I read an article in the New Yorker magazine a couple weeks ago about Gary Snyder, and realized I needed more excitement in my life. There were a few things about this guy that really made me think about my own life, and about how relatively bland it is, but the overall point was that I want to have realer experiences. This guy fell the trees that he built his house out of and was hung by a rope tied around his ankles over a cliff in Japan on a mountain climbing trip with zen buddhists and told “we’re going to ask you questions and we’ll drop you if you don’t tell the truth,” and then asked “what did you face look like before your parents met?”
My life, compared to a guy like this, made me think that all I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren will be, “I remember when I used to write a blog when I was in the Peace Corps.” Coming to such a realization forced me to think about my connection to the world, and how I can live to my fullest: hence my quest to kill a chicken and eat it.
It’s common in Ujar to see Azerbaijanis walking from the bazaar to their homes with live chickens in their hands; held by their feet. The birds are held by their feet, so they are only looking at the road pass them by. Though I’ve always turned my head, there have been several times that I’ve seen people carry their hens out to the street to sever the head, and prepare the carcass for dinner. If I was ever going to have a chance to purchase, kill, prepare, and eat a chicken, it was going to be here. Still, I’ve always been a big squeamish when it comes to murdering things with eyes, but I knew in the back of my head that if I think it’s alright to eat these little guys, I should be able to kill it.
I talked to Joyce, my partner in crime, and we decided to do it over a Christmas get-together I was having in my house in celebration of the holiday season. The guy at the bazaar that we bought the chicken from didn’t trust us to carry the chicken by it’s feet in the Azerbaijani fashion, so he put it in a plastic bag with its head sticking out of the top. Instantly, the chicken’s talons ripped through the bag forcing Joyce to carry the chicken, which we named Pat, like a little baby.
To save me the embarrassment of being out-witted by a chicken, we tied it up to a pillar in my yard and thought about our plan of action. From the information I have gathered, there were a few steps that we needed to organize before we were to do the deed: Kill it, remove the innards, boil it for a minute, defeather, and in our case, put a can of beer inside of it and put it on my grill. After we organized our plan of attack, we went for the chicken.
There were a couple waves of feeling bad about what I was about to do, but I had already hyped myself up for the experience enough to be able to go through with killing my dinner. Every time I would feel like Pat’s life was a bit unethical, I would remember that this is the way humans have eaten since the dawn of time. The unethical thing, in my mind, is the fact that I felt like eating it was alright, but that I had never been in a situation where I had to see the meat go from animal to side dish.
Cutting the chicken’s head of felt a bit anti-climactic, to be honest. There was a bit of a dramatic moment, as the blade didn’t go through as cleanly as I had hoped. I was told that a sawing motion was the way to go, but I figured that since I was using my sitemate Kevin’s brand new knife (from America!) that I would be able to go through the neck pretty easily. I chose to go with a method that can be best described as ‘paper-cutter,’ where I put the tip of the knife into the cutting board, and slamming the heavier end of the knife into the neck with the weight of my other hand.
As soon as I began the downward motion, the chicken, understandably, started freaking out. This made Joyce freak out, so she let go of Pat. This left the chicken pinned to the ground by the neck, flailing around until I finally made the clean cut. The head of the chicken fell on to the ground, and the body went completely nuts, squirting blood everywhere, including all over my pants and jacket.
Joyce took care of the organ removal, and we shared the defeathering process, although she did most of the work. I figured that if I was going to kill a chicken for the first time, I might as well cook it in a new way as well, so I went with the beer-can-chicken method.
It cooked pretty quickly, since it was a real chicken and not one of the oversized, hormone-induced American roosters. I’ll be honest here and say that it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever had, which is what I was hoping for. Since we ripped a lot of the skin off in the defeathering process, it dried out quite a bit on the grill, and was pretty rough. The inside of it was amazingly moist and flavorful, which lived up to the legend of cooking a chicken with a beer can in it, but also lead to an unpleasant surprise.
We were all picking at the chicken, pulling the meat off the bones, when Tim grabbed a knife and went to cut off a chunk of some white meat. “What are you doing with a knife?” I asked, “aren’t you in the peace corps? use your hands.” Thankfully, he ignored my advice and cut open not only a nice piece of meat, but also the gizzard, which was full of the grain that the chicken had been eating all day.
We missed the gizzard because we had cleaned the chicken from the backside, up through the rib cage. The idea that a chicken could have a baseball’s worth of half-digested grains in its throat completely caught us off guard. As he cut it open, the room quickly smelled like vomit and bile, which turned most of the people off from the idea of picking meat from the carcass.
Proud of my accomplishment, I continued to grab the meat from the bones until I was satisfied with my efforts. In about three hours, I had killed, prepped, cooked, and eaten a chicken. I can’t see myself forgetting this one.
ALSO: For the not so feint-of-heart, here is the footage of the deed that was described above. If you aren’t into seeing a chicken getting its head cut off, don’t watch.