Three or four years ago, I woke my older brother with a short phone call which went along the lines of “Tom, I tried to kill the chicken, and it went wrong!”. It was my first ever attempt and two good things came out of it. The first is that the chicken ended up in the fridge soon after that phone call and the second is that it served as an example of exactly how not to kill a chicken.
The key is to make sure you dislocate the vertebrae in the bird’s neck by pulling sharply down and backwards on the head with one hand, while holding the feet in the other hand. You can feel when the dislocation occurs, and you can feel the gap in the vertebrae after the neck has been successfully stretched. The first time round, I wasn’t sure if I had successfully separated the vertebrae so just to make sure that the chicken was dead, I put it on a log and reached for the wood axe. With the bird lying petrified on the block, I lifted the weapon and steeled myself for the fatal blow. Then just as I began my swing, the cockerel jumped up and ran off; with a slightly crooked neck, but very much still alive. Having tried and failed to enlist Tom’s help, I took to the woods alone in search of the poor frightened creature. I managed to catch it again without too much fuss, and the second beheading attempt was much more Jacobin than the first.
Though I joke about my incompetence this first time, there really is nothing funny about an animal suffering before its death. As an enthusiastic meat-eater, I value the experience of overseeing an animal’s life; ensuring it is well fed and looked after. I also value the experience of killing the animal in a stress free way. The journey from chick in the woods to stew on the table is crucial to the way I think about food; as being so much more than packages bought in a supermarket.
On a visit to my parents last Easter, my girlfriend Annabel expressed an interest in helping me skin, gut and joint two cockerels that I had killed. Now this is coming from someone will only eat a whole cooked mackerel if theres a piece of bread covering its face. With my brave assistant, we started with something that looked like this:
We removed the heads, the feet and the wing tips, then carefully pulled off the skin, using a knife to nick it in places.
We were left with this:
Then comes the gruesome part. I laid the bird on its back with its feet facing me and made a cut in the skin between the underneath of the rib cage and the anus. This allows you to reach inside and pull the guts out. The trick is to do this without cutting the large intestine thus spilling faeces into the inside of the carcass. When all of the innards have come out of the carcass, they should still be attached at the end of the intestines. I then make a v-shaped cut around the anus to allow the innards to come free.
Having completed this step, the next is to joint it. For a stew I separate it into drumsticks, thighs, wings and breast, ensuring that I cut through the soft cartilage instead of the bone. I keep the livers for the stew, but give the heart and kidneys to Bess.
The jointed birds
Back in Norwich, I will have to see if I can get some cockerels from my local butcher so that I can make the cockadoodlestew. But rest assured, as soon as I get my hands on them birds I will ask Annabel to bring her camera over and put the recipe up here.