Sunday, February 20, 2011

The wisdom of the inedible hen

At the end of a very long comment string on facebook, we came to this conclusion:

“In the United States we have no patience.....that's exactly why we are in the dilemma we are in.....”
The Chinese character for patience is "a blade hanging over the heart"

I agree. I am guilty of it myself. I will not be the first to admit, but I hope I am not the last. Confessions are good for the soul because they give us a perspective on our mistakes and help us stride to move forward. I have many confessions to make, but here is one on Patience: I have none when it comes to the most important of things.

Lauren and I have been trying to change the way we eat. Albeit slow to progress, we have been making one decision at a time to eat more locally and sensibly. We’ve decided to decrease our meat intake. We started to buy meat locally and only enough to make two meals per week. This doesn’t mean we are only eating two meals a week with meats as participants. You see, we love making leftovers into omelets and stir-fry, so about 80% of our meals contain some sort of animal protein.

Last weekend Lauren had bought a package of ground Bison meat and we made a delicious meat pie. We had awesome omelets and Biryani rice all week. Today, I busted into the three-year-old hen Lauren had purchased. I’ve had old hens as a child. My grandma had a saying (she had a saying for everything): “old hens and old gingers help keeps diseases away.” Lauren had ran a 5K today and she had been coughing. I wanted to make something for her to feel better.

I remember on special occasions or when my grandpa was sick, she and I would trap an old hen from her tiny sunroom (she had a small chicken coop there). I would be in charge of holding the wings and the head back, so the neck would be bent and exposed to her knife. Readers beware: the following segment will be gruesome.

She would slit the hen’s throat like a pro. The very first time I saw what had happened, I was immobilized with fear. But because my grandmother had put her hands firmly over mine to hold on to the hen, I had no other choice but stare in the eyes of that poor bird and watch her struggle and die. Her blood slowly drained into a rice-bowl my grandmother had placed underneath. She would catch all of the blood and add a bit of salt and steam it to gelatinize for soups later.

“You’ll get to eat the bird brain so you can get smarter.” She would say nonchalantly.

It wasn’t until later in life I would realize her lack of interest in the bird’s life was well justified. She had something more important in mind: feeding her children so they would survive, keeping the family health so we could prosper. But she never wasted any part of it. She would boil the bones twice to get out all of the nutrients. She would always tell me if I had wasted any part of the chicken, then she would've killed the bird for nothing. I had to face reality: the bird was dead and I could not let it die for no reason. My grandmother had lived in China during the transition to Communism. Her entire life was a struggle: warfare, hunger, more warfare, a famine, and finally when she could reasonably expect certainty in her life - she was plagued with my grandpa’s cancer. I've come to respect her wisdom and what she had said to me defines aspects of my life. Naturally, “old hens and old ginger help keep diseases away” was one I am eager to attempt to recreate.

I butchered the hen this morning. I split the thing into legs, thighs, breast, backbone, neck (came separate). Luckily for me, the farmer had done the killing for me sparing me of the eventual confrontation.

I immersed the pieces in water in a crock-pot along with slices of fresh, but old, ginger, slices of garlic, salt and pepper, and just a bit of soy sauce and vinegar to cut into the fat a bit. I cooked it on medium for 5 hours. The whole house smelled delicious!

I was thoroughly disgusted with the way my LARC paper was going, so a good supper was the only thing that motivated me.

By hour six, I was able to reasonably peel off the meat from the bones. I knew I was in trouble when I felt the rubbery bounce on my knife as I cut into the flesh. I had no choice, I was hungry and Lauren had been studying all day and we were both due for a break.

I carved half of the meats into small pieces and cooked it on medium on the stove-top for another hour.

“Surly”, I thought to myself, “that would be enough to tenderize it.”

I was wrong, but the melted carrot and turnips along with the leftover rice made a wonderful cream base soup with the rich flavors of the chicken. This bird smells fuller than the regular chicken breast we would buy, but because I had not cooked it properly, it is still tough. Only the white meats were at least edible.

To remedy my mistake, I’ve put the rest of the bird on low in the crockpot to cook overnight. I hope by this time tomorrow I would be able to easily peal the meats from the bones. Then it will be time to experiment with some French-based cream dish. . . .

The lesson: I had forgotten to respect the bird. It takes time and patience to cook the bird and the old ginger. I had forgotten my grandmother would cook the hen all day, let it cool overnight, and stew it the next day. In my haste, I've lost sight of the point, but at least I have another half of the bird to re-learn my lesson.  

Will report back.


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