Monday 6 July 2015

Meat Birds

Hubbards at week 10, having a lie down to rest from all that
eating and all that growing.
At this time of year we start to feel a bit 'over-run' with chickens. Our Hubbard 'meat birds' are 10 weeks old now and seem HUGE, like good sized white, honest, chicken-shaped chickens; they have left all traces of fluffy chick babyhood behind them. They are also lazy things and their idea of free range is to hang around in the yard and by the back door waiting for the next dole out of food, so they begin to feel a bit as if they are under foot. This is no doubt bad tactics for a meat bird, because we humans find ourselves starting to appraise them in a new, not quite so benign way - look at the legs on that, feel the heft of the bird, feel that breast-meat and so on.

Busy hands for about an hour per bird, but they are fairly
easy to pluck. There is more risk of that tender skin ripping
 than of leaving any feathers in. 
Going on previous years, when we have not 'harvested' (now, there's a euphemism!) them till about week 12 or 16, though we know that the commercial boys will have had them all sorted by weight/size long ago, we would not normally be starting them yet, but we decided to try a couple at this stage. Our process involves me killing them and passing them straight in to Liz while they are still warm. Liz plucks them dry, singes them if they need it and then guts them out and tidies them up for either cooking or the freezer, jointed if appropriate.

Oven-ready at 2.45 and 2.75 kg respectively. 
The Hubbard is an excellent bird for meat - we certainly think it is the meatiest, tastiest and most delicious chicken we have ever had. We enjoy them in all manner of recipes but we rather fancied having our first one of the year just roasted with oil and salt and with just lemon and garlic stuffed up its 'fundament', to get the full flavour un-enhanced by sauces or fancy marinade. It did not disappoint and the bird was so big (at 2.75 kg oven ready) that we actually only had the legs and a wing at that first meal. Like the Christmas turkey it reappeared as risotto the next day and will join me for a solo supper of stuffed pepper tonight, with Liz off on another Silverwood run minding 'Daddy' while Steak Lady whizzes up to Dublin.

"Gribbly bits" - not everyone's taste but we like the  livers, hearts
and gizzards off our birds too.
They say that every part of the pig is used except for its squeal, and we seem to come pretty close with these Hubbards. Liz saves the hearts, livers (for paté) and gizzards. If you have never had gizzard, I recommend you try it. The gizzard is a powerful food-grinding structure like the stomach of a mammal which also contains grit to help with breaking down the corn and therefore has a very tough lining to stop the grit damaging the gizzard (stomach) muscles.

The finest roast chicken you can come by.
That part is inedible, but if you slit the gizzard open you can easily then cut out the sheet of tough lining, leaving you with pure, lean, fine-grained muscle as good and red as the muscle of heart or steak. Cut it up into bite sized pieces and use in stir-fry or toss, fried, into a salad. We tend to use the hearts in the same way; they just need trimming to remove any membrane and tubular bits which you do not fancy. I'll leave the liver to you - everyone has a good liver-paté recipe somewhere.

New potatoes from the poly tunnel. "British Queen", I think.
That meal turned out to be a first for this season of that lovely and satisfying thing, a menu sourced entirely from your own 'farm'. We had gone exploring in the polytunnel and found, to our delight, that the spuds were ready; our first go at new potatoes in the tunnel. These had been planted on 20th March (Solar Eclipse day, if you remember) so were only 15 weeks old and they were streets ahead of any outdoor crop, but I was worried that in the tunnel, where you never seem to be able to get enough water onto things, we'd have no crop. We were wrong, and the goodly bucket load in the picture is from one plant. The soil left behind is so good, that we are now thinking we might do more spuds across the rest of the tunnel in the future or, possibly now for Christmas as crops finishing permit.

That front garden gravel strip gets its first (Rhapsody in Blue)
rose and then, with the encroaching grass of the drive (right)
 close-shaved, it looks even neater. 
Spuds, then, and chicken, but we fleshed the meal out with purple-sprouting (ex-freezer) and a salad of lettuce, radish and chives. Gorgeous. Only the PSB was not killed/harvested on that very day. If we'd not had a bottle of rosé to hand, even the drink could have been ours - that lovely sharp, lemony elderflower cordial.

Shepherding the "flock" home to the East Field of an evening.
It's more like them scampering and me trying to keep up!
What else is new? The baby turkeys have now passed the 4-week stage, so have finished with all that "electric hen" heat-pad pandering and being rescued back to the spare bedroom at night. These nights are lovely and warm, so they are now outdoor birds, all be it in a rabbit run with a lovely warm, dry, draft-free "bedroom" into which to retreat. They are doing really well and have you in mind of Hubbards with their growth rate but, as Liz pointed out, they have a good deal of growing they NEED to do to reach Christmas Dinner weights. The 2nd batch is still in egg-form, with hatch day due in a couple of days. Regular readers will recall that I am a bit worried on behalf of these 5 possibles because of the nasty, long power cut we had in the middle. We were minus power for a good 6 hours and I was putting mugs of boiling water into the incubator and throwing blankets over it to try to keep the temperature up. At about 3 pm I was contemplating sitting with the eggs tucked down my shirt when the power came back on. We'll see, I guess.

Tom is on the right in this pic by younger brother, Mark, which
was actually taken in 2013. I have no more recent picture.
Finally on this one, I need to say a big Happy Birthday to "big brother" Tom, who is 60 today. Tom does not do internet or on line, but he does get to read this in hard copy when Mum gets one through the post, so all the best, Tom. Hope you had a great day. When I spoke to him today and asked was he doing anything special he said, "No, just working". That would be fairly typical for we three brothers, never great ones for 'ripping it up'. I certainly spent my UK time trying to keep mine quiet and my head below the parapet; the fewer people who knew it was my Birthday the happier I was! Good on yer, Tom. Many more.


Anne Wilson said...

Our Hubbards are off for slaughter on Monday, this time we are taking them to a small poultry processor as we have 20 of them to do and life's too short to spend ten hours slaughtering and plucking, not to mention the sore hands.

Matt Care said...

Wow! I hope that works out well for you - nice neat, clean carcasses. You'll have to let us know how you got on. We will presumably still do ours a few at a time - we only have 9 left - as Liz is happy to carry on the plucking bit. She gets a good play on Radio 4 (Lately that's been Agatha Christie / "The Mysterious Mr Quin") and chugs away lost in a world of deadly, blood-thirsty murders while up to her wrists in entrails and gore. Happy Days! :-)