Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Chicken Guts

Warning: Graphic discussion of chicken innards follows.

See, the first thing you have to know about me is that I'm almost, but not quite, completely neurotic. I have all the makings for being the kind of person who wears latex gloves 24/7 and never leaves the house. They (the makings) sit inside my head and make rude or worrisome comments as they see fit. I figure the reason I can claim to not be completely neurotic is that I don't wear latex gloves 24/7 and I do leave the house.

There are exceptions, though. Things that have the little neurosis in my head standing up to scream, and on these things I generally concede the point and let them have their way. One of these is meat. More specifically, raw meat. Actually, raw meat in my kitchen. Gives me fits. Anything the meat looks at, nay, thinks about, must be washed repeatedly with bleach. Back when I was single woman I just didn't bother cooking it; too much work. Since there's been a Simon, and since Simon is a big fan of the meat, Simon has generally taken over the job. And because he's so sweet, and because meat germs are scary, he goes through all the rituals my neurosis require. The "No touching things with meat hands", the "Put that plastic straight in the trash", the "Meaty things are quarantined in the empty sink", and the "It isn't done till the thermometer says it is" rituals. Usually I sit in the kitchen and stare at him while he bustles about the kitchen, ready to squeal if a ritual is forgotten. Sometimes, Simon banishes me.

I've said all that to say this: I have spent two, count them, TWO days gutting chickens. Maybe I can do it because it doesn't happen in my kitchen, but at my friend's farm. She has a tent set up, and tables, and things, all under a tree by her barn. Her kiddos chase the chickens and put them in crates. Her husband sticks them in funnels and slits their necks. Then he dunks them in boiling water- dunk dunk dunk, and sticks them in the Whiz-Bang-Chicken plucker. (The Whiz-Bang-Chicken plucker is a tub with little rubber fingers, and the bottom whirls around and the chickens get plucked by all the little fingers.) He puts them in a bucket of water to wait for us to gut them. We gut 'em and put them in a bucket of water to rinse off and cool. After they've cooled a bit, we put them in ice water to chill. Then we put some guts (livers, heart, neck) back into the chicken and bag it. Then the kids put them in the fridge/freezer.

My friend is the fastest- she can do 5 chickens in 15 minutes. I haven't timed myself yet, but I think I might could do 2. Someone else was helping and she could do 3. It's tricky, because chickens are made with their parts remarkably well attached. You start with the feets. This part is easy. You can't do it wrong, the anatomy is simple, and it goes quick. Then you cut off the head. Also easy. Then you find the trachea and the esophagus and unattatch all the layers of fascia. This is where it starts to get trickier, because nothing is color coded. The esophagus doesn't look that much different from the fascia or the skin. I'm also never too sure, once I find it, how far to carry on with the separating. I usually stop when I get to the crop, which also looks just like everything else, but has the advantage of being an enormously stretchy little bag, which noting else up there is.

At this point you turn the bird around and start on its butt. You pinch the knucker hole closed and cut very, very carefully around it. The goal it to cut knucker out without slicing into the poop chute, which is as easy to slice through as wet paper. Once you manage that, you just pull the intestines out and let them hang into the slop bucket. Then you stick your hand right in the bird. It's warm. It isn't bloody. You feel for the gizzard, which is hard and on the top right in there. You wrap your fingers around that and give it a good yank. This pulls most everything else loose enough that it can come out the bird, but this is where us amateurs are slow and my friend is fast. Some of us like to loosen everything up in there and pull it all out at once with a great slurpy noise. This is a trick. It is also slow. I tend to gently caress the liver and worm it out, hoping I don't break the gall bladder on the way. After that I can just grab whatever's in there and pull. If you've been successful the bird now looks as empty as the one you get in the store. You can see daylight through it. It's lovely.

There can be excitement though, if you cut into the intestine, or the gall bladder breaks. Both require immediate washing of the bird. And then lots of times I break the trachea or the esophagus and I have to go hunting for it. Lungs are hard to get and easily forgotten. And sometimes there are stupid feathers that won't come out, no matter what you do. Nothing like trying to tweeze a dead bird's ass.

Maybe now I've explained enough for you to grab the enormity of the fact that I have done this thing. All of this handling of chicken guts. Raw chicken guts. I myself, who still asks the husband to do the cooking of the meat, have cleaned the very meat itself. I have stretched myself. I have done a new thing. I have cleaned a bird.

Sorry, I do tend to carry on when I'm proud of myself.

Still growing up,

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