sleep on his roost and woke up in a dog crate, with no stressful chase and capture. His last morning was a beautiful one, with birds singing and the scent of lilacs on the breeze. And then, in the space of a few seconds, it was over. A dignified end for a rooster who meant well, but whose time had come.

see_you_later

The General is relaxing in the fridge for a couple days, so that he’ll be nice and tender. Last night, I cooked his liver and made it into a little pâté, just enough for two. It was a perfect way to celebrate a fine rooster with a bit of a mean streak.

Read More

General Tso

General TsoTheGeneral
is crowing in the moonlight

he does not know
that when he hops down
from the perch in the morning
it will be the last time.

He will crow in the morning, also,
and call excitedly to his hens
as I throw down the scraps, a few
more scraps than usual.

And he will run at me, as he has lately;
I will keep him back with the broom.

He will run at me, not knowing
that I have a hatchet, and a recipe.

 

(poem and photo by my sister, Anne Dirkse)

 

Release the chicks! (3.5 weeks)

release_the_chicks

The chicks are going on 4 weeks old now, and everyone is doing great. Yesterday they got to come out and mingle in the yard with the big chickens (who stayed as far away as possible.)

adults_only_please

tikka_masala

 

Read More

My first flock

Three years ago this week, my sister and I brought home 14 new companions: Day-old chicks from the local feed store. And so I began my life as a chicken keeper.

Cutlet_day1

Before we got our own chickens, I’d never actually been around any. And so I knew nothing of the lovely, comical creatures that they are. In my mind, chickens were farm animals of the worst sort — smelly, noisy, and not at all friendly. Definitely not the type of creatures you’d want as pets. I was so wrong.

Parmesan_1week

Once I got hooked on fresh eggs from my local farmers’ market, I found myself on a slippery slope. When Fall arrived and the farm stand started selling out of eggs within 15 minutes of opening, my sister and I joked about getting a few chickens for our small backyard. The following Spring we moved into the old farmhouse, complete with a large chicken coop, and there was no excuse. We drove home with a box full of fuzzy, furiously chirping chicks just a few weeks later.

1st_chicks

Our chicks were all sexed as “pullets,” or female chicks, but we read enough to know that there’s about a 10% error rate. So knowing that we might end up with a rooster and shouldn’t get too attached, we chose to name them all after food — Tikka, Tandoori, Sesame, Kung Pao, etc. It kept things light, but it didn’t keep us from getting attached.

Read More