Weeks before I had expressed interest in how chickens were slaughtered, which is why Pam, Brad's wife, had hurriedly emailed me the night before to let me know the next day's grim activities. But actually killing one myself? This I hadn’t expected. Brad emerged from his greenhouse carrying a dog kennel housing two young roosters. He explained that the neighbours didn’t care much for roosters; they already had alarm clocks. Also, two roosters will fight for dominance and mate with the hens and generally be a nuisance. “And so they must go,” Brad said matter-of-factly. Sixteen weeks prior, the chickens had been purchased as chicks, when you couldn’t easily tell the boys from the girls. Now it was a different story; the boys clearly stuck out. Luckily, Plymouth Rock chickens are a dual-purpose breed, meaning they are valued for both their eggs and meat. Obviously, the boys don't lay eggs - so their value is more singular.
Brad set the kennel down and with a docile voice told the roosters that everything would be alright. This reassured me. Maybe everything would be alright...
But just at that moment the kennel door opened the action began. One rooster escaped and I was tasked with catching it. A chase ensued as I dashed after it. Catching it was not easy, much to my chagrin and Pam's delight (she watched the fracas from the living room window). But finally the rooster was mine.
Now... About killing the bird. On this subject I’ll avoid indulging in details. Besides, much has been written about the experience of killing an animal and in this vein I feel I have nothing more to contribute (on that topic, I recommend reading about journalist Michael Pollan’s foray into pig hunting in Northern California). That said, I did learn about something very simple: how a living chicken becomes food. I'll share an abridged version of how we “harvested” the bird, in jot-notes.
Back in the Kitchen
Thinking back to that Saturday morning at Brad’s backyard, if any curious neighbours had been watching they would surely have been shaking their heads in wonder. We were butchering chickens in the middle of the city, after all - not in a rural farm or windowless abattoir as you might expect. But regardless of where we were, an amazing transformation had taken place: we had turned animals into food. This doesn’t seem like much, but somehow the weight of it settled on me as I thought about all the years I had been eating chicken without ever having killed one myself.
I had to do something special. It was the least I could do for this bird that I had slaughtered, plucked, and gutted all by myself (under the watchful eye of Brad, of course.)
On a whim, I set the oven to 400F: it would be a roast. I covered the chicken in salt, pepper, and olive oil and place a lemon in its cavity along with sage, rosemary, and thyme from the garden. Then I roughly chopped two onions, some carrots and parsnip, coated them with oil, and piled them onto a baking tray. The chicken was then proudly placed on top and the whole works was place in the oven. A timer was set to one hour. It wasn’t a big bird, after all.
While the chicken was roasting, I chopped up some veg we pulled from the ground at our family gardens in Holyrood. Beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and garlic, along with more garden herbs. A good sprinkle of salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and the smallest bit of balsamic vinegar. It was popped in the oven for the last 40 minutes of roasting.
Halfway through, the chicken was basted and the veg got a splash of water to keep them from burning. Finally the whole works came out of the oven at the hour mark and the chicken was removed and covered in foil. At this point I went to work on the gravy.
My grandmother would be proud. I never make gravy but this turned out nothing short of delicious. What I did was simply take the leftover veg from the chicken roasting tray, put them over two burners on the stove, add one heaped tbsp of flour, mash up the veg and add a ½ cup of red wine and about 2 cups of vegetable stock. The mixture bubbled away for 10 minutes at which point I strained out the liquids: perfect gravy.
I'm Erik, the Burnt Chef. I'm a Finnish-born Newfoundlander living in Norway. I have a passion for cooking and a deep fascination for the culinary history of the North. Simplicity guides my cooking. Time, place, and history guide my storytelling. This is my personal blog about food.