Not your typical headless chicken

Aida had told me about a store in Santa Clara on El Camino Real next to Su’s Mongolian Barbeque where she bought her eggs. It’s a very non-descript shop, run by an Indian woman that also sells some whole chickens. “They’re free-range, or organic chickens or whatever.” I decided to go check them out, since I needed to make more chicken stock.

The main business is eggs. It calls itself the Egg Store, but the shop sign simply bears the logo of “California Eggs” that date back from the 80’s when eggs got notorious publicity for being high in cholesterol.

Inside the store looks worn out, but it’s got a spartan look about it that makes it appear clean. I took two chickens for $15 (one for $8) from the freezer case. There was also another freezer full of popsicles/paletas. At to the cash register were also bags of homemade fortune cookies for sale!

“Do you need eggs?” asked the proprietress. She was probably surprised that someone came in without buying eggs, when it was the main attraction of the store.

These chickens are not that big. Compared to the fryers you get at the regular supermarkets, with the poultry equivalent of Dolly Parton breasts and ‘Refrigerator’ Perry legs, these chickens are the equivalent of a Paris runway supermodel. There’s almost no fat for me to pull off.

But these chickens come with the feet still attached . . . as well as the head, cockscomb and all. It was a little startling, even for me.

(I wonder if these are hens that laid eggs and then retired, but I thought only roosters had cockscombs on top of their head. I’ll have to ask next time.)

I’m used to handling poultry, having worked at Magnani’s Poultry in Berkeley, where I learned to cut up whole chickens into 11 standard parts in under a minute. Those chickens came dressed (i.e. feathers off), headless and feetless, so they looked just like the Foster Farms chickens you’d find in the supermarket.

Magnani’s also carried ducks, which did come with heads. I remember taking a phone order from someone who ordered a duck. I wrapped one up, bagged it, and she came to pick it up.

20 minutes I took another phone call. “The duck,” the customer said tremulously. “It has a head . . . ”
“Well, yes. ”
“Uh . . uh . . I can’t really deal with it.”
“Would like you us to cut it off for you? You can bring it back.”
“Oh yes!”

She sent her son back with duck. I chopped it off, and kept it for making stock at home.
At least the ducks’ eyes were closed. This chicken I bought, the eyes were open. like those of fish you see in Chinese markets. It’s funny, but I found the chicken eyes open a little scary; since I’m not used to it. But I have no problems with the fish, since it’s so common.

As I write this, one of these chickens I bought has been cut up into 14 parts (3 more than standard, with the head and two feet.) The breast, legs and wings are being simmered for 1-2 hours for soy-sauce chicken stew, because I think the meat of an older chicken might be a little chewy. My mom cooked this a lot when I was a kid. I used to make it once in a while in college, but I haven’t made it for a long time.

The claws and head and back are simmering away in the stockpot.

Today, we all consume eat meat that has been processed and packaged in sanitary-looking, plastic-wrapped styrofoam trays; we’ve completely lost the sense that what we eat comes from animals that once had lives, since we only see it as a symmetrical chunk of foodmass, like a tub of tofu, a bar of chocolate, a deck of cards.

I know of individuals who do not eat chicken if it has bones; or who are put off by seeing the fish head still attached as when it’s ordered in a Chinese restaurant. I had a Japanese acquaintance who would always avert her eyes when walking past windows with rows of hanging roast ducks in Chinatown. My best friend in high school would eat fried calamari in Italian restaurants, but not the tentacles.

Most people are squeamish about seeing the head of whatever animal they eat, i.e. fish or fowl, because it’s an eerie and awkward reminder it was formerly a living being. But once in a while, it’s good to be reminded of these things, of heads and beaks, feet and webs, gills and cheeks.

UPDATE: I tried a bit of the cockscomb. It’s rather fatty and chewy, like boneless chicken feet!

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2 thoughts on “Not your typical headless chicken

  1. I like the American Steak Restaurants where you can pick out the steer you want your steak from; you know it’s fresh!! Of course, for surf and turf, you can also pick out the lobster you want from the aquarium.

    And when they take a really long time in bringing your food, you joke that they are still butchering the animal — AND IT’S ACTUALLY TRUE!! How cool is that!

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