I recently had a chance to participate in a small batch chicken “processing” (butchering) on the farm. I was a bit nervous about it, but it turned out to be a great experience and helped me feel many times closer to and more comfortable with where meat comes from, just as I have been learning about vegetables via my internship. I discovered that far from being unable to eat my chicken meat afterward, I was excited to take care with preparing it and savoring it as a meaningful meal instead of just some protein on a plate. Pics of my chicken cooking (none of the actual processing) are on flickr: start here and click forward thru a few pictures.
I did come away from the processing wondering about eggs. I got pretty familiar with chicken anatomy while I was helping at the evisceration table, but it was unclear to me where and how the eggs form. Do they just float around in there? How in the world do they come out the vent, which seemed to me to be attached to the intestine? How does the egg form? Yolk first and then it gets coated by white and shell?
Unfortunately I don’t have all the answers for you at this point. Maybe someone who knows can tell us in the comments. But my story is that all this wondering about eggs made me very interested when I found the following recipe. I was flipping through my roommate Renee’s book “More-with-Less Cookbook” (subtitled “suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited resources.”). The book is from 1976. This is the recipe:
“Chicken and Noodles.
In our community the farmers who sell eggs must clear their barns of one-to-two year old fat hens. They could be bought for forty cents this fall, so I bought ten of them. Many had strings of partially formed eggs inside them which can be used to make the noodles for this soup. The following nutritious dish can be made very economically. I serve it often to my farmer men, and they like it.”
I love that this recipe basically starts out with, “first, butcher your chicken.” Chicken comes from your backyard or your neighbor farmer instead of on a styrofoam tray in Wal-Mart. You use the unlaid eggs inside the bird to make noodles – and then simmer them all together into chicken soup. Wow!! How different from the way we are used to cooking.
I was talking about the recipe with the girls at work, and that night Stacy forwarded me a recent article in the New York Times about how unlaid eggs are being rediscovered and making an appearance on some fancy-restaurant menus:
“This now mostly lost treat is well remembered by anyone who grew up with laying hens or bought chickens from and old-fashioned butcher before the advent of factory farming. Now, when the birds have stopped laying they are shipped off to places like Campbell’s where they become chicken soup. They are worth so little that many are incinerated, their immature eggs unharvested.”
The article describes a few New York restaurants that have started featuring unlaid eggs as a gourmet item on their menus. A chef describes them as having “a deep, concentrated flavor. It made the dish very different!”
So, everything old is new again. I wonder though, if these eggs catch back on, it would probably not be in a way that makes use of the whole bird the way the recipe in the Mennonite cookbook does. It could potentially even lead to more waste if chickens are harvested specifically for their immature eggs and then the birds are unwanted and thrown away.
When I cooked my Dropstone Farms chicken, the one whose processing I had a hand in, I tried to use every part. She was too young to have any partially-formed eggs (and, she also may have been a he, I’m not sure..) But I made giblet gravy using the heart, kidney and gizzard. I sauteed the liver with butter and onions for a snack while I was cooking.. first time I’ve eaten liver, and I liked it.. And I attempted to make stock out of the feet and neck. The skinned feet are a little creepy to look at but they are supposedly the best for stock cuz of all the collagen and whatnot. I accidentally left the feet-stock on too long and burnt it past the point of recognition, but everything else turned out great and I’ll try with the feet again next time!
The chicken her/himself I rubbed with an herb butter and roasted for an hour on top of rosemary mixed veggies. The meat was delicious and a delight to share with Renee and a few guests. I used the carcass to make chicken & rice soup which was very rich even without the feet.
I bought another chicken from Lauren and Garth last week, which is in the freezer waiting for his/her time to shine. They charge $5 per pound which makes the bird a $20 investment. I know I would balk at buying a $20 chicken in the grocery store, but somehow it seems like I am getting a fantastic deal on this bird now that I know more of the whole story.
And… That’s all I have to say about that!