An email this week from Laura, a previous WWOOFer, as well as some interesting food discussions that have been going on in the house with our current WWOOFers about ethical meat (a new concept to them) made us think of this blog post, so we thought it was time to re-publish it.
It’s inspired by one of our very special WWOOFers Laura (from Canada), who first visited our farm in 2011 with sisters Mel and Kirsten from the US. (On a side note, we normally take a maximum of two WWOOFers at a time, and the only reason we accepted three together was because they wrote a rather ridiculous song for their application. We’re very glad we trusted our instincts!)
Laura then returned with her partner Dani last year, and they’re now back in the US, working hard towards their goal of owning their own farm/restaurant/brewery. Laura’s latest letter was full of news about the vegie harvest she just managed at the organic farm she manages, and we were reminded of this amazing meal she shared with us, so we thought we’d share it with you. Hope you enjoy it…
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For a carnivore, learning how to kill your own meat is a very real way to gain appreciation of the food that goes into your mouth. Animals are a crucial part of any permaculture system, having a role in recycling waste food, providing nutrients, contributing to pest control and (when managed properly) having a positive effect on the landscape. They also contribute an important protein source to our diet, and raising, feeding and slaughtering your own animals is certainly the most ethical way to eat meat.
Led by Laura, who was tired of working with factory farmed chicken in her career as a chef, we recently embarked on a very personal “farmyard to table” journey. One of Laura’s goals while WWOOFing in Australia was to learn how to slaughter meat for herself, so she bought some 6 week old roosters at the Castlemaine Farmers Market. They were penned next to the rest of our flock so they had company, under a beautiful shady cypress tree with a shed for shelter, and fed a plentiful diet of rain-damaged cherries and other fruit, locally grown biodynamic wheat, household scraps and grass and weeds from around the farm.
When the boys were big enough, slaughter day arrived. Laura and Hugh had researched and constructed a killing cone to facilitate a low-stress experience for the roosters. They were up-ended in the cone, their heads pulled down to expose the neck, and the heads removed with one quick and decisive stroke, using a very sharp knife. The cone contained the flapping and involuntary movement, and allowed free drainage of the blood. Everyone that was home attended the slaughter and those that felt comfortable to do so killed a chicken – a challenging but worthwhile experience.
Slaughter day was one of the many rainy days we’ve had recently, so we set up a table in the shed for plucking and gutting. The birds were dipped briefly in hot water to loosen the feathers, then in cold water so they didn’t cook! The water might have been a bit hot at the start, because the first bird we dipped did not pluck easily, and the skin tore when pulling the feathers out, but the others were all ok. There were five of us on the job and five birds, so we took one each. Hugh and Laura showed the rest of us how to remove the feet and gut the birds – it seems difficult until you do it, but is actually quite easy. The birds were then rinsed, and put in the chiller to rest.
Having put many, many hours into menu planning, Laura then embarked on three days of cooking, culminating in the most AMAZING dinner. Here’s the menu:
To do justice to the occasion we surprised Laura with our black-tie glam.
The meal we shared was, quite simply, incredible, and so much thought and preparation went into every detail, that we know the foodies amongst you will appreciate having each course fully described, so here goes!
First course, made with the chicken tenders (the part under the chicken breast), was poulet en pappillotte. When these divine little parcels were pierced the most heavenly scent was released, and the julienned cabbage, leek, carrot, capsicum and ginger in the parcel with the chicken were tender and delicious. A wonderful dish that started the evening with a tantalizing taste of what was to come.
The creamy mushroom soup for second course was a simple soup made from the tastiest chicken stock you could imagine, with the addition only of cream, mushrooms and a little crunchy bacon. It was accompanied by crispy toast with a most delicious pate made from the chickens’ livers.
The next dish was a thoughtful blend of flavours and textures that came together to make a perfect dish! Chicken confit (the tenderest, most tasty chicken that had been slow cooked in butter) was combined with bitter rocket, crunchy fennel, sweet orange segments and a balsamic dressing. It was a taste sensation!
The fourth course was, I think, my favourite. A seared chicken breast sat on top of a bed of chicories (radicchio, treviso and little gem lettuces), topped with a poached egg, roasted parsnip and beet slices, and a bagna cauda sauce, made with anchovies, garlic and butter. This was such a delicious blend of flavours that I must admit to licking the plate, and had to be restrained from licking everyone else’s plates as well! Though each dish was quite small we were starting at this point to feel extremely well fed…but we moved on…
The last of the savoury dishes was a masterpiece. One of the roosters was older than the others, and consequently had a darker and gamier meat. Laura made a feature of the extra flavour of the meat by cooking it with brown butter and marjoram, and using it to stuff pierogie – Polish dumplings made to a recipe handed down in her family from her Polish grandmother. The pierogie were presented on a smear of herbed sour cream and accompanied by caramelized onion, Lambert cherries, toasted almonds and a balsamic reduction. This was extraordinary food!
One of Laura’s aims was to incorporate chicken into each course, and her creative solution for the dessert course was to use crispy honey chicken skin as a garnish for her white nectarine jello confection that included ginger, coconut, orange cream and tuille – a beautifully moulded thin biscuit on the side. This sweet but light concoction was offset with an orange reduction and a cherry reduction (“why use one sauce when you can use two?”) and was the perfect way to finish a perfect meal.
This was the sort of meal that most ordinary mortals might get to experience only a few times in their lifetime, and we felt privileged that Laura provided this experience for us. She assures us it was also a huge treat and a great experience for her!!
To be involved with buying, feeding and slaughtering the animals and then to be present at the dinner was a special experience for our family, along with our wwoofers Melissa, Kirsten and Laura. Laura clearly has an incredible talent for designing and executing beautifully balanced dishes, but she also has a passion to further pursue the connection from farm to table in her future career, which we are going to watch with great interest!