Sunday, August 3, 2008

The chicken, the whole chicken, and nothing but the chicken.

Recipe: Potato Pancakes

For a while my husband and I were talking about moving into town. We live off pavement about two miles, about 23 miles from town, and because of how schedules (don’t) work, find we’re making an average of ten trips to town per week. And that doesn’t count in trips to see my family or friends on the coast occasionally.

Generally we’re talking about an average of $600 - $800 in gas a month at current prices.

And we found that our recent stint as ‘refugees’ from the wildfire smoke here in Northern California, when we stayed with my family who live in a quiet town a ways south of us, that the kids loved it. Loved being able to ride their bikes on the street and play with neighborhood kids two houses away, walk to the grocery store.

Actually, I loved it, too. Unlike the kids, however, I wanted to come home.

Because we have this house. We built it. We visioned it, designed it, birthed it. There are sacred scriptures, sacred objects, photographs of saints and holy people inside the walls. The menu and prep list I created to feed the Dalai Lama is in the kitchen wall to the right of the range, I know exactly where it is, behind the drywall, all marked up as the prep got done with various colors of highlighters.

A lot of love and intention went into this house. Not so easy to leave, we found, as we explored the idea.

So the question became, how can we stay?

This is all a long prelude to what I did yesterday.

I learned how to kill and dress out chickens. I figure at $17 a pop for organic chickens, four chickens a month, 8 - 10 dozen organic eggs a month at $4 each, we could definitely save some money there.

But my husband was very clear that he would be doing no killing, thank you. And I’ve got this quirky thing, that I touched on in my last blog entry, about having the courage to truly step into where I stand in the food chain.

So I offered to help our local meat guy at his next scheduled kill day. He agreed, and offered to give me all the information I wanted on the economics and other how-tos of the process.

I suspected I’d be okay with it. I feel fortunate that my spiritual teachers have not been the ‘practice and your life will get easier’ types. I’ve always gone for the ‘practice and your life will get more real’.

Real isn’t easy or nice. It’s just real.

And real, in my understanding, says ‘humans are omnivores’.

The whole thing really felt like adding the logical missing steps of preparing chickens that I’d learned years ago in the catering business. I knew in my bones the anatomy of a chicken, where to cut for various cooking applications - but I knew the anatomy of a chicken without head, feet, feathers and innards (unless you’re referring to the little paper bag in the body cavity of store bought poultry).

Well, now I know it all. (If you’re squeamish about these kinds of things, you might want to skip the next paragraph or four. Or nine.) I know that a chicken feels different when you pick it up by it’s feet, the weight is different in your hand. And, they’re warm when they’re alive, warm and dry. They’re really not very bright, not a predator instinct in there, unless you’re a bug. But they do want to live, it’s obvious. I can’t say there’s no struggle when they’re hung upside down, and their main blood vessel cut in their throat. I think, if we do move forward with the idea of raising our own, I’d probably invest in the poultry cones I’ve heard about, they keep the wings hugged to their sides. The birds were obviously calmed when I held their wildly flapping wings to their bodies. They didn’t always flap, some were just calm and probably confused.

I know that after being bled to death, they’re dunked into hot water to loosen their feathers, about 130 degrees is ideal. Then they’re plucked. He has a mechanical plucker, a rotating wheel with stiff rubber fingers whizzing around that sends the feathers flying. I’d be plucking them by hand, a somewhat more laborious prospect, but doable.

I know how to cut off the feet and heads, where to slit to get into the body cavity, I know to not feed the chickens their last day of life so their first stomachs are relatively empty and easier to remove. I know to carefully cut the liver and heart away from the dangling intestines and other organs, so as not to pierce the gall bladder. I accidentally nicked it a couple of times and violent green liquid spewed all over my hand and the liver I was holding. ‘It’s bitter’ he said, ‘and I’ve seen it stain skin.’ Put everything is ice water as soon as it’s done being ‘processed’.

I know to rinse, rinse, rinse. Clean the sink and buckets with peroxide to start and to finish.

And I know that there’s a smell to the warm flesh and organs. It’s different than the smell of a cold chicken on your kitchen counter, it’s musty. And pervasive. Not bad, not very strong, but a bit intense nonetheless.

It stayed with me all the way home, even though I’d rinsed off as well as I could. I figured it was in my clothes, on my hair, I’d gotten sprayed a couple of times with blood and other effluent. When I got home, we chucked the ten chickens we’d purchased into the deep freezer, and the two bags of feet and bag of heads (for stock), and bag of livers and hearts (for sneaky organ meal additions) into the fridge. I drew a deep hot epsom salts bath.

After soaking a little while I added Hauschka Lemon Bath, because I could still smell it. I dunked all of me under, getting my hair wet in preparation for washing.

When I came up there was a chunk of something swirling in the water near me. Looked like something from one end or the other of a chicken’s digestive tract.

You’d think that after killing and dressing out 6 or 8 chickens I wouldn’t be too concerned about a little nugget of reminder from the actions of the day. But that little squishy thing quickly dissolving in the hot water that my body was soaking in was far creepier than anything I’d encountered at the kill. I’m fine killing a chicken, but not bathing with any part of it. Maybe a feather would be okay.

When I got out it was time to start dinner. We weren’t having chicken.

We had Potato Pancakes, and they were yum!

Here’s the recipe:

Potato Pancakes
gluten free, dairy free (if you use the coconut oil to fry), salicylate free, sugar free, but NOT low carb

2 1/2 pounds yellow potatoes
1 yellow onion
3 eggs
1/4 cup gluten free sourdough sponge (or flour of choice)
1 T chopped flat leaf parsley
1 T chopped fresh marjoram
1 t chopped fresh thyme
mineral salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
ghee or coconut oil for cooking

Grate potatoes and onion in food processor, or by hand if necessary.

If you have time, toss the potatoes and flour (if not using sourdough) with a couple tablespoons of lemon juice or whey and let sit for 8 or 10 hours to enhance digestibility. If you’re starting more last minute, proceed to the next step.

Mix all the ingredients together.

Heat a griddle or large, well seasoned cast iron frying pan over medium high heat with some ghee or coconut oil. Place spoonfuls of the pancake mixture on the heated pan and flatten slightly. Keep an eye on the heat, you may have to turn it down if they're browning too quickly. Turn when golden brown on one side, and press down a bit with a spatula. Add a bit of ghee or coconut oil if necessary. When golden on both sides, place on a plate in a 200 degree oven until all pancakes are done and you are ready to serve.

We ate them with creamy goat cheese sandwiched between two at a time. (Except for my youngest boy who can’t have dairy, and he rolled up his hot dogs inside.) They’d be good with creme fraiche, yogurt or straight sour cream, too. Green salad, chicken sausages for the adults, and chicken hot dogs for the kids.

I guess we had chicken after all.


Kathleen said...

I love your blog, Durga! It looks beautiful and I appreciate your killing story. Thanks for sharing your experience and for facing the chickens and yourself in that.


Czarnecki Family said...

I know this is an older post, but I just found your blog and love it! When I was growing up we raised 50 meat birds at one time, twice. I hated doing the butchering but my parents felt that it was something we needed to participate in if we were going to have the privilege of eating chicken so all the kids did it. Looking back, I think it was one of the more valuable lessons I learned growing up - you need to participate in your food chain and be in touch with what you eat - and all my siblings agree. As far as actually doing more butchering . . . maybe someday :)

Durga Fuller said...

Wow, Meghan, reading your comment feels like reading something my kids might write in twenty years!

Thanks for reading!

Jennifer said...

"I suspected I’d be okay with it...‘practice and your life will get more real’. Real isn’t easy or nice. It’s just real." I like thought very much. I will be chewing on it all day.