no hard feelings . . .

I’m not one to hold a grudge… fortunately, in regard to chickens. Despite an indelible experience I had as a kid with a rooster I still admire their kind. And care about what manner of lives they have before they grace my table.

I spent a lot of time on my grandparents’ farm up until age 9. One of my favourite things to do was collect the eggs. The chook yard was down the back away from the house near the gully. It was something I could manage myself but usually my Pa tagged along. Encountering a opportunistic snake or cranky hen was possible.

One day aged around 6, I tagged along with Pa as he checked the cows’ water reservoir halfway up the hill to the dairy. I wandered down toward the chook yard on my own. The chooks were let out, next thing I know there’s a feathered devil on my back and I’m running up the hill towards Pa screaming at the top of my little lungs. My hero grabbed the damned rooster by its scrawny neck, laid it on the nearby wood heap chopping block and took off its head with the axe. At which point the rest of it ran in circles before it dropped momentarily. Fascination quickly erased the terror I’d felt.

Like other chooks for the table the rooster was duly dunked in a kerosene tin of scalding water and plucked. I still remember the distinctive, not pleasant smell of scalded chicken feathers and guts. The rooster had a good long life so he was old and tough but waste not, edible enough. He was dinner.

Now that’s not so awful when you consider what goes on in a factory farm or CAFO. CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. Call me a coward but frankly I don’t want to see it. Even passing trucks packed with chickens and trailing white feathers along the highway, something that makes my sister cry, evidences the dreadful commodification of poultry and that’s why I buy ethically produced free range poultry and eggs.

Just because I can’t bear to see it doesn’t mean I don’t care. Factory farming makes me angry because how our food gets to us shouldn’t be shrouded, dependent on interpretation of the word ‘adequate’ or haggling over free range standards and scruples of a few with vested interests.

It might look like a roast chicken but it’s far more. I’d like us to do better but a properly free range life it’s the very least chickens are entitled to. It’s the very least we’re entitled to when we shop. Worth thinking about when buying poultry products or eggs.

Celia and I are very excited about ethical poultry farmers from the Mid North Coast of NSW Burrawong Gaian Poultry’s first appearance at my local Eveleigh Farmers Market on Saturday 20 June 2015, and won’t miss the opportunity to cheer them on in person.

Easy weekend food: Roast Free Range Thirlmere Chicken from Eveleigh Farmers Market

Despite food safety warnings I rinse whole raw chicken inside and out using cold water and paper towel to dry, then wash sink and hands with hot soapy water and wipe out with paper towel and vinegar spray. It’s up to you if you do this or not.

The G.O. loves stuffing. My usual recipe is: roughly chop several of slices of sourdough bread and a large onion. Combine in a bowl with an egg, ginger powder, salt and pepper, adding milk to moisten. In this case there was no milk so I substituted plain full fat homemade yoghurt which gave the stuffing a lovely rich slightly tart flavour. I have also been known to use sage, rosemary, hazelnut meal, chopped dried figs, garlic, lemon zest, a whole lemon or onion… none of which are favoured by the G.O.

If you make extra stuffing mixture, put it in a oiled small loaf pan sealed with foil or wrap it in oiled foil and bake for an hour or so.

After stuffing the bread mixture into the chicken, massage the outside with butter. Sit on a rack in a deep cast iron pot with lid over a bath of chicken stock and Malmsey (or other Madeira type wine) and slow roast on 150 – 160 degrees Celsius for about double the time you would pan roast. Turn up the heat to 180 C and take the lid off for the last 15 minutes. Remove the chicken to rest covered and cook the pan juices down on the stove top to make gravy.

Sometimes I put potatoes, onions and carrots in the roasting pan as well and they bake to a lovely tenderness.

This reasonable size chicken, 1.7 kg, gives us 2 nights of dinners, several lunches and chicken stock from the bones.

Note: Every day I eat. Every now and then I blog about food: I thought it only fair on occasion to share what passes as a recipe for something I’ve made. We’re a 2 person household. All quantities and times are approximate. Additions and substitutions may be made according to preference, taste and availability. Where possible I use pastured/free range/organic produce and improvise using ingredients I have on hand.

19 thoughts on “no hard feelings . . .

  1. Chicken eating in the past was reserved for special occasions. It always tasted wonderful. It makes more sense to eat less chicken of a better quality, which costs 3 times the price,but tastes so much better, and to use it all, including the bones, than to buy cheap factory meat which tastes awful and has been produced in such a horrific way.
    However, I also understand those families who are on really tight budgets, paying ridiculous mortgages or rents, with both parties working all day, that grabbing a packet of chicken fillets from the supermarket for a chicken stir fry is a fast and cheap way to feed their small armies.


    1. I think that’s what annoys me most. We’ve been encouraged to eat more chicken because it’s healthier, more economical and it’s really been a marketing ploy to SELL more chicken that is now mass-produced to meet consumer demand.
      It’s up to each of us to do what we think and best can when we make food choices. What offends me is the marketing, advertorials, profiteering and closed doors that has given mass food production its influence on our shopping and eating.
      I hate that people who can’t afford free range have to choose between eating dubious poultry and eggs that taste like crap or not eating it at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s very little I like better than roast chicken. Neither of us favours stuffing much, so I give it a miss, and annoint my washed chook with olive oil and freshly ground sea salt. But my forte is the gravy, which somehow ends up intensely chickeny and delicious, and the last of it always goes into the big pot of soup made from the bones and skin and scraps. It’s odd how much we’re able to divorce those big trucks full of miserable animals on their way to the abattoir from the delicious steak sizzling on our plate, or the Sunday leg of lamb… A product of centralising, production efficiencies and legislation forbidding the home kills our parents and grandparents took for granted.


    1. Your simple and delicious treatment of a roast chicken and use of the whole is wonderful. And I’ve only just managed to be able to make gravy like that, it still thrills me!
      The divergence between food product for profit and real food for people is my issue and as I commented yesterday to Bill from Practicing Resurrection, unless we are successful, if that trend continues, it’s not a food future I wish to contemplate.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You’ve seen a headless chicken (sic) running around? So it’s true. Golly.
    Like you I love roast chicken and have been doing it for years, stuffing the cavity with an onion, apple or lemon sitting it on a few onion slices and some wine – then ‘he’ took over with a recipe that he adheres to faithfully and includes sitting the bird on carrots, celery, onions, garlic and starting it off at a very high temperature, then mashing it all up into the gravy at the end.
    I have always washed my chickens, inside and out, he never does. I have recently heard the health warnings and have succumbed. But i find it hard to go along with it for jointed pieces where there is bits-of-bone risk. I do find now I wash my hand so many times when handling chicken that it’s worse for my hands than washing dishes without rubber gloves!


    1. “Running around like a headless chicken” has a real basis!
      I think all those methods have merit, are delicious and have tried them myself over the years… I remember those first daunting efforts. But so long as you use a good chook and ingredients it’s hard to make a complete hash of it. And there’s always gravy for that.
      I think those health warnings are so ambiguously worded, it’s not the washed chicken that’s the issue but contamination of the adjacent prep surfaces! which I feel quite competent to safely manage… I too have washerwoman hands testimony to my efforts 🙂


    1. We wondered what happened to chicken… it just didn’t seem to taste right, then I bought free range and it made sense – proper chicken flavor and texture. We eat less, and enjoy it more.


  4. I am also with you Ella and Glenda, free range it is. I saw chicken killed on our farm in Germany. It was not easy to plug all their feathers. My mom was real good at that. Most of the chicken were so old that they had to be stewed. These chicken have a totally different flavor from the ones you buy in the store.


    1. I don’t envy chicken pluckers… the smell over 4 decades later is easy to recall… although I’m sure there are easier methods now than the farm way. We have these memories and know where food really comes from, which makes us quite privileged I think.


  5. As you know, Dale, I agree with your thoughts and many of your feelings about food and ethical production. I spent a lot of time on my grandparents’ farm growing up and it was an invaluable experience. Such a shame not every child has it. To know where one’s food comes from and what it’s life is like is such a basic life lesson. I always enjoy these posts from you, they make me feel that there are other people in the world who really care about their food, and its production, as do I. Thank you.


    1. I like the good company we have found ourselves in, and our blogging community who so generously share priceless inspiration that’s changed my life. Looking back now, how lucky were we to have those experiences on our grandparents’ farms. It’s my benchmark for food, I just hadn’t realized how much things had changed with the years since, and somethings got lost on the way.


    1. I was SO confused when I heard it was unsafe to wash chicken, then I looked into it, and it’s because it can spread bacterial contamination in the kitchen. Which makes me ponder just how out of touch with real food and its prep we are as a society. Valuable skills lost, so practices are reconstructed accordingly. But I’m sure I’ll never be able to not wash all the bits and blood off… then clean my work area and hands. Sigh.


  6. I don’t really like buying frozen chickens because they taste so different now. We had our own chickens when we were younger and the flavour was amazing. Having said that – one day i went to collect the eggs and there were some outside the chook pen. I picked them up and inadvertently dropped one. Out came a black snake so I dropped the rest and they were all snakes. Yikes! I didn’t like collecting the eggs after that 😉


    1. Snakes and chooks go hand in hand but that is too close an encounter for me… yikes! I remember a black snake across the chookyard doorway I was about to step through. They used to tell me don’t run… haha yeah right, I leapt the fence.
      I haven’t had a frozen chook for ages. I never seem to have the forethought or time to defrost them. My aunt was buying frozen Burrowing Gain chickens from her local butcher without even realizing how desirable they were… lucky thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. When I was a kid, many moons ago 😀, chicken was a real treat. Now, as you say, the industrialisation of our food have made it very cheap. My other issue with the mass production of chicken, as well as the terrible conditions the birds are kept in, is the nasties used, such as hormones and antibiotics.
    I have to admit my ignorance — what is the problem with washing chicken before cooking? To be honest, I had never thought about washing it anyway!


    1. Yes, the fine print of chickens and eggs intensively produced with ‘no added”…
      I always have rinsed chicken, especially the cavity of blood & fluid but recent studies published “A Food Safety Information Council national survey showed 60% of home cooks in Australia are putting themselves at additional risk of food poisoning by washing whole poultry before it is cooked which spreads bacteria around the kitchen”… “Notified cases of illness from Campylobacter and Salmonella in Australia have almost doubled over the last 20 years.” so it’s not the chicken, it’s the post-handling clean up. They suggest “Do not wash raw poultry before cooking as this will spread any bacteria throughout your kitchen. You can mop up any excess moisture with paper towel.”
      Why? Times have changed. I could guess it’s linked to increased risk as a result of how the CAFO chickens are produced and also trend of less time in the kitchen and decreasing basic kitchen skills for new cooks.


      1. That’s great information — Thank you! I knew about using different boards for raw meat, especially chicken, washing hands etc. but i didn’t know about washing the chook. Fancy, I have been doing the right thing all along! Also I learnt from the website that it is the size of poultry that is the problem with the bacteria — that they are small creatures and the bacteria may have contaminated all the flesh.
        You make an interesting point about the decreasing basic skill of cooks these days, despite the huge increase in cooking shows.


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