Late June, Slow Food Hawaii sent out an announcement that Shane and Christie Fox of Fox Farms (in Papaaloa, near Laupahoehoe) are raising meat birds again. Christie ordered the Cornish Cross broiler chicks from Asagi Hatchery on Oahu. It’s a shorter travel time therefore less stress on the chicks compared to ordering from a mainland hatchery.
I contacted Shane if I can help eviscerate the 7-week old meat birds. (I’m not squeamish about gutting poultry.) He’s happy that I can help his farm process 80 broilers. This would be my third time processing poultry. The first was in 2006 with Jan Dean (her Delaware heritage breed and my 3 roosters), the second time was January of this year (16 stewing hens).
Growing up in Philadelphia, I remember my mother butchering chickens from our backyard flock for Chinese tonic soup. My folks ran a Chinese food take-out joint in the front of the property while raising three kids, flock of chickens, silkies, doves, a white dog named Filip, a cat, an aquarium of goldfish and I think, one turtle in the back of the concrete backyard.
I chased (but never managing to catch) the Silkie bantam black pair of hen & rooster. I cuddled with my favorite hen whose name was Tutu. (Did mother butcher her? I don’t remember.)
I distinctly recalled my first nibble of fresh chicken liver poached with a ginger and scallion. The texture was creamy and unbelievably unctuous. Talk about raising me as a foodie; I also remember distinctly eating braised sea cucumber (or sea slug).
Fast forward to August 8, 2009. Ben & I woke up to a pitch dark Saturday morning, about 4:45a.m. From Ahualoa, we drove Jim’s truck with detailed directions and map to Fox Farms. There was a stretch of road after the turn off the main highway that required 4WD to navigate over the bumpy, rutted and occasionally flooded puddles of water.
Ben & I arrived around 6:30a.m at Fox Farms. It was a beautiful blue sky which was a huge change from the dreary wet weather I’ve been experiencing at home.
I noted the hooped structure was set up for chicken processing: bright & well-lit, concrete floors, large sinks with foot-operated faucet, two large tables for gutting, scalder in the corner and a packing station in the rear.
Shane was in charge of severing the jugular veins and beheading the meat birds in three killing cones. Sam Benigni, another helper, was primarily in charge with scalding and defeathering process. Christie, Phoebe Mills (neighbor to the Foxes) and I eviscerated the broilers while Ben took photos, removed chicken feet and cleaned the gizzards.
On the table, there was a plastic container for the hearts, gizzards and livers. Under the table, there was one bucket for discarded chicken feet, two buckets for the guts, one small bucket of vinegar-water to wipe down the tables as needed.
I used a 5-inch narrow boning knife (purchased on Amazon.com). The blue plastic Fibrox knife handle is built in with Microban which gives antibacterial protection. The grip on the plastic handle is like very fine sandpaper which is helpful during the gutting. I stopped my bamboo cutting board from sliding around by placing two damp sheets of paper towels under the board.
It took me at the minimum, 7 minutes to eviscerate. I had less than 2 dozen birds under my belt. In comparison, Joel Salatin, Polyface Farms, evicerates in about 20 seconds. He’s got hundreds and hundreds of broilers under his belt!
The first customers arrived at 9:30 a.m. We were finished eviscerating around 10 a.m. and started to clean up the equipment and processing area. The meat birds were in 33 gallon containers chilling down before being vaccuum packed in plastic bags.
Shane showed us how to bag the broilers, staple the bag shut, dunk the bag into 200 degrees F stockpot of hot water to vacuum seal the bag. He went to the front of the hoop house to deal with the steady stream of customers. Christie, Sam, Ben and I bagged the remaining birds from two 33 gallon chill tanks.
Some of the meat birds were so wide that we struggled to get the plastic bag to fit over the carcasses. The bagged birds went into a cooler filled with ice for further chilling before loading into the customer’s cooler.
Shelby Floyd, our current President for Slow Food Hawaii convivium and another friend drove from Waimea to pick up their broilers at the Fox Farm.
Ben and I left a little past noon with a cooler of chicken livers (my guilty pleasure) and food items from Shane and Christie for helping them process.
Ben and I said our goodbye to the batch of next broiler chicks that the Foxes are currently raising. Shane told us the demand exceeds supply for the September order. They accepted my offer for help for next month. “I work for livers.”
Have you eaten meat birds from a small-scale pastured broiler producers like the Fox Farms? How do you cook your broilers? Do you have a favorite side dish(es) you eat with the roast?
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