Homestead Poultry Butchering: The Naked Fowl
Table of Contents
The key to an easy pluck is a good scald. Note that scalding temperature is nowhere near the boiling point. I set my thermostatically controlled scalder to 145 degrees F, and that is a good temperature to aim for if your scalding container is over a stovetop or burner. However, it is not really necessary to use a thermometer to measure the temperature. Just stick in a finger. Can you immerse the finger without getting a burn, but you cannot hold the finger in for more than a second without burning? That’s proper scalding temperature.
Note that overscalding (either through too high temperature or scalding too long) starts to cook the skin, which then tears when you pluck. Underscalding, on the other hand, fails to loosen the feathers sufficiently, and they are difficult to pluck. No exact formula can be given for scald time, how long to scald depends on the age of the bird, the species, the point in the plumage cycle, probably the phase of the moon. You will learn only through experience when “enough is enough” in the scalder.
Add a few drops of liquid soap to the scalder (to break the surface tension of the water and increase penetration to the skin). Put the bird into the hot water and use some sort of “poke” to agitate the bird up and down. After a minute or two use your poke (I use an old 3-prong cultivator missing one tine) to snag a leg.
Pinch-squeeze the scaly covering of the shank. When that covering easily breaks loose from the skin of the leg, remove the bird from the scald, and dunk in cold water. (The dunk stops the skin from overheating from the residual heat in the water under the feathers.)
If you’ve scalded properly, it will be easy to remove the feathers in handfuls. It’s better to start with the largest feathers (wings and tail), since they are the ones that start resisting pulling out first as the follicles cool. If you process a lot of birds, a mechanical plucker like the one pictured will speed up the process. It will snatch the pajamas off your bird in half a minute flat.
Cleaning the feet
If you don’t save the feet, don’t ever tell anybody you learned butchering from me! Always save the feet. They are a valuable addition to the stockpot, yielding collagen, which is beneficial for the entire digestive tract. Remember how you used the scaly covering of the shank to test the scald? Simply continue with the same pinching-pulling action to pull the covering off leg and toes like a glove. Be sure to pinch tightly and pull the toenails as well, and the cuticles will pop off easily. The result is a pristine foot you will be proud to have in your stockpot.
This is the first point to take care to avoid sharp edges of cut bone, which could puncture the wrapping you use for freezing your bird. (If cooking it right away, of course, the point is moot, and you can cut leg or neck any way you like.) Therefore, you should not use your shears to cut through the joint at the hock (corresponding to our knee) to remove the leg.
Instead, hold the foot and pretend you are going to break the leg sideways at the hock. The resulting tension on the joint makes it easy to slice through the skin and find the cartilage-padded interstice between thigh and leg bones. Once the edge of your blade has found that space, it is easy to continue cutting through skin, connective tissue, tendon, anything but bone, until the leg is cut away.
Head (Not pictured)
Unless you chopped off the head, at this point you will need to remove it. If you used the “English” method, cut through that “empty balloon” segment of neck skin with a knife. If you used a killing cone the head will still be attached, so cut it off with your shears.
The head can also be reserved for the stockpot if you like. Pull off the feathers, rub the coating off the skin of comb and wattles, and pinch hard on the beak, the horny cuticle will pop off (as with the toenail cuticles earlier).