When living in a city like Portland, where our collective meat fetish has matured from all things bacon to dishes with pigeon liver and bone marrow, it’s easy to forget that many people don’t know how to butcher a chicken.
Butchering isn’t the act of slaughtering animals — it’s preparing them. And I had the opportunity to learn more about how to transform whole birds (freshly defrosted) into dinner when I attended a recent butchery class in Newberg with Sarah and Bubba King.
I had been awarded a spot in this class for contributing to Camas Davis’ successful Kickstarter campaign to create a network of meat collectives around the country based on her paradigm-shifting Portland Meat Collective. The organization instructs local eaters in butchery techniques and lets them get their hands dirty using these skills on locally sourced, pasture-raised meat. As the Collective flourished, Davis realized that her idea could scale to communities across the country, and she turned to Kickstarter to crowd-source enough funding to realize her vision, awarding prizes to contributors that dovetailed with her mission, like butchery classes.
As I waited for the Kings’ class to start, clucking chickens punctuated the small talk that ranged from sharing a brining recipe (a half a cup of salt to a gallon of apple juice, along with a blend of secret spices), to using goats to restore grasslands, to a potential pet food made out of Oregon-trapped nutria. I also met Joel Hansen, one of the founders of the first meat collective born out of Davis’ Kickstarter campaign, based in Olympia, Washington.
Once the class started Hansen and I, as well as a handful of other Kickstarter contributors, listened to the Kings talk about their own efforts to bring affordable, pasture-raised animals to their community through their farm, The Collective. (Sarah King said that she and Davis have to arm wrestle over who actually came up with the “collective” name first.) They also showed us how to butcher chickens two ways: the quartering method, sometimes referred to as seam butchery, in which the breasts, wings, thighs and drumsticks are removed, and spatchcocking, also known as butterflying, where the spine is cut out of the cavity and the breastbone cracked in order to create a “flat” bird.
Sarah King instructed us to use our hands almost as much as the knife, noting that the reason so many people opt for plastic-wrapped packages of meat is that they have a fear of touching meat, thinking it is unsanitary, or simply don’t want to be reminded of the origin of meat. She stressed that as long as you are using clean tools with clean hands and are minding basic cleanliness practices you are going to be fine.
After being handed a knife and a bird, we got busy first removing the tenderloin and the breasts — the hardest part — as it was necessary to cut into the spot where the muscle attaches to the bone. Our fingers helped separate the meat from the bird once the cut was made. Processing the rest of the bird was more of a matter of finding the joints and folding them backwards so they easily released and we didn’t have to cut a lot, except for the connective tissue and the skin. We took the hindquarters off, followed by the wings and finished up by separating the drumsticks from the thighs. Still confused? Bubba King, as well as one of Joel Hansen’s partners, originally learned butchery by watching YouTube videos and most anyone can do the same — or visit a meat collective.
As for the spatchcocking, Bubba King finds it to be much simpler and quicker than his wife’s method, as you only have to cut the spine out of the bird and flatten it. King prefers kitchen shears for the task, but a knife will do. At this point, the bird can be cooked; however, the wings and hindquarters can be removed for separate uses by, again, finding the joints and making the cut there. When cooking with an intact spatchcock bird, King likes to position the thighs over the breast because the skeletal structure takes the brunt of the heat and the breasts, protected by the rib cage, cook slowly, retaining moisture. That said, another draw of an extended spatchcocked chicken is that it cooks quicker — roasting can be accomplished in under an hour.
The Kings are proponents of not only home butchery, but also economic efficiency through the use of the entire animal — Sarah King says that if she doesn’t get five to six meals for the two of them and their baby Ulysses out of one of their 3- to 4-pound Cornish Cross chickens, she is doing something wrong. For example, while it may not be a crowd-pleaser in all circles, King makes chicken liver mousse from the livers that are saved from the harvesting process, and they’re known to roast a chicken that can be used for a meal or two, shred the remains for leftovers, and finally, transform the carcass into a nutrient-rich stock.
Below is one of Sarah King’s recipes for homemade stock. And stay tuned for my next installment: I will be visiting the Olympia Meat Collective later this year to write about butchering an animal bigger than a chicken — the current roster of classes includes heritage turkeys, pigs and cows — while investigating how the process of starting a meat collective has fared.
Recipe: Sarah King’s Dark Roast Stock
This technique lends extra flavor to the stock because the carcass is roasted before being added to the stockpot.
- Place the carcass and, if you have them, the giblets, on a lipped baking sheet. The Kings’ birds all come with the neck for this purpose.
- Heavily salt and pepper the remains of the bird. (This way you don’t have to add salt to the broth later as the salt dilutes in the cooking process and flavors the pot.)
- Add whatever vegetables you have on hand. Think carrots, onion and turnips — even things that are wilted. For example, King includes the celery tips that she doesn’t use and anything else she finds in the bottom of the crisper bin. King also adds a bit of crushed tomato.
- Put the baking sheet in a 400 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes, turning the bird once.
- Put the roasted carcass and vegetables in a stockpot and cover with water, adding a splash of wine, vermouth or whatever acid strikes your fancy.
- Slowly simmer the stock for an hour and a half.
- Strain into a wide-mouthed jar to store.