You men eat your dinner, eat your pork and beans
I eat more chicken, than any man ever seen
I’ve never understood what that line has to do with banging married guys’ wives (what “Back Door Man” by the Doors is, theoretically about). What I do know is that chicken is what started this whole thing. Chicken, more than any other meat, is the ‘safe’ meat. It’s healthy, it’s easy to splash it on anything “Add chicken for a dollar more!”, and it’s in crazy abundance. It was sitting around eating chicken that I realized these little white cubes of protein were so far removed from being something once alive that I needed to feel the heartsblood of this creature in my hands if I was going to keep eating it. Ok maybe not exactly, but my grandmother who recently passed away visited a chicken factory when she was a young girl and never ate chicken the remainder of her life. That’s some serious dedications to the sights she saw.
My friends have been hemming and hawing at me throughout my journey with this blog to “Hurry up and kill this” or “Hurry up and kill that”, which is A) Kindof fucked up guys, and B) A sign that I’m taking my sweet time working my way through the animal kingdom. As a result people kept saying “When are you going to kill the next thing?” and I kept saying “Soon! Soon!”. Originally I was planning on looking for shrimp or lobster because the feasibility of locating poultry turned out to be freaking hard. I’m sure there’s a good way to find places to buy live chickens for slaughter but Google was winning the battle.
One day my good friend Davy (of http://letterstobourdain.com/) mentioned his fiancée was walking their dog through Topanga Canyon and they crossed by a place that was selling live chickens. Herself had chickens growing up and so while she wants me to somehow butcher a pig for her wedding, she abhors the idea of me killing a chicken. I immediately hit her up and had they following conversation…
Me: “Heeeey… how’s it going? Whatcha up to?”
Her: “Just got back from walking the dog”
Me: “Cool… did you see anything particular interesting when you were doing that?”
Her: “…. No ….”
Me: “Ok ok ok… so… where were you walking the dog at? Like specifically? Like what part of Topanga Canyon in case I wanted to go walking there too?”
Her: “IM NOT TELLING YOU WHERE TO FIND CHICKENS!!!”
Ugh. I have resigned myself to just not ever eating chicken again.
Shortly after my birthday (in July… *cough cough 5 months of backdating cough cough*), I was visiting a friend of mine’s house when a good friend Frank Romeo stopped by.
In addition to Frank Romeo having a really cool name, and being the drummer in a band with me for all of one show (the band’s fault, not his), Frank has a lot more street cred than most of my friends. He’s the kind of guy that if you were to walk into a dark alley and he was standing there and told you he wanted your lunch money, you’ld give it to him. Am I right?
Frank had been telling me he really wanted me to go to this party so that he could give me my birthday present which turned out to be an 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper with “How to kill a chicken” and instructions for killing and cleaning a chicken on it. When he handed this over I realized I was going to have to kill a bird soon since I was now getting novelty gag gifts chiding me for my lack of convictions to my cause.
Then Frank revealed that the piece of paper, was not my gift. The cardboard box that he handed me that felt surprisingly like something inside it was moving around was. Upon further inspection, this box had a chicken in it, and the party came to a stop and I realized everyone there knew this was going to happen except me. I thanked him awkwardly and said I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. Then he revealed that he’d cleared things with the person who’se house it was, and all the tools for killing and slaughtering the chicken were outback, so it was time to nut up or shut up. I think my response was: ”I need a beer”.
With all the other animals I’ve killed (Cause to date it was Fish and Crab… I’m like Charles Manson), I had some time to do a little research on how to humanely kill them, but in this case I just had some cliff notes. I wasn’t psychologically prepped at all, and as a result it was pretty emotionally intense situation for me. My friend Mary (no embarrassing photo included) was really helpful and showed how turning the bird upside down caused it to pass out. I read on the note that you could just grab the chicken by the neck and twist it’s head back, breaking it’s neck. This was my plan, and we had a wooden board with a hatchet as a backup plan.
No plan makes it past first contact. In this case trying to break the chicken’s neck resulted in me just sortof giving it a weak shoulder massage (me? not use enough force when trying to kill something? You don’t say). Once it started to freak out, I held it down on the wood, took the hatchet and tried really hard to use one clean stroke to cut off its head. It took four, and this was by far the roughest part of the process. I had wanted to make things quick and painless and instead it took a grand total of 5 attempts to kill the chicken before I was able to do so. The first thing I noticed was there was a lot less blood than I thought there would be afterwards. I had expected arterial spray and something obscenely gory. There was blood, but nothing that wild. The second thing I noticed is that it was very much moving still once I moved its body into the tub that we had set out to drain it into. It wasn’t quite running around, but it was still pretty flightly. Gofberg was awesome enough to video tape the whole thing, but the video is pretty big so I’ll need to trim it down and post it in a separate post.
With the tough deed done, I got down to cleaning the bird. This meant removing the feet and neck, and plucking it. Plucking it was a giant pain in the ass, and I can see how tearing off the skin would have been much easier. While plucking it I noticed the heat of the animal fading. That was a very odd experience, but when I picked it up and first began plucking it was very much warm, like most mammals you’ld expect. Still very much alive.
By the time the chicken was plucked I’d lost any empathy for it. I don’t mean to say that I didn’t have any feelings about what happened, but by the time I had a plucked, “cold”, de-footed and de-necked chicken, it looked very similar to many a chicken purchased in the supermarket. I’m not sure when it made the change from living thing to food product, but I think it was somewhere during the de-feathering process. So much of the mass of the chicken went away that there was really considerably less left. When cleaning it I have to stress how much time was spent focusing on the words “Cut around the anus” and “Be careful not to cut the anus”. It gave me a lot of respect for people that cleaned animals back in the day without great tools, where if you did “nick the anus” (my new favorite phrase) your whole family could get sick and die. I guess that’s why you didn’t piss off your wife back in the day.
That done, the guy who’se house we were at (Big ups to Chuck) helped cook up and barbeque the meat, and I took a much needed break for another beer or six to calm my nerves.
After eating the chicken I felt a little bit of nausea. I’m fairly certain that was more from the whole experience, and less from the actual meat itself. I ended up keeping the feet and head to see if I could do something with the bones, though I ended up failing to figure out what to do with them. I’d also like to take a moment to pimp out the place where Frank got the chicken from. The place is called Blacksmith’s Corner and you can check them out at http://www.blacksmithscorner.com/. They even sell Doves. I am fairly certain that according to Viking legend, you’re condemned to a life of war and depravity if you feast on the flesh of the Dove though…
I guess I’m a Pullivore now and can devour many a chicken that crosses my path (since then I have. Check Davy’s blog above for the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life). All in all this was a really interesting experience. I think I could do it again, and I’d really like to do this properly and more humanely and see if it changes how I feel about things. Since Mary essentialy handed me a sleeping chicken there was a good portion of this activity that was a bit lost on me I think, but for the time and place I needed it. Since then I’ve often thought of this when I go out, and I don’t always instinctively reach for the chicken. I know in the grand scheme of things whether or not I purchase chicken on my burrito doesn’t make a damn bit of difference, instead I just find that I can often eat vegetarian and enjoy what I eat (if I’m at the right place), but it’s funny how much easier it is to eat chicken (on a scale of how readily available it is) as compared to vegetarian or seafood.
I’ll have more thoughts for you later. For now I decided to upload a cut down, sound off, black and white clip of the act itself. Again I should caution this is pretty straightforward me cutting off a chicken’s head with an hatchet, and not doing a particularly clean job of it. I won’t blame you if you don’t watch, but I think you should. It’s where those little white clumps in your Caesar salad come from after all.
Sidenote: I’ve now gone 555 days (the number of the beast’s nosy neighbor Gertie) without eating Red Meat. That’s one year and six months…. and 10 blog posts. Jesus I’m sorry guys, I’ll write more I promise.