Sunday, November 17, 2013
At 6:30 this morning Homero and I squelched out through the cold mud and light rain to the chicken coop, to catch sleeping turkeys before they woke up. The processor had asked me to be at his place by 7 am. Homero would grab a turkey right off its perch and take it into the mama barn, tie its feet together with hay twine, and hand it to me. I'd wrap my arms around it to keep the wings from flapping and lay it down on its side on a tarp in the back of the van. Then I'd throw a blanket over the turkey and it would lie there quietly, seemingly resigned to its fate.
As soon as I had four strangely quiscent lumps under the blanket, I drove as quickly as I could out to the processor's facility. We unloaded the turkeys and the man asked me "do you mind if I kill them in front of you? I'm in a hurry."
"Not at all," I said, "do what you gotta do."
He had a neat contraption; a round stand with three metal, upside-down cones attached. The bottom of the cone is open. You dump a turkey in headfirst, so its head sticks out the bottom, and then when you cut its throat, it can't flap around. A twenty five or thirty pound bird can really beat you up with its wings. Even a healthy chicken can be difficult to manage. When I got home, I told Homero to look out for a discarded orange traffic cone; I bet we can use it for chickens here on the farm.
I asked the man to save me the livers and the necks. He said "don't you want the hearts and gizzards?" Actually I did not, but I knew Homero would, so I said, "yeah, save me all of it."
"Come back in an hour."
I spent a very pleasant hour at a local coffee shop with the sunday paper. It might not have been so pleasant for the people around me, however. I didn't have time to change my shoes before I left the house. I was in my barnyard gumboots. I did look for a good deep puddle and waded through it before I went into the coffee shop. Heck, its a rural area. I'm sure I'm not the only fragrant farmer who passes through.
The turkeys were just about exactly the sizes I had estimated - the smallest was fourteen pounds and the largest was twenty. They were beautiful, wrapped up in big clear plastic bags looking just like supermarket turkeys. Then the man's son, a husky twelve or thirteen year old boy who was helping, handed me a gallon sized ziploc bag full of innards. The gizzards were the most disgusting things I've ever seen; big, round, veiny softball-sized lumps of gore. I figured Homero would take one look at them and decide to throw them away.
I was wrong. He took one look and started rooting through the kitchen drawer for our sharpest knife. While I put a big pot of water on for the necks and started chopping vegetables, he carefully cleaned the gizzards, while we had this discussion:
"So what is a gizzard, anyway?" I asked.
"I hate to tell you this, amor, but it's the butt."
"That's not a chicken butt," I said. "I think it's the crop."
"The what?" he asked.
"The crop. Or is it the craw?"
"You know, the neck pouch where they eat little rocks to chew up their food."
"No," he said, "I've cut it out of too many chickens. It doesn't come from the neck. That's the buche, this is the butt."
In the olden days, we might have had to agree to disagree, but today there's google. According to Wikipedia, arbiter of 9/10th of all marital disagreements, the gizzard is neither the butt nor the crop. It's a secondary stomach, a grinding chamber additional to the crop (or, colloquially, craw). Although it is located in the last third or so of the digestive tract, it is definitively not the butt.
Gizzards are apparently pretty hard to deal with, though. It took Homero a good twenty minutes to split open, wash, and peel the four gizzards. There's a tough membrane that has to be removed. After serious washing, he tossed them into the pot with the necks and vegetables. That broth turned out to be the best broth I've tasted in AGES. We were all swooning over the soup, although only Homero elected to actually eat the gizzards. I don't know if the gizzards added materially to the flavor, or if it would have been just as good with only the necks, but it seems likely they added something.
Here's my recipe for Mexican turkey broth. This stuff will cure you of colds you haven't even caught yet, it's that good. Probably, however, it only has that magic if you have access to pastured turkey.
MEXICAN TURKEY BROTH
and Mexican Rice - makes a whole meal
for a big pot:
4 turkey necks
4 well-cleaned gizzards (optional but recommended)
1 yellow onion, rough chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 carrots, chopped
1 fresh jalapeño chile, chopped
teaspoon whole allspice
10 or so whole cloves
teaspoon whole black peppercorns
Put all ingredients into a large stockpot with a gallon of water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a fast simmer. Skim any scum. Let simmer two hours.
Meanwhile, make Mexican rice - heat a tablespoon canola oil in a large non stick skillet, and put in a cup and a half of long grain wite rice, a diced onion, diced red pepper, two cloves of minced garlic, and a large pinch of cumin. Stir with a wooden spoon until rice is lightly toasted and just beginning to color. Add 1 can of diced tomatoes and several ladles of the simmering turkey stock. Turn heat down to low and cover tightly. Let steam twenty minutes or so until rice is tender and fluffy.
Set out a plate with the following condiments: quartered limes, diced avocado, minced green onion, cilantro, and more jalapeños. Also set out a bowl of good quality corn chips.
In every bowl, put a scoop of rice, then ladle over the broth. Everybody seasons their soup as they like best. I like mine with everything, including crumbled corn chips. Delicious and warming.