Our supermarkets are full of it: clean cut pieces of meat with not a hair or feather on them. It’s easy to forget that they were part of a living, breathing thing once and that before you can slip it into your pan, it has been cleaned and prepared. Some children (varying in age) can’t even connect that the lovely fillet on their plate used to be a flying/running/breathing animal.
A lesson in cleaning and preparing different wild life would probably change that. I was invited to visit one (“and if you want: join in!”).
Form your fingers into a V and ““ ever so gently! – pull out its organs. Please don’t destroy its intestines or stomach, it makes a smelly mess.
The huge fridge is stocked with pheasants, ducks, hares, partridges and a headless deer. The tables are covered in feathers, fur and bowls for keeping livers (“Don’t you know what a great pÃ¢tÃ© that makes?”), the students covered in hair nets, plastic aprons and gloves. The next four hours they will prepare their own bought meat; just a few steps earlier down the chain than usual.
Both of the teachers are cooks; one of them used to be a chef and lives and breathes food. He thinks that everybody should know where their food comes from, not just those who prepare it. “If a restaurant hires a cook that can prepare its own meat, it’s cheaper for them. For example: a “˜dirty’ pheasant is $20, while ready to use fillets can go for $60 and up. Some people think this class is disgusting and weird, but why don’t you want to know where your food comes from? I think this is a way to acknowledge where you are in the food chain. Yes, this animal was killed because I wanted to eat it. Least I can do is go through some trouble for it.” He smiles while he effortlessly plucks a duck. “Although it gets easier after your first dozen.”
The students are here for similar reasons. Curiosity about what happens before it ends on your plate. A boss who wants them to know how to. Getting closer to the long road of food process. Even the present teenagers can ““ between jokes – admit that it’s “kinda cool.”
The teacher shows the class how it’s done. First, you strip the animal of its feathers or fur (after “zipping” it open with small cuts by the back legs). If there are feathers involved, you put it into two baths: warm paraffin and ice water. Paraffin is the stuff you can make candles from, and when it’s dried out, a great way to get the smallest feathers off.
When the outside’s clean, it’s time to empty out. The intestines are easiest and students make it a competition to get them out in one piece in minimal time. The gall bladder is a risk, making the meat inedible if it would leak, and the lungs are fascinating though. Everyone turns silent when the teacher cradles a duck heart in his hands. “Let’s not forget this was a living being. Also; this is a delicatessen for your dog or cat.”
After that, it’s rinse and repeat until the knives come out.
It surprised me how quickly I adjusted my thoughts of, “Oh poor, soft, gorgeous looking rabbit!” to “This is a craft and I better not screw this up because it would be a waste.” Not that I’d like to make these lessons a weekly thing, but the teacher is right: this is a wakeup call. There is no need to line people up and march them through a butcher’s house, but a change in thinking about the origins of your food and what needs to be done before it’s edible is necessary.
In the mean time, I’ll be looking at recipes for what to do with my self-cleaned partridge. This bird deserves to be part of a great meal.