Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Slow Food | Dorking Chickens

Silver Grey Dorking Rooster
The time finally came for three of our Dorkings to meet their fate. I think the anticipation for this day was pretty much one sided. I knew when they first arrived that a few would be sent to 'freezer camp' earlier than the others. With over 8 roosters, problems were bound to occur. It's always the small ones that raise the most hell too, so this is not an example of the size a Dorking can reach, but more of the quality of this table bird.

If you're not yet familiar with the concept of slow food, I'll save the smartass remark that it is the opposite of fast food because it's really much more than that; it is an idea and a way of life. Popular fast food chains provide a meal, generally through a drive through window, in a matter of minutes for convenience of their customers.The taste of the meal is up for debate but 'over 200 billion served' is a remarkable feat. Most grocery stores now provide whole rotisserie chickens at an unbelievably low price of something like $4.99. A loaf of white bread can be as low as .89 cents. Hot dogs, on sale now 2/$3. Any meal you desire is pre-made, pre-baked and pre-fried and always at some remarkably low price. For supply to keep up with demand agricultural practice had to change. Industrial livestock are almost unrecognizable compared to their ancestors. Chickens are now crossed a scientific 4 different ways (nothing kinky, just specific grandparents chosen and then their offspring crossed with very specific other offspring...yeh confusing) to achieve the result of a large fast growing bird that produces the best feed conversion ratio. With this 'super' breed you sacrifice a lot of the flavor that is found in a heritage breed and you are sacrificing the identity of the animal. Chickens that are ready to butcher in 6 weeks instead of 6 months taste different. Pigs that are fed high energy grains for fast growth instead of given the opportunity to forage like they were meant to do taste different. "Today, the pork industry rests on a three-way cross between a few highly selected strains of the Duroc, Hampshire, and Yorkshire breeds which have been chosen for performance under intensive husbandry." http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/pigs.html.

More and more of us are not interested in sacrificing taste and the pleasure of good food for fast convenience. All good things take time. Part of the slow food initiative encourages everyone to "slow down and use their senses to enjoy quality food with awareness, learning to choose good food that is produced in harmony with the environment and local cultures." http://www.slowfood.com/international/20/what-you-can-do. One of the first steps is understanding where your food comes from; exactly how did those greasy chicken legs plastic wrapped to a yellow foam board arrive at the grocery store for my convenience, and am I ok with that? How was that burger made that arrives through the drive through window within minutes of my ordering it at that magic 2 way board of endless options that I hide behind in the comfort of my car, and am I ok with that? How many people don't even know any different?
Muskegon Farmers Market
Photo courtesy of nancyblujean

I consider growing my own food, having the financial resources to afford organic produce and access to a local farmers market all luxuries. I know some people do not have these opportunities and maybe don't even understand the importance of these resources. There is a world outside of your grocery store and there is a road that does not lead to the drive through window. 

When I was researching which breed of chicken I wanted to raise as table birds, Dorkings just made sense for me. Dorkings are an ancient breed dating back to roman times and are known for their gourmet table quality; hence the anticipation for the day they meet their maker. Dorkings can take up to 2 years to reach full maturity; some males can reach a weight of 13 lbs and females over 8 pounds. The three roosters we processed Sunday were only 4 months old, and even though they were of a reasonable size to eat they definitely had not yet reached their full potential. My husband was brave enough to do the deed himself again. We used the same set up we used when we processed our very first rooster. Each bird was treated with great respect and the deed was done quickly to avoid any suffering. They were in a bucket of salted ice water before they even knew what happened.

Leg of a Dorking Rooster; very dark chicken
meat full of flavor.
We waited two days to cook one of the chickens, to let the soul rest as my dad would say. My husband put one of them in the crock pot stuffed with apples and onions and accompanied it with half a bag of baby carrots and an array of herbs and spices. 10 hours later dinner was served with a record setting number of 'mmmmms' and 'dammit this is good.' If I can describe chicken as sweet and have that make sense, then I will say this chicken was sweet, yet savory and with full flavor. The texture was perfect; a light chew, very moist, tender and unforgettable.  The leg of the chicken was almost as dark as cooked beef and the breast was crisp white - a beautiful contrast on your plate - something Ansel Adams could have photographed and made into famous artwork. Anyone who says chicken is just chicken either had their taste buds pack up and leave long ago after putting up with years of bland or poor tasting food, or has never had the opportunity to taste a heritage bird who was allowed to free range and fed an organic diet. It was well worth the time and the wait.


Seth said...

Your stories are making me turn a carnivorous eye toward my 2 dorking hens. Maybe you can save me a few chicks next spring and I can raise a few for the crockpot next year. Keep posting. Thx.

RobbyA said...

This was a good read! Thanks.

teric said...

I'm just glad someone was so kind as to share a picture of this amazing meat I keep hearing about! I'm pretty sure I want to go with the Dorkings as a dual purpose breed, but am a little concerned about some comments I've seen saying that they can be fairly delicate when young.

Have you been happy with the hardiness and egg production of this breed?

Admin said...

I've raised probably 30 Dorkings from 1 day old chicks and have had no casualties (other than a rouge mama hen who took a few chicks lives within their first few days). They seem much hardier than the other common breeds I have just because of their remarkable foraging skills. My Dorkings do not lay that well during the summer just because they tend to be very broody, which is great if you want to hatch eggs. But they lay pretty consistently all winter, especially if you keep some light on in the coop. Thanks for your question!

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