With all the sturm und drang about foie gras these days (The ban! The last days of Versailles parties!), it's a good time to discuss the way we process birds meant for consumption. And not just ducks but chickens. Because as much as some of us love duck liver, duck confit and down pillows -- all things that the ban will likely affect -- most of us consume many more chickens than we ever will ducks. Think Kentucky Fried Chicken, just for starters. Michael Ruhlman (The Making of a Chef, Ratio, etc.) wrote a piece on his blog yesterday examining how chickens are processed.
Ruhlman visited Schmidt Family Farms, an organic chicken farm in Ohio -- Ruhlman is from Cleveland -- to watch the birds' path from fuzzy chicks to, well, dinner. The idea was to see first-hand the process involved in what we eat. Ruhlman is a chef and a cookbook author, sure, but one could argue that we all have a responsibility to do this. Especially these days, when how and what we eat, and how and what farmers raise and process and sell, is being discussed in Sacramento.
Thus not only does Ruhlman watch the workings on the farm, but "I also participated in killing and eviscerating a chicken so that I would know how it felt. It wasn't fun, but it was deeply instructive."
The Cornish Cross chickens may not be free-range, but they're pretty close. Bradley Cramer, who raises the chickens, "keeps them in large hoop cages that he wheels around the pasture every day so they have fresh bugs and stuff to eat. He tried letting them run outside the cage, but too many were getting eaten by hawks." Imagine Alice Waters in charge of a pet hamster farm.
Go read the story -- and watch the video. Consider it your chef demo of the day. Oh, and if you're squeamish, be forewarned: There is plenty of blood, innards, evisceration, etc. But if that grosses you out, maybe think a minute about how things are in a big chicken factory instead of a small organic farm.