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PJ to Coq au Vin

For those who grew up on a farm, processing chickens may be a normal process. Those who have gotten into the latest backyard chicken revival may have a different perspective.  I know many backyard chicken fans who are very attached to their feathered pets.  I know a couple, although not the majority, who even paint their nails! We love our pets, the joy they bring, and the eggs they offer us for our consumption.

I started around four years ago raising chickens.  I planned on all females and started small with 4 chickens and 4 guineas. I started as many urbanists do with the novelty, amazed at the fun chickens brought to our house.  I did the classic “naming my chickens” move.  All my chickens were distinctive, had names, and quickly became pets.  The thought of putting them on the dinner table seemed unthinkable.

Pat our first surprise rooster

Pat the rooster in disguise

And then…one of my pullets (young female chickens under 1 year old) started getting a really big comb and waddles.  Suspect of this development, we named this bird “Pat” for the ambiguity.  Sure enough, Pat was our first surprise rooster.

Pat was a very sweet Barred Rock roo.  He was easy to hold and cuddle.  We loved him dearly…but so did our loveable thuggable guineas.  They all grew up together, but once the guinea cocks reached about 8 months, their favorite game was “Let’s beat up the roo!”.

With a heavy heart, we decided at the time we could not keep our Pat safe from our guineas’ activities, and rehomed him to another family with children.

While Pat was no longer with us, his fertile eggs were.  We borrowed a neighbor’s incubator and decided to see what we got from our fertile chicken and guinea eggs.

Of the hatched offspring was a Barred Plymouth Rock chick…with a cocky walk.  I literally knew from the first day this had to be a rooster. And, so, we got “PJ”, or Pat, Jr.

PJ and friends

PJ surrounded by his harem

From day 1, PJ was not nearly as friendly as the other chicks, although he got as much attention as the others. He was a plucky little guy, who grew into the rooster of his coop. By the time PJ was hitting his adolescence, the chickens were in a newly built coop separate from the guineas, so he could stay as king of the roost.

PJ Watching Flock

PJ, on right, watches over his girls

He grew into a larger rooster and did watch out for his girls.  But he also attacked both my husband and I at every turn.  Does it mean he is a “bad” rooster?  Maybe it reflects on something we did differently with him than with his father?  Regardless, after a couple of years and multiple chicken sitters who raised chickens noting he “freaked them out”, we decided he was a loaded gun waiting for the perfect storm.  The last thing we wanted was one of our younger nieces or nephews or a neighbor’s child coming over to be scarred (perhaps literally or just figuratively) by our rooster. Unlike his docile father, we did not feel right re-homing him with his disposition.

Neither of us are vegan, and we thought of another use for him: coq au vin. I’ve gone from thinking I’d never eat any of my flock to seeing it as a natural progression in local food. I had processed a turkey before, and had helped my neighbor cull some of her flock. It was time, for me at least, to go to the next step and cull one of my own flock members.

I watched many videos on humanely processing chickens and read many articles on the steps involved.  PJ was 2 years old, so I also referred to The American Livestock Breed Conservancy’s materials on cooking heritage chicken. We relied primarily on Alton Brown’s coq au vin recipe for general ingredient guidance (and our garden for herbs and vegetables for the table).

PJ's last moments

Mixed emotions as I say thank you and good-bye to PJ

Since I was only processing 1 bird, I made a list of equipment I would need for processing. I made sure not to feed PJ starting the day before I processed him, although I made sure he had water, as it was the summer when the event was to take place. I had had so many battles with this rooster, many times hearing what seemed to be a triumphant laugh from this rooster after he banged up my legs or hands.  Still, the actual day I felt a little sad knowing this was “the day”.

I wanted him to go in a calm state of mind, and I was, despite the many battles, grateful to him for his time watching over the flock and for the meal he was about to provide.

The equipment was ready. The cone prepared. The deed was to be done.

Processing equipmentKilling Cone and stainless steel bowlPJ in Cone

Taking a life in my mind should be a somber experience with a spirit of gratitude.  I chose a killing cone and severed his jugular swiftly, speaking softly to him as he passed.

The attached steps go into the details of what passed from that point, from the initial kill, to scalding, plucking, eviscerating, and storage. I have some photos, but you can find plenty more of the entire process online. If you are new to processing, it is always helpful if you can find a buddy to share the experience and guide you.

As to meals…

We wanted to use as many parts of our PJ without waste. Within about an hour of processing, we made a meal from his blood with fresh herbs and vegetables, borrowing from a recipe we had seen our Eastern European neighbor make.  It had a very mild taste and felt nourishing, knowing its source.

Cooking blood meal
In a very hot pan with oil, we fryed the blood, drained it, then cut it into strips
Blood and Garden Veggies in Cast Iron

We added a stir fry like medley of onions, peppers, garlic, and garden herbs

PJ on the cutting board
At a later date, we prepared our coq au vin.  PJ didn’t have much breast meat, but he had some mighty meaty legs. We figure it’s from his running from guineas (who had now a separate coop)…and all the lovin’ of his ladies.

We were excited but also wanted to do him justice on our preparation. We would feel really bad if we cooked him poorly.  I guess *he* wouldn’t know, but we just felt he deserved to be the finest quality, knowing that he wasn’t a wrapped package from the supermarket.  He was PJ.

We had the dinner table set with a simple salad (yes, we ate him a couple of months after the summer heat) and wine. He was superb.  We were concerned that a 2-year old rooster would be tough and stringy, but his legs were juicy and flavorful. We shared “soft light” memories of our cantankerous rooster who now sat before us in a more subdued state. Other meals and stock followed that week, including chicken soup, stock, and chicken salad.

PJ on Dinner Table

Coq au vin. Thanks, PJ!

Thank you, PJ.

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