a book review by Lynn R. Miller
Some years back I had the pleasure of reviewing Adam Danforth’s outstanding and astounding volumes on butchering meats. Those titles won him the James Beard Award among others. His newest title, Butchering Chickens, follows in the very same astute footsteps. This attractive, well organized handy 175 page book, subtitled A Guide to Human Small-Scale Processing, is published by Storey.
Danforth is a specialist, a technician, a teacher, an artist, a researcher, and a master craftsman. All these things he brings to the construct of this highly useful book. He not only gives you a well laid out path of “How To…” but also does not shy away from deep explanations of “How come…” For example, on page 60 he goes into some detail of how animal stress affects meat:
“Animals exposed to stressful or adrenaline producing conditions for extended periods will produce poor-quality meat. These conditions could include situations such as uncomfortable temperatures, jatting noises, unstable surfaces for standing, confrontations in the pen, fighting with other birds, being mishandled, or disturbances with farm dogs. Stressful situations such as these create undesirable changes in the pH level of the muscles.”
He then goes into some particulars as to how exhaustion will cause darker meats and how adrenaline rushes create pale, soft meat.
“An adrenaline rush spurs accelerated processing of glycogen and increased lactic acid production. A sudden shift of pH from neutral (7.0) to acidic (less than 5.8) when combined with warm muscles, causes the muscle fibers to unravel excessively.”
But where Adam excels, in my opinion, is in the instructive language. He starts by wanting you to understand and respecting your intelligence while guessing you might not be at all knowledgeable of the process. Take hand plucking for example:
“Begin plucking immediately after you’ve completed scalding or pithing. When hand plucking, don’t grab large swaths of feathers and try to pull them out. This will undoubtedly result in torn skin and an unsightly carcass. Rather, grab large flight feathers individually or in pairs, keeping them taut, and pull them with an assertive but not jerking motion in the direction they grow. Grab smaller feather by their base, between your thumb and forefinger, and remove with a swift, smooth movement in the general of the head (or against the direction they grow); they should come out with little resistance. Sometimes it is helpful to use one hand to apply pressure on the skin around the feathers and the other hand to pluck. If the scald or pithing was successful, plucking will be a process not of force but of finesse and speed.”
Yes, this book will take you all the way through the chicken butchering process and beyond with such suggestions such as Spatchcocking to provide a more efficient roasting of whole birds.
Here you will find great instruction for setting up the right butchering areas and process to reduce stress for you and the birds. He’ll walk you through the importance of having the right tools well sharpened. And talk you through all the variety of cuts and usage. Did you know that another word for chicken fat is schmaltz? But he doesn’t stop there, its on to packaging, with some truly elegant ideas for doing it better, keeping the quality, appearance and freshness that will delight you and your customers. There’s even talk of freezers, freezing, thawing and cooking. This is the one excellent chicken butchering book every rural kitchen in America should stock.
BUTCHERING CHICKENS: A Guide to Humane Small-Scale Processing by Adam Danforth. Storey Publishing, copyright 2020. ISBN: 9781635861655 $18.95.