Last Sunday, I laid my big, beautiful rooster down on a tree stump and cut off his head with a hatchet.
Let me tell you, that felt good.
Don’t jump to conclusions: I’m not much of a killer by American standards. I’m no Buddhist—mosquitoes and houseflies pique my genocidal tendencies—either. I have no love for mice, and my ongoing battle with supernatural ground squirrels has been well-documented in these pages. I once managed to bag a grouse, and I wouldn’t mind going elk or javelina hunting.
But I never kill spiders, not even black widows. Once, when I was remodeling a house in the winter, a whole family of snakes moved in. I couldn’t stand to hurt them, but I couldn’t stand to touch them either, so I made my mom catch and remove them all.
If a bunny runs in front of my car and the worst occurs, I feel compelled to stop and conduct a proper burial. In parts of southern
, if I haven’t reached my destination by dusk, I might as well pull over and wait for morning, rather than risk digging mass graves.
Still, killing that rooster left me in a state of nearly post-coital
. Coitus, in fact, was one of the issues with the rooster. I didn’t have a hen left that still had feathers on her back, and I got sick of watching the rooster use his sharp beak to pin the hens in the dirt while he engaged in something it would be hard to call consensual.
Not to anthropomorphize chicken dynamics, mind you (maybe hens like it rough), but that rooster seemed determined to treat anything and everyone like a bald-assed hen. Except, of course, for mice and squirrels, with whom he had formed a kind of bloc. I don’t know what benefits the rooster got from the alliance, but the rodents enjoyed copious feed. If, like me, you are the kind of sucker who buys expensive organic feed, that kind of wanton sharing can get to you.
At any rate, going into the chicken house to retrieve eggs or drop off a fresh load of nutritious kitchen scraps can be unnerving when, at any moment, talons might fly at you from an unexpected direction. Death came from above, from behind, from the periphery and, most terrifying of all, from straight ahead—like a scene edited out of Jurassic Park for being too disturbing.
I outweighed the rooster by approximately 180 pounds, but the little bastard scared the hell out of me. I suppose when your only real evolutionary advantage is to be a fearsome cock you get pretty good at it. As impressive as talons and beaks are, however, thumbs are able to comfortably curl around an axe handle. Goodnight, not-so-sweet rooster.
The trick is not the mental preparation for murder; the trick is the physical preparation for what comes next: a bucket to drain the blood; a tub of hot (not too hot) water in which to dump the carcass in order to relax the feathers; a clean place to pluck the bird; somewhere to toss the feathers; and a very sharp and nimble knife.
Perhaps even more important is a decent recipe. It sometimes seems Europe was built on cooking old, tough birds. The Italians do a chicken Canzanese—a wonderful, sensuous braise, and certainly the French tradition of coq au vin is a legendary rooster dish. (Sadly, it’s usually made these days with tender young birds.) I’m taking my cue from the experiments Jeffrey Steingarten detailed in his book, It Must’ve Been Something I Ate.
In all, the coq au vin will be a four-day process that includes marinating the bird for multiple days in dangerous quantities of spry, young Burgundy and making a stock from the rest of the rooster bits. Total cooking time of the rooster’s dark meat will be almost seven hours.
The tough, old bird became tender and delicious. It was worth it to marinate and cook it for days and to do the one billion dishes that the dish created. Now I need another rooster to kill.
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