I sit down to write this having just heated the oven and put a chicken in to roast. It’s a wonderfully indulgent thing, a roast dinner.
In our home it starts with the chicken being rubbed with butter – strange how we inherit these rituals without questioning a) why we’re doing it, and b) how many percentage our chances of having a heart attack have risen with the act of doing it.
I then sling a few cloves of garlic inside and about it. Again, not originally my idea – I think I have Nigel Slater to blame for that one.
Then there are the roast spuds with the crispy bits, the broccoli, the Yorkshire puddings, thick gravy and, crowning it all, the chicken. Or rather, at Shoogly Towers, the cockerel. Chickens in full lay are too precious to eat because they are popping out valuable eggs which we sell. And some of these eggs turn into chicks.
We have been very lucky so far in that most of the chicks we have hatched (off-grid, as it were, under broody hens) have been lay-dee chicks. This last year we had four out of a total of 14 which turned into cockerels – not bad.
So we grew them on and despatched the first two last month, and the second pair the other week. Now, I’m hardly Hugh Farmers’ Market-Stall, but I believe everything deserves a good life and a good ending. In our experience, they usually start fighting each other at about six months’ old, so this is a good time to kill them and get them in the freezer.
We make sure they experience life’s chicken-y pleasures, even giving them some time with a couple of unwilling volunteer lay-dee chooks in the last couple of months of their lives.
And once they are ex-cockerels – plucked, cleaned and in the freezer – they then become a tasty (free) roast. Your very own supply of free, free-range (perhaps even organic depending on how you smallhold) chicken. And we have been getting some decent weights, 4-5lb.
Don’t get me wrong, the killing bit doesn’t come easy, but it is necessary if you want to eat the birds. And I think if you were not bothered by the actual act of slaughter, sparing a thought for the end of such a relatively short life, then that wouldn’t perhaps make you a very good chicken-keeper.
It’s worth a little soul-searching for a tasty Sunday roast that truly is ‘farm to fork’, washed down this week with a glass or three of bro-in-law’s homemade ale.