Of Chicks and Chickens
So much has happened since my last blog post. I can’t believe I wrote it on the 19th of April. It feels like only yesterday! Remember how I said that I hadn’t yet tasted my morels because I wanted to search for a recipe that would do them justice? Well…..I found one. Only it wasn’t so much the recipe that did it justice, but the meat. We ate Nasdaq. For those of you who have lost track, Nasdaq was our accidental cockerel. Our next door neighbour leaned over the fence for a chat and said that the noise was getting a bit much. Seeing as we actually really like our neighbours, we figured that a cockerel that we never meant to have in the first place was a pretty silly reason to fall out with them. So Peter did the deed in the downstairs bathroom so as to not traumatise the children, then I plucked it. Which was much easier than I thought it would be. A lot of people who keep chickens choose to treat them as pets and when they eventually die of natural causes, they bury them somewhere in the garden. While my chickens are my pets and I love the fluffy little things to bits, I think that burying it somewhere in the garden would actually be disrespectful to the animal. Let me explain….
I am not a vegetarian. I come from a family where any meal that doesn’t involve meat of some form is not considered complete. So much so in fact, that back home in Kenya, you would never invite a guest over for a meal and not serve them some meat unless you were too poor to afford it. I eat a lot less meat nowadays because of the difficulty in sourcing ethical, halal meat. Because I can’t get the good stuff, I prefer to limit how much of the bad stuff I eat. Our dream would be to raise our own meat birds and be able to know exactly where our meat comes from and know definitively that the animal has lived a good life. So our interim solution is that we buy chickens for eggs, they give us loads of yummy eggs, then when their productivity drops significantly, we eat them. As far as we’re concerned, it’s a win-win. Our girls get to live a good life, and we get loads of lovely eggs and several great meals out of each one.
So Nasdaq was roasted and shared with one of our closest friends. The leftover bits of chicken were turned into 3 scrumptious pies, and the bones are in the freezer waiting to be turned into stock which will do us another 2 meals. So we’ve basically had 6 meals out of one bird. Which is pretty good going really.
I stuffed Nasdaq with Morels, St George’s mushrooms and wild garlic and slowly roasted him till he was wonderfully moist and (almost) tender. I say almost because a free range chicken (especially a cockerel) will only be tender if eaten very young or turned into some sort of casserole because they actually have muscles! Slight toughness aside, he was easily the best chicken I have eaten since I moved to the UK 9 years ago!
After Nasdaq went, we said goodbye to Duck who was getting waaaaay too noisy, and tomorrow we will be dispatching Attila who has become an egg eater. I really wish there was another option as we love Attila to bits, but today she ate every single egg that the other girls had laid. :( But…the circle of life continues….and our lovely Daisy is broody and sitting on some hatching eggs for us and we got two adorable little Cream Legbar chicks called Fuzzy and Butt. Fuzzy because she’s unbelievably fuzzy, Butt because she likes to run in reverse, and together they’re the fuzzybutts. They arrived on the 19th of May in a tiny shoe box and are now about 4 times the size and running around our downstairs bathroom until they’re old enough to go outside. They are so tame and love being stroked so much that they will fall asleep on my lap!
Nasdaq, Duck and Attila aren’t the only “chickens” I’ve been eating the last couple of months however. There is of course the glorious Chicken of The Woods (Laetiporous Sulphureus). This is one of the oddest wild mushrooms out there. While most other mushrooms taste of…well…mushrooms…Chicken of the woods tastes like chicken. No really. It does.The texture of more mature specimens is a bit like roast chicken with that sort of stringiness that chicken breast has. The smell (while very uniquely odd when the mushroom is fresh) is oddly reminiscent of chicken when cooked. And the taste is chickeny enough to freak out your vegan friends. It can be cooked in any way that you would cook chicken. My mum made the most divine Swahili style coconut curry with it last year and people coming along to my walks in the last month or so have been feasting on “chicken” and mushroom pies and “chicken”, ground elder and onion bhajis with my home made special ketchup.
It is one of the easiest wild mushrooms to identify. It looks like sulphur yellow lava when it starts to emerge from the trees. In Leeds it seems to favour oak although it is also common on willow and beech. One of my wild food walkers also said he’d found it growing on a couple of cherry trees so keep your eyes peeled as you walk around! When picked very young, the cooked mushroom has a texture like ‘oysters’…LIES! I think it’s vile when really young and in the words of my brother when I fed him a lovingly prepared risotto…it tastes like boogers. You want to pick it when the mushroom forms defined shelves and the edges have flattened out somewhat. If you find it hard to cut, it’s too old. Leave it be and find yourself another specimen. This mushroom also bruises when crushed so avoid piling it up too high in your basket and bumping it about too much.
A word of caution about COTW though….very rarely young children who eat this mushroom can experience hallucinations and a very small number of adults can have allergic reactions to it so please start off with eating a small amount and monitor how your body reacts before eating large quantities of it.