On (Home) Butchery.

I well remember my last tetanus shot. It was Fall of 2003, and I was making a pizza after arriving home late from work. I was slicing some green pepper when my hand slipped, and I sliced an incision in my left thumb so deep that it made my eyes well up with tears. The reason I remember so vividly is that I have a phobia of hospitals, needles, and anything medically related in general, and I remember trying to convince the doctor who looked at my swollen, still bleeding digit that I didn't need one.

"It's a clean cut," I said. "I just have some really sharp knives." My clever argument didn't work, and I clearly remember him assuring me that I would recall that the last tetanus I had would be in 2003. Those knives are the ones I still have, a Christmas gift from my parents the year prior, a Wusthof classic 7 piece set. And almost the same number of years later, I still bear a small scar on my left thumb to remind me not to chop hastily.

Since I spend so much time in the kitchen, I rely most heavily on my chef's knife. I probably use it more than I should, and in reality it is maybe just a tad too big for my hands. But over the years I have adapted to it, so much so that if I were to spring on another, smaller, perhaps Asian knife, I would certainly have a learning curve. As much love as I have for my current knives, there were always some tasks that I felt I could accomplish better if I had better tools, breaking down chickens, in particular.

It has been several years since I have purchased meat from anywhere other than a farm. Longtime readers will remember that I split beef and pork with my Parents that is raised near their place in southwestern Wisconsin. Local Amish raise the animals for us in the way we would raise them if we had the resources to do so. We order chickens early in Spring, that are ready and butchered in Fall. Communication is done by U.S. Mail, or by a pop-in visit my Mom does to find the date of the butchering. Last year, I got 5 chickens and I have to say that outside of Christmastime, they were the only chicken we ate at my house. Even though we aren't overly carnivorous around here, I only really left my long time (mostly) vegetarian lifestyle after my marriage to a burger and brat man.

When I look back at the reasons for my meaty aversions, I really think that I was just afraid of it. I was afraid of packages of parts, I was afraid that I wouldn't get my counters clean enough. I was afraid of under cooking it, and so most things I made were overcooked and didn't really taste that great. After we began sourcing good meat, I felt none of those concerns... and while I still don't eat a meat-heavy diet, I feel good about having an entire healthy animal to work with.

Now, I have a lot to learn about breaking down animals. I have never seen a whole side of beef and marveled at the anatomy of an impossibly large cow. But I have watched my Mom cut a bird into 8 pieces, moving the joints to find the places to cut through. Going through the motions that (with 5 birds a year) are still rather new to me, I found it was infinitely easier with this Wusthof butchery set. The poultry shears nipped through easily as I cut out the backbone, the hefty cleaver broke the sternum swift and neat. But what I am most in love with is the boning knife that made quick work of removing the skeleton parts from the pale pink flesh. I tried not to feel bad for not making such a neat work of it, but seeing as I have never removed bones before, I think I did all right. (I also take comfort that any remaining meat on the bones I discarded will enrich my stock all that much more and not really be wasted.)

spring loaded!

Since for the past couple of years I have dealt more in chicken than chicken parts, I have to say that I enjoy most a chicken in a pot (check out this one!). Roasted chickens are great, that burnished brown skin so alluring and crisp. But to make a whole bird in some kind of sauce, braising it in the oven for an hour or two until you have the best of all worlds? I almost prefer that to any other kind of meat. Tonight, I dredged my chicken pieces in flour speckled with minced rosemary, paprika, salt, and pepper and after wilting 3/4 lb. of mushrooms with some green onions in butter (and removing them from my pot), I added a little more butter and browned the chicken. I added just a little more butter and the leftover flour, and made a roux with vermouth, leftover veg stock that needed using, and half a lemon. I added everything back, topped it off with the last of the veg stock, and baked it in the oven for an hour until it was bubbly, perfectly cooked.

We'll have several days of leftovers, and something for the freezer before this chicken is gone completely.

As we were eating dinner, I thought how my next big cut will likely award me with another tetanus shot. The ten years between them seems to have gone lightening fast, and still my thumb has the little knot of scar tissue that will never quite go away. My thumbprint is actually altered there, part of my identity forever changed by my devotion to wielding sharp knives. I actually need to find a good knife sharpening service, since a shy decade of my honing has likely taken a toll on my set.

I wonder if I will be brave enough to ask my Parents' neighbor if I can help butcher chickens. If I could learn to accept the most visceral part of responsible meat eatery. I suspect I will. And when I do, I'll be sure to be careful of my fingers.

Disclosure: I did receive a Wusthof 3-Piece Poultry Set (available exclusively at Williams-Sonoma) for review. My opinions are my own, and are not embellished.