2.8.13 No Guts, No Glory

Chicken parts 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

by Ellen Bass


What did I love about killing the chickens? Let me start
with the drive to the farm as darkness

was sinking back into the earth.

The road damp and shining like the snail’s silver

ribbon and the orchard

with its bony branches. I loved the yellow rubber

aprons and the way Janet knotted my broken strap.

And the stainless-steel altars

we bleached, Brian sharpening

the knives, testing the edge on his thumbnail. All eighty-eight Cornish

hens huddled in their crates. Wrapping my palms around

their white wings, lowering them into the tapered urn.

Some seemed unwitting as the world narrowed;

some cackled and fluttered; some struggled.

I gathered each one, tucked her bright feet,

drew her head through the kill cone’s sharp collar,

her keratin beak and the rumpled red vascular comb

that once kept her cool as she pecked in her mansion of grass.

I didn’t look into those stone eyes. I didn’t ask forgiveness.

I slid the blade between the feathers

and made quick crescent cuts, severing

the arteries just under the jaw. Blood like liquor

pouring out of the bottle. When I see the nub of heart later,

it’s hard to believe such a small star could flare

like that. I lifted each body, bathing it in heated water

until the scaly membrane of the shanks

sloughed off under my thumb.

And after they were tossed in the large plucking drum

I love the newly naked birds. Sundering

the heads and feet neatly at the joints, a poor

man’s riches for golden stock. Slitting a fissure

reaching into the chamber,

freeing the organs, the spill of intestine, blue-tinged gizzard,

the small purses of lungs, the royal hearts,

easing the floppy liver, carefully, from the green gall bladder,

its bitter bile. And the fascia unfurling

like a transparent fan. When I tug the esophagus

down through the neck, I love the suck and release

as it lets go. Then slicing off the anus with its gray pearl

of shit. Over and over, my hands explore

each cave, learning to see with my fingertips. Like a traveller

in a foreign country, entering church after church.

In every one the same figures of the Madonna, Christ on the Cross,

which I’d always thought was gore

until Marie said to her it was tender,

the most tender image, every saint and political prisoner,

every jailed poet and burning monk.

But though I have all the time in the world

to think thoughts like this, I don’t.

I’m empty as I rinse each carcass,

and this is what I love most.

It’s like when the refrigerator turns off and you hear

the silence. As the sun rose higher

we shed our sweatshirts and moved the coolers into the shade,

but, other than that, no time passed.

I didn’t get hungry. I didn’t want to stop.

I was breathing from some right reserve.

We twisted each pullet into plastic, iced and loaded them in the cars.

I loved the truth. Even in just this one thing:

looking straight at the terrible,

one-sided accord we make with the living of this world.

At the end, we scoured the tables, hosed the dried blood,

the stain blossoming through the water.

Leg 790 xxx
get a leg up
This poem ran in the New Yorker this week and a friend sent it to me after being reminded of my recent experience killing a chicken. I was struck by how vividly the poet captures every visceral sensation—pun intended. The cool morning air, the birds' ruffling feathers, the strange vacating of the mind, the feeling of standing outside time. That day comes back to me just a bit every time I break down a chicken. Now I know what a healthy liver looks like. I would never waste even a scrap of skin. I can sense that I am a part of the bigger continuum, just for a moment.

If you have not yet mastered the fairly simply task of cutting a whole chicken into smaller parts, now is the time. This skill enables you to buy a fresh bird and do with it as you please: Use only the breasts and freeze the rest for later. Save the wings and backbone for making stock. Here is an easy-to-follow pictorial that takes you through the process. Go on, you can do it.
Browned chicken 790 xxx
sum of its parts
One of my favorite cozy winter dishes is a Filipino-inspired chicken-&-rice classic that's enriched with the bright, complex flavors of turmeric, ginger, garlic and fish sauce. The rice should break down a litte to become slightly gummy, which I find very comforting. The whole thing is incredibly savory and satisfying. Often, no greens at all are involved in the meal. I know, shocking.
Thigh 790 xxx
thigh master
The first step is to brown the chicken. Do you take the time to do this properly? Leave the pieces alone so they develop a deep golden crunch and the skin lifts easily away from the pan, no sticking involved. This caramelization means more flavor, and the texture is enhanced as well.
Chicken with rice 790 xxx
playing chicken
Serve this up in shallow bowls with a generous squeeze of lemon. The bird is definitely the star here, so choose only the finest and honor it with the royal treatment. The chicken is dead. Long live the chicken.

Asian Chicken & Rice

serves 2 with leftovers (which are great reheated)
  • — 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • — 2 chicken thighs
  • — 2 chicken drumsticks
  • — 2 chicken wings (optional)
  • — 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • — 1 2-inch knob of ginger, sliced into coins
  • — 2 shallots, minced
  • — 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • — 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • — 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • — 1 cup short-grain rice (I use arborio or calasparra)
  • — about 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • — 1/2 fresh lemon

Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot over high heat. Season chicken all over with salt and pepper and place in pot, skin side down. Brown chicken well on skin side, about 6 minutes. Remove to a plate.

Lower heat to medium and, in the same pan, sauté ginger, shallots, garlic and turmeric, about 3 minutes. Add fish sauce and uncooked rice and toss to coat well, about 1 minute. Return chicken to the pan, browned side up.

Pour in 2 cups chicken stock and raise heat to bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cover partially, stirring occasionally to make sure rice doesn’t stick. Add the rest of the stock as rice absorbs the liquid.

When chicken is cooked through and rice begins to break down a bit, after about 35 minutes, the dish is ready. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and taste for seasoning; you may want to add a bit of salt.

Download recipe  Download Recipe


cannot really comment on the slaughter segment, but the recipe sounds incredibly delicious and I look forward to trying it soon xo
stephanie on February 8, 2013 at 2:48 pm —
I always appreciate the humor in your post titles. The poem was a bit of a shocker but, well . . . interesting. . . Asian Chicken! Just in time for Chinese New Year. Thank you.
Elaine on February 8, 2013 at 6:41 pm —
At first I thought that you had written an Ode to Jim Perdue( a little scary at first) but then of course you got to another great recipe!
Adah Nicklin on February 9, 2013 at 8:39 pm —
I am anti-Perdue!!
laura on February 9, 2013 at 11:00 pm —
No doubt about that!
adah on February 10, 2013 at 10:23 am —
I really liked the poem even if I'm not sure what emotions it inspires in me. The recipe had me thinking of paella...not so odd I guess since the Philipines are an old Spanish colony.
alwayshungry on February 10, 2013 at 2:45 am —
Loved the poem Laura- we really need to confront how we get the food that we eat. And great recipe- am trying it out this weekend- just what we need to ward off the cold- looks hearty and delicious!
Amin Ahmad on February 10, 2013 at 1:01 pm —
Thanks for sharing the poem with me. I hope the dish lives up to it!
laura on February 10, 2013 at 1:13 pm —
I like to use brown rice. Do you know how i would cook this using short grain brown rice?
Donna on February 12, 2013 at 11:41 am —
Donna, I've made this with short-grain brown rice before and it works well. I recommend soaking the rice for 30 minutes first, and then you may need to incorporate a bit more liquid into the braise.
laura on February 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm —
Congratulations on a delicious chicken preparation, and a fascinating choice in poems. You took something that might be yucky and made it funny and delightful! Great job all around!
Mary Back on February 12, 2013 at 8:45 pm —
Thanks a lot, Mary!
laura on February 12, 2013 at 9:01 pm —