The first time I watched a hen’s demise for culinary purposes was in Nepal. We were staying in a remote rural village, being treated like royalty, when our hosts offered us chicken for dinner. At the time, we didn’t recognize the signified of this generous offer. We simply found ourselves in a front row pew for the beheading of an aged chook, who squawked once and then ran headless around the yard for several minutes, gushing blood from her headless corpse. So, not surprisingly, we were hardly inspired to eat the leathery offering that landed on our plates a couple of hours later.
Recently, in the UK with friends, there was much discussion about one of the family hens that had taken to eating its own eggs. Not to be encouraged, their first thought was to send it to heaven care of the neighbourhood fox, no one quite having the stomach for a mercy killing.
A timely visit from an expert friend saw the chook dispatched with professional alacrity, and we were left wondering what to do with the corpse. I remembered a fellow Gastronomy graduate assuring me that we should all experience killing the food we eat, so as not to take its death for granted. Eventually, consensus was reached. We would not bury it, or feed it to the foxes, but prepare and cook it.
Unfortunately, none of us was certain how to achieve this. How did one gut and de-feather a hen? Google – an awesome modern resource – showed us how best this operation could be performed. Placing the dead hen in boiling water would loosen the feathers. A swift attack with a sharp knife would remove its head and feet. Donning rubber gloves would ensure a relatively tidy removal of its innards.
I promptly christened our sacrificial hen Betsy, much to my friend’s horror, who claimed you should never name what you plan to eat. Nevertheless, it was done. Poor Betsy was carried to the laundry and removed from her shroud (a large sack.)
Poised at the side of the sink, as the Holder of the iPhone and Supervisor Extraordinaire, I guided the proceedings. Lacking a large enough pot, we doused poor Betsy in boiling water and discovered that the feathers, thus soaked, came off in our hands. It is an efficient method, although it doesn’t smell particularly pleasant. A not-so-sharp knife saw to Betsy’s decapitation (think Nearly Headless Nick) and the removal of a pair of large, crusty feet. No rubber gloves could be found, so a pair of plastic bags stood in as understudy, and Betsy was gutted forthwith.
Once every surplus feather, face, limb and liver had been removed, Betsy looked just like a Tescoe’s chook, bar the cling film. Unlike Tescoe’s, who truss chickens neatly, I had to lie Betsy sideways on a plate to fit her in the fridge, to await cremation in the Aga. She looked like she had just curled up for a nap.
Needless to say, I didn’t stay for dinner. Well, how could I eat a chicken with a name? But reports were less than admiring: poor Betsy was as tough as the proverbial shoe leather and the fox doubtless feasted on her remains anyway.
*chook: Aussie word for chicken
*photo care of Google.