Sunday, July 13, 2008

More Protein

The next time I ask, "Whatcha doing?" lie, okay?
-My neighbor on Saturday

Big, juicy grubs found under a rotting stump.

I had to move the stump so that Clark and I had more room to swing the machete. We could have used my hatchet instead of the machete, but I didn't want to get the hatchet all covered in blood.

Chicken blood, to be exact...

Raising chickens in the backyard is becoming more and more popular. Houston rules specifically state it's legal to raise chickens as long as the coop is more than 100 feet from your neighbor's house. Unfortunately, HOA regulations overrule raising chickens in the backyard, but they don't say anything about butchering them.

Or canning their yummy, yummy meat.

It was actually Clark's idea. He mentioned he wanted to learn how to butcher chicken. I happened to know how to butcher a chicken. Next thing we know we are pulling into my driveway with five young, live chickens. We could have picked up a live goat from the same place for $50, but decided against it.

There are lots of places on the web to learn how to butcher a chicken, so I'll just cover some of the more subtle tips that'll make it easier. Now, let's get some food!

Step 1: Removing the head.

I like looping a lark's head knot around the bird's neck. The other end of the string is tied to the chopping stump. Pulling on the legs of the chicken pulls the knot tight and stretches out the chicken's neck. Then "Whack!". To insure a human kill, I recommend practicing the "Whack!" on some large carrots first.

After removing the head the bird is going to start flapping quite vigorously. I like to stick the bird head (er, neck) down in a tall metal can used to ship hydrochloric acid. This contains the bird and allows it to bleed out. If you don't have hydrochloric acid shipping containers an upside-down traffic cone nailed to a sawhorse also works well. The main thing is to let the blood drain out.

Clark's first "Whack!" Yes, that is my backyard.

Misseswether's first "Whack!" A better dressed chicken killer I've never met.

Step 2: Plucking the bird.

Unfortunately, feathers aren't edible and so must be removed from the chicken. The easiest way to do this is to scald the chicken in hot water for a bit. The water should be heated to 140-170 degrees F. Hotter water will weaken the skin resulting in it tearing when you pull off the feathers. Cooler water doesn't do anything. Adding a good squirt of dishsoap to the water helps things a lot. It'll allow the hot water to get through the feathers to the skin much easier. Hold the chicken by the feet and submerge the feathery parts of the bird in the water for 10-25 seconds. Swish it around to get the water down to the skin where it'll open up the chicken's pores. This smells a bit.

Me and a naked chicken.

It's photo captions like that that get me all sorts of freaks coming to this blog.

Step 3: Removing the guts. You know what, just go here for the best write-up on gutting chicken you've ever see. No sense on me re-writing the wheel.

1st bird.jpg
Clark's first chicken.

Assorted eggs from inside the chicken.

The Clarkettes and Wethergirls were fascinated when I started pulling eggs out of the chicken. There was one already with a shell, and many others in assorted states of development. The girls also enjoyed seeing the heart, lungs, intestines and other organs they had heard about. If you have young children I highly recommend letting them watch while you harvest animals. It's a great learning experience. The girls ended up arguing over who got to hold the egg. Miniwether was very proud when she correctly identified the heart.

After butchering the birds were put on ice and Clark/Clarkettes took their leave. Meanwhile I started preps for the next step, canning my two birds.

Boiled and ready for deboning.

Canning chickens (or any meats) is easy. In fact I think it's easier than canning fruits/veggies. Meat must be canned under pressure and so according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), you do not need to pre-sterilize your jars and lids. Canning is a great way of storing leftover meat or stuff bought in bulk on sale. The only caution is that you must follow the directions published by the NCHFP precisely. Botulism doesn't just make you sick, it can kill.

You can can a whole, raw chicken but I prefer to cook the chicken then take off all the meat. One pint jar of chicken meat is about the right size for one family meal in the Wether household. The birds we had just harvested were kind of scrawny and I was only able to get two and a half pints of meat from two birds. We normally get more meet leftover from a Sam's Club roasted chicken meal, but that's okay. You can't get fresh eggs from a Sam's Club roasted chicken, now can you?

The meat is packed tightly into the jar and broth is added. Leave the top 1.25" of the pre-washed jar empty. That space will be needed for the fluid to expand while it heats during the canning process. Run a rubber spatula around the inside between the meat and the jar to remove any trapped air then wipe down the outside of the jar with vineger. This removes any spilled grease from the jar. Be especially sure to remove any grease from the threads and mouth of the jar. Grease here will ruin your seal, leading to your death by botulism. Next, place the lid on the jar and screw the ring down hand-tight.

Jar of chicken meat ready for the pressure-canner (Thank you, Librarian!). Ironically, I slit my index finger pretty badly on a sharp chicken bone while removing the meat.

The jars go into the canner, then cold water is added up to the level recommended by the pressure-canner's owner's manual. You don't want to use hot water as that changes to whole time/heat/pressure dynamics you need to sterilize the meat. Start cool/end cool is a good rule of thumb for canning.

Jars loaded and ready to go.

Pressure cookers/canners can either control their internal pressure via a gauge or weights. I find the weight-style to be easier as they don't need to be calibrated. The NCHFP recommends you get the gauge of gauge-style pressure vessels sent off for calibration every year otherwise you'll die of botulism.

According to the NCHFP, precooked chicken meat off the bone needs to be canned at 10psi weighted pressure or 11 psi gauged pressure for 75 minutes. Note: the 75 minutes begins once your canner gets up to pressure. Check your owner's manual to learn how your pressure cooker indicates it's up to pressure. On the Innova pressure cooker I was using the weight begins "wobbling" due to controlled steam release.

The wobbling is very hard to see in a still photograph. The weight is the bell-shaped black and silver thing on the top center of the lid.

I set the pressure cooker up to go while I put the girls down for bed. By the time the last bedtime song was sung ("Mockingbird", if you are interested) the process was done. Missewether turned off the burner and we just let the pressure cooker sit cooling overnight. The next morning I popped the lid and took out the fruits of Saturday's labor.

Yummy, yummy chicken meat.

Really folks, this is a piece of cake. With the way food prices are going it's definitely something worth thinking about. The fact that the jars can be stored at room temperature is another benefit in these wild times.

Peace be with you.


Windrider said...

Good for you!

I remember my Great Uncle Dob slaughtering a couple of calves each year and dressing them out for for butchering. As well as my Great Aunt Helen killing chickens for the stew pot, or cast iron skillet. Raising and slaughtering your own livestock and fowl was as common as breathing to our grandparents.

Canning in preserving is indeed a lost art in the U.S .unless you still have ties to the rural areas. I can't tell you the number of weekends spent at my grandmother's with my mom and her sisters as jams, jellies, pickles, and other items were "put up" in Mason, and Kerr jars.

Now you just need to plant a big garden with some okra, and other jarable produce and start smoking and curing meat and you'll be darn near self sufficient.

clarktx said...

Not to quibble, but in the phrase "To insure a human kill" I would add an e, or some people might be really disappointed when they come to your blog.

Merriwether said...


Way ahead of you! I have two plots of okra, two plots of cow peas, several zuchinni plants, a sweet potato plant, blackberries, assorted fruit trees, and a mystery melon plant (it started from a discarded seed and is doing great, but I have no idea what it is right now). I can't wait to make some pickled okra, I could live off that!

ClarkTX, yeah I forgot the "e". Maybe a Fruedian slip?

Anonymous said...

Out of interest, it would be interesting to see what the costs of the energy for the heating are to get the whole picture.

We're eating more rabbit here in England - free and easily available...

SheepishLion said...

I thought, Why does he need a machete to eat big juicy grubs?

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Anonymous said...

Wow.. you are a poor excuse for a living creature.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering where you found your pressure cooker? Looking for parts for an innova cooker(lid)... Do u know w source.