– WARNING: THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC MATERIAL-
Chicken butchering is described in this blog post, if you do not like or are offended by that I recommend for you to NOT READ THIS.
As a young girl growing up on a farm in northwestern Iowa during the 60’s and 70’s, I had the opportunity to learn where my food came from first hand. By that I mean when we had chicken on the menu, I knew exactly where that meat came from because I actually helped catch, dispatch, pluck, clean, and butcher each chicken we ate. And by ‘catch’ I mean we had to run around the farmyard chasing the free-ranging chickens with a hook to try to catch them by the leg. When we were successful we would then grab both legs with our other hand. And by ‘dispatch’ I mean while holding tight to their legs we added a little swinging motion to position their necks between two ten-penny nails hammered into the butcher block and with one swift motion, with a corn knife, removed their head from their neck. Hopefully you had a good grip on the legs to prevent the headless body from dashing around the farmyard, flapping their wings and spraying blood from the neck on everyone and everything. So I learned during this part of the process to hold on to the legs really tightly and to move my body away from the flapping wings. Then after holding the birds upside down long enough to let the blood flow out of their clean-cut necks, we dunked the carcass into boiling water to reduce the tearing of the skin when we ‘plucked’ the feathers. To learn more about this “scalding and plucking” process click on: Tips for Plucking Game Fowl from Mother Earth News. After that the carcass was waved around in the air to shake the water out of the feathers and cool it off. This allowed you to pluck the feathers more easily. In fact, if the scalding process worked well the feathers could literally be removed by just rubbing the heel of your hand from the legs toward the neck. After all of the feathers had been removed, the next step in the process was to ‘degut’ the bird. I can’t even describe all of the steps to this process as it was very complicated so I found a YouTube video that shows how to properly remove the internal organs from a chicken. If you want to see it go to URL = http://youtu.be/qtQYFQA9jrw. However, if you ever purchase a chicken and need to remove the internal organs, I highly recommend that you discuss the details with your local Butcher, as it is critical this is done correctly to avoid contaminating the meat. Although I had a lot of practice, as “Butchering Chickens” was a frequent event at both my grandparents and parents farm, I was not allowed to remove the internal organs until I was more mature approximately 12 or 13. The last step, which was also really challenging, was to literally butcher the bird to separate whole bird into what we called a ‘fryer’; which means the package contained the legs, thighs, breasts, and back. This finally leads to the real purpose of my blog today – which is to describe how to turn those legs and thighs into this delicious Italian main dish I found in my Collards & Carbonara cookbook – Chicken Cacciatore.
From Collards & Carbonara Cookbook by Ticer and Hudman
I started with a kitchen full of vegetables that had to be used quickly, and some nice legs and thighs purchased on sale at our local Hy-Vee grocery store meat counter. If you are like me you will understand that of course I had to look up what cacciatore means and thus I will share what I found out…
According to Wikipedia: “Cacciatore /ˌkɑːtʃəˈtɔəriː/ means “hunter” in Italian. In cuisine, alla cacciatora refers to a meal prepared “hunter-style” with tomatoes, onions, herbs, often bell pepper, and sometimes wine. Cacciatore is popularly made with braised chicken (pollo alla cacciatora) or rabbit (coniglio alla cacciatora). The salamino cacciatore is also a small salami, popular amongst Italians.”
I was also connected to this dish after I read the quote at the top of the recipe…Michael [Hudman] said:
“THIS HUNTER-STYLE CHICKEN IS A SOUL-SATISFYING DISH. Both of our grandmothers made a version, and we have long argued over whose was better. We once cooked it for our staff meal, and it went over so well, and we had so much left over, that we had to do something else with it. We picked the meat off the bone and made a sauce for gnocchi, which is now the only way Andy likes to eat it. It’s also good over polenta, white beans, or pasta. That’s why you should always save leftovers!”
So to make this dish (that served two and made enough leftovers for our favorite One-Step Lasagne recipe on page 50 from a cookbook Trevor’s grandmother Cynthia Anderson gave us called The Best of the Liberated Cook by Beatrice Ojakangas) you need 8 chicken drumsticks, 8 chicken thighs, Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, ¼ cup (2 fl. oz./ 80 milliLiter) olive oil, 1 bunch celery (stalks diced and leaves reserved), 2 carrots (sliced), 1 fennel bulb (sliced), 1 yellow onion (sliced), 2 tablespoons of Roasted Garlic (pg 234), 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, 1 cup (8 fl. oz./ 250 milliLiter) dry white wine, 1 can (28 oz. / 875 grams) crushed tomatoes, 1 bunch fresh thyme, 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, 4 cups (32 fl. oz. / 1 Liter) Chicken Stock (page 230), and Juice of 1 lemon.
After following the well-defined instructions on page 137 in Collards & Carbonara we had legs (or drumsticks as Michael and Andrew call them) simmering for 45 minutes….
Chicken Cacciatore Simmering in the electric skillet!
And served with popovers and Cream of Brussels Sprouts soup, we have a meal for two, a lunch for each and another meal for three (One Step Lasagna)! All for about ~ $10!