Thursday, December 2, 2010

Farm to Table: Processing Ducks

The following post contains images of ducks being humanely butchered. If you are sensitive to the killing of animals or have children around whom you don't want seeing images of dead animals - please do not read this post.

Okay - if you're still reading, i hope you will find this post informative. I found the experience to be very enlightening and it truly helped me to better understand the food chain and what really goes into the practice of preparing meat for the dinner table.

I met Germaine of Munkebo Farms at the Austin Urban Farmers Market where we both have booths on Saturday mornings (10 - 3). I've been training Pocket to herd sheep and learned that she has ducks that Pocket might practice on, so we scheduled a date. Instead of working the ducks, however, i simply introduced Pocket to obedience training around crazy animals (ducks, geese, dogs, ferel hogs, horses, you name it) and agreed to help Germaine process 4 ducks for her Thanksgiving supper. The whole ordeal took upwards of 3 hours and was not without some mess, cringing, and corgi intrigue.

Here's how we did it:
Each duck was placed upside down in a cone, held securely by quiet helpers and humanely slaughtered with a sharp razor blade to the artery and vein in the neck. Two passed quickly, two held out for almost 10 minutes with some thrashing and splattering of duck blood. Good thing i wore old pants and sneakers. Killing poultry in this fashion is one of the most humane methods: no unneccesary violence via head chopping, they're squeezed in the cones securely which makes them feel comfortable in their final moments, the blood can drain into buckets placed below and comes out fairly quickly helping to speed their transition into death.

I held the duck to the right and caught this shot while Milo helped Germaine with the second

Once dead the birds are dipped in scalding hot water and placed in a plucking machine. We had the water a bit too hot which melted some of the skin causing unsightly damage to the finished duck. The feathers were difficult to get out as well: the water was so hot that we had to take them out before all the feathers got completely wet. This was my least favorite part: smelly, wet feathers are just plain gross. I have a problem with wet things: tissues, paper towels, and feathers, apparently.

A large potato masher comes in handy
Heavy duck!
This plucking machine really freaked me out.
As you can see - this duck did not lose enough feathers in the machine
Once plucked we finished up the butchering process, removing the breathing tubes and innards. This was actually pretty fun and i did a good job, though the lungs were hard to find. No pictures of this, as my hands were rather nasty at this point. First you slice the skin around the base of the head, find the trachea and other main tube, seperate from spine and cut spine. Make an incision near the clavacle area and clip the base of the trach and other tube (sorry i'm forgetting my science learnin') and gently pull the head with those tubes out of the neck. Voila, now carefully slice off the oil glands, flip him over and carefully cut into the body cavity, removing all the goodies within. We saved the gizzard, liver and pancreas for the pot, discarding the voice box, testicles, lungs and crop.

Chilled and ready to be processed
Poultry feet make great stock - lots of gelatin!
Ready for Thanksgiving dinner
 I'll never look at pre-packaged poultry the same way. It's quite memorable to hold a living, warm duck in your hands, feel its death throws, and finally lower its processed carcass into a cooler ready to be eaten.

I wrote this post because i think it is important to remember where your food comes from: if you eat meat, it was once alive and had to die for your supper. There's blood involved, mess, and too often pain and fear. Remember that, respect that, and don't take that meat for granted: choose local if possible, humanely raised and butchered meat for your supper table. Just because you may choose not to think about where that meat comes from, or how it was treated when it was a living animal, doesn't make the frequent mis-management and disrespect of meat animals any less prevalent. Only consumers can change the market.
Make the choice.
Be responsible.
Feel good about the food you eat and where it comes from.

This post also found at Simple Lives Thursday

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