Thursday, 18 October 2012

Birds of a Feather

My last class at the Agrarian Kitchen was the Birds of a Feather.  If you are squeamish, then I would advice skipping this post.  However, if you want to find out how to harvest your own animals, then read on.

I want to focus on the process of how to dispatch these animals, because I that's what eating meat is all about.  Something has to die, so that we can eat, plant or otherwise.  Part of me was a little reluctant on attending.  I wasn't sure how I would feel, but I am so glad I did go.

It was a revelation.

The act of witnessing the death of an animal connects you to the source of food instantly, much like picking vegetables straight from the garden.  Meat, is suddenly not neatly packaged and boneless.  It was running around a few minutes ago.  It had a face.  Eating this way demanded respect from me, and I want to do nothing less than to eat the animal in full.  Wasting any was not an option and I wanted to use as many parts as I could.  Not only is this respectful, it's also economical.  Seek out the cheaper cuts and with a bit time and effort, they are delicious in their own right.

If you haven't seen the Anatomy of Thrift, then please go and see it, now.  It's a really beautiful thing to watch.  The ethics of eating meat is a can bucketload of worms that this post cannot address.  From my small amount of reading, I initially thought vegetarinism was the way to go.  But with some thought, I realise the problem is not so much with eating meat itself, but eating industrialised food, again, vegetables or animals.  There's a deep connection between animals and plants that is far more complex than just choosing whether to only eat vegetables and/or meat.  The choice is not easy, but I think knowing the provenance of your food is a good point to start, and I strive (but not always successful) to source food as close to the producer as I can.

But, enough ranting and back to the class...  We first learnt how to handle birds.  To hold them, lift them up and slide a hand under their belly and allow their legs to come through between your fingers.  A chicken was passed around for us to have a go at holding the bird.  Once we had mastered holding, we were ready for the serious part of the class.

Guinea fowls were the first to be dispatched.  To kill a small bird, grab hold of the bird's legs with one hand (like you are going to dangle them upside down), and the neck with the other hand.  Quickly and with force, stretch the bird in opposite direction.  The hand around the head, while holding the head down, pull it down and backwards.  The idea is to snap the neck which kills the bird instantly.  The bird by reflex may move around a bit, but the it is no longer conscious and no longer feels pain.

This a world away from industrial slaughter houses. 

In a similar fashion, we also dispatched a few roosters, which would turn into delicious southern fried chicken the next day.  Oh my god, fried in lard with a sprinkling of herb and spice.  It was the best fried chicken I've ever had.

After dispatching the animals, we were ready to pluck them.  There's a few ways to do this, dry plucking (as demonstrated here) and wet plucking as explained below.

Wet plucking starts with dunking the bird in hot but not boiling water (sorry, I've forgotten what temperature it's meant to be :/) for a minute or so.  Feather should come off quite with a little tugging.  If it is really stuck, dunk the bird back in for a little longer, and test again.  It's a lot of work, and is best done outdoors.  Expect feathers to be on your clothes, in your hair, mouth and on your hands.  Persevere though, and you will soon be rewarded for your effort.  As soon as the feather is cleaned, the bird instantly looks familiar. 

Next, the internal organs are taken out.  First, clear away the neck, and from that opening, take out the crop (a sandy sac that birds use to grind their food).  Internal organs like the heart and lungs are also removed.  One final rinse under the tab and it is (almost) ready for cooking.  You may find a few stubborn hair on the bird.  These can be removed using tweezers.  It's... a test of patience.  All the more respect when it comes to eating it.

We then took a break for lunch and we feasted on the guinea fowls that we've just dispatched, as well as a few quails from a local farmer, John (that's Stacey's dad!).  I may have been a little distracted with lunch to take photos of all the food.   I did get a picture of the quails though.  It was sweet and delicious.  As little as they look, these birds were surprisingly filling.

After lunch we had a few more goose to dispatch.  Goose are such majestic and strong animals.  Maybe it's because I saw them being killed, but I thought their feather looked especially white.  Even in death, they still looked so beautiful.  These birds are larger and much stronger than guinea fowls and roosters, and so a different technique is required.

Hold the animal down with your body weight using your knees (basically, you sit in them).  Using one hand, bend the head up and back.  Bending the head back gives access to the main vessel up the neck.  Wield a knife with your free hand and give a quick firm slice on the exposed neck.  Cut through the skin and the animal should begin to bleed.  Having a ready bowl and garbage bag laid out on the ground makes clean up easier.  The animal will definitely struggle, but after a few minutes it will subside.

Then it's more plucking... and more plucking... and a bit more plucking...   There's a secret to plucking a goose, but I'll leave that as a surprise for those attending the class ;) There was so much goose down everywhere, and it would have make a nice doona, or pillow.  In fact, I think Rodney mentioned that there is a place that collecta excess feather.  With all the plucking and cleaning done, the prepared birds were put away to the cool room, ready to be cooked the next day. 

And that's all there is to dispatching.  There is nothing to be afraid of and nothing to be taken for granted.

It wasn't all just about death though.  In the middle of the class, Rodney was called out to see one of the goat.  She had just given birth to  two new kids and we hurried out to see them.  The kids had were still damp and yet to find their way on their feet.  The mother just began to nurse them by licking them clean. This was the closest I've been to see anything give birth.  The mother goat, in one hilarious moment of confusion, tried to lick Rodney's face clean!  It's a reminder the farming is not just about the end result.  Caring for the well being of these animals is also a big part too. 

Life and death on the same day.  It was so blindingly intense, I will remember this class forever.

Thank you to Rodney and Severine for being so brave to hold a class like this.  It may not be everyone's cup of tea, and I dread to think the criticism  you might have gotten.  All of your classes has taught me to think real food, and where it comes from.  The reconnection, even though I was somewhat reluctant, has been made.  And for that, I cannot thank you enough.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Birds of a Feather

There was a lot of this today at the Birds of a Feather class at the Agrarian Kitchen.  More to come... 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Desserts to Die For

A few outtakes from today's class with Alistair Wise held at the Agrarian Kitchen.  I think I'm still on a sugar high... ;)

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Cooking with Fire at the Agrarian Kitchen

Do you like a roaring bonfire?   I do.  Lots.  During the day, we worked with three different fires: hearth/fireplace cooking; the Alan Scott woodfire oven; and the bonfire in the garden.  One thing that I hadn't appreciated about cooking with fire, is that there's an extra dimension to it, literally.  You can cook over flames, coals, under ashes...  It's amazingly versatile.

As Rodney said, if we were going to have roast chicken, we might as well have something great.  Doesn't the bird look beautiful?  It was only dispatched days ago, and hung to dry out the skin.  The chicken was strung up on a string and placed in front of the fire, and was kept turning throughout the class.  All that delicious dripping didn't go to waste either -- a pan of jeruselam artichoke was set underneath, roasting over coals.  The finished roast was juicy, flavoursome and firm, a reflection on the great life it had.  It was one very special roast chicken.

From then on we moved outdoors and started cooking using the bonfire.  One of the most memorable dish was the roast lamb.  A whole middle section was cut, butterflied, hooked onto a few stakes and set next to the bonfire.  It took most of the day to cook, and it was so good.  I stole a stray piece of crispy skin while it was being served.  Salty, lemony and fatty.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves...

While that was cooking, we huddled around the fire.  At times, the heat was so intense, it felt like we were going to go home without our eyebrows. We had some delicious spiced cider (also cooked on a fire) that kept us warm.  Who doesn't like a tipple next to a bonfire?

Our side dishes included a traditional polenta was cooked over coals, made with the very last dried corn from the garden, harvested a few months ago.  It took forever and a lot of dedicated stirring by everyone.  The polenta was creamy, thick and taste of sweet corn.  I'm blown away, again, by now the simplest things can taste so good. 

For morning tea, we've had some crumpets, freshly made an cooked over the fire.  The texture was amazing!  Toasted to perfection on the outside; morishly soft in the middle.  These were the best crumpets I've ever had.  It really was :)  We ate them hot with lashings of butter and some of the beautiful jam made by Rodney.  The  morello cherry is my new favourite jam...

I've always loved food cooked under coals.  It remind me of barbeques we had as kids,.  Hot coals in a pit and barbeque forks skewered with all manner of things.  We'll wrap up sweet potatoes in foil and stick it under the dying embers.  So sweet, they were like desserts. 

We didn't have any sweet potatoes, but we did bury some pumpkin and fantastic onions under the ash, skins and all.  How simple is that?

The onions were amazing and had a gorgeous sweet smokey smell as we took them out.  We used it as toppings for woodfire pizzas that were cooked in the amazing (and the last of) Alan Scott oven.  The pumpkins had such a striking look when it was removed from the ash -- bright orange against the gray.  We had them with toasted almonds and tahini yoghurt sauce.  It's a different take on roast pumpkins that I really enjoyed.

Last, but not least, we cooked a great Robins Island wagyu rump that was hung for 28 days.  It was marinated with tamarind, cumin and a host of other spices and grilled.  It's not your ordinary BBQ...

After cooking all day long, it was time to sit down for lunch.  We tucked into our feast with gusto.  Forks were abandoned in favour for fingers.  It was a wonderful -- and fitting -- way to eat. 

Our very late lunch was topped off with a couple of desserts: pancakes de leche panqueque with stuffed roasted apples.  It was served with marscapone made by Rodney just days before.  The baked apple and pancake was a dream to eat.  They were so good together!  With a full belly and a long day, I was ready for a grandma nap.

Thank you again Rodney & Severine for yet another great class.  You've made standing outside in the cold so enjoyable, and delicious! :)

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Cooking with Fire at the Agrarian Kitchen

Just a few quick photos from today's class at the Agrarian Kitchen.  There's just something magical about fires.  My clothes and hair still smells of smoke.  The good kind of smell.

Full post to come soon.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Agrarian Experience

Yes yes!  I'm very lucky to be invited back by Severine for more photos of the Agrarian Kitchen.  Being a little late with my mother's day present, I asked mum to come along.  She always talks the truffle lunch we had there few years ago, so it was the perfect opportunity to lavish her with a class.

A day at the Agrarian Kitchen involves a lot of eating.  Even before the class began, we were presented with this blueberry frangipane.  I love the deeply baked crust that was so short and buttery.  You know the day will be great when it starts with a coffee and cake.

This class was all the season, cooking from the garden right now and from recent autumn harvests.  Going back to the basics.  Even though it's winter, the garden is anything but bare.  The brassicas are abundant: kale, cabbage and brussel sprout.  There are leafy greens as well: cimi de rapa, purple choi and chicory.  Under the ground, daikons and radishes are ready for harvest.  Next to the polytunnel are the broadbeans.  It's my all time favourite vegetable, because they are quintessentially spring.  

Through the kitchen window, there were white boxes sitting on top of a table.  These are the bee hives, and have had their first harvest just days ago.   Luckily, we were given a taste of this.  Teaspoons dipped in a bucket of honey.  It was raw, slightly opaque, runny, and sweet.  It was the Agrarian Kitchen in a spoon: pollen from trees, vegetables, herbs and wild flowers.  Did you know it takes a bee's whole life to make a teaspoon of honey?  Think about that next time you have it...

We visited the pigs, who were quite excited to see Rodney with buckets of food.  They were fed a meal of grains and spent apples from cider making.  One of them was particularly hungry!

On the way back, we collected a few more items: carrots from a root cellar, pumpkins hiding in hay, garlic and potatoes from the dry store.  With all these ingredients in hand, we headed back to the kitchen for some cooking.

We cooked for a few hours before we sat down for lunch.  It began with the potato gnocchi, cooked with cimi de rapa, house made pancetta and breadcrumb.  It was followed by rabbit (raised just metres away) slow braised in apple cider.  It was served with a potato and pumpkin gratin and winter coleslaw (with a dressing that had a surprising ingredient -- milk!)

We finished off the meal with a grapefruit (locally sourced -- unbelievable!) meringue tart with lavender ice cream.  The lavender was trimmings from the garden and has been dried.  Oh, the ice cream was gorgeous, and reminded me of Nice.  I'm definitely saving the recipe for this one to make in summer.  The tart is nothing short of amazing: silky curd, buttery crust and mini puffs of meringue that were so sweet.

Guess which one was Rodney's and which one was ours? :)  Regardless of looks, it was the a delicious way to finish off the meal.  We could hardly contain our joy as we dug into the dessert.  I think that sums it up the Agrarian Kitchen so beautifully: ingredients produced with love, cooked with care, and shared with great company. 

Mum and I had such a fantastic time on the day and as always, thank you to everyone at the Agrarian Kitchen: Lee & Rainer for keeping the farm so productive; Stacey for cleaning the never ending parade of dishes (!); and of course, Rodney and Severine for letting us into their home, and sharing the joys of eating from the land.