My neighbour keeps chickens. She had a large male cockerell which went lame and had to be put down. She asked if I wanted to cook it (you have no idea how difficult it is to resist making a whole variety of very childish puns in this post). I said yes, but that I couldn't quite bring myself to put the bird out of its misery myself, having admired it for many months. It was a famously cantankerous bird, but still, very impressive looking and part of the scenery around here.
In the end the local gamekeeper's apprentice (which sounds like a title for a lost DH Lawrence novel, but isn't), did the dirty deed, catching the bird with a large, comical net from a Woody Allen film, while wielding a big stick. Once he had it in the net, the bird became strangely becalmed, as if resigned to its fate.
I stood slightly off stage at this point, metaphorically fluttering a handkerchief in front of my nose like a Merchant Ivory extra. He gave the cock two swift blows to the head (NO! Stop me), and it lay there twitching its legs for a few seconds, gave a big sigh, and shuffled off his chickeny mortal coil. The gamekeeper's apprenctice (or is it a Jilly Cooper...?) poked the bird in the eye, which he said was a good way of making sure it was dead. 'If it blinks, it's still alive,' he said. It didn't blink. Although it did keep kicking for a while, which was unnerving.
It was dead though. He chucked it in the back of his pick-up and we headed over to where I had prepared a large pot of boiling water which we plopped the bird into. The gamekeeper proper had told me this would make plucking it easier. This has to be done instantly, apparently, otherwise rigor mortis makes it difficult to remove the feathers without tearing the skin. At this point, the gamekeeper himself turned up and pointed out that we were supposed to put the bird in cool water, then into the boiling water - which makes removing the feathers even easier - and that we should have chopped the bird's head off immediately to let its blood run out.
Who'd have imagined there was so much involved in preparing fowl? But this was just the start.
Left on my own now, I pulled the feathers off - which was surprisingly easy, much easier than my many frustrating hours plucking pheasants - chopped off the feet and, wincing slightly, chopped the head off too.
Then the really unpleasant bit: the innards. Starting at the neck, I cut around the base to open up the bit where the bird kept its food prior to being digested/ground up. Ugh. Masses of slightly digested grain and seeds, some greenery and a whole caterpillar tumbled out. Didn't smell great.
Then to the other end: guts, liver, heart, lungs - all the gubbins had to be clawed out. And then one last surprise. As I pushed my hand in to scrape out the lungs, the carcass emitted a great, 'BUCKARK!' as if it were still alive.
It was one of the most disturbing and surreal moments of my life. In the spirit of experimentation, I pushed my hand in again, and again, the cock crowed. I began laughing, a little hysterically, like Mia Farrow in a horror film. And did it again. 'BUCKARK!' By now I realised that, by some weird confluence of air pressure, I was pushing on the late creature's voice box, summoning its once virile mating cry.
Tempted as I was to run to where my children were diligently doing their homework with my hand inside the bird like some gothic glove puppet, I managed to resist, so this extraordinary phenomenon, as yet unexplained by either Escoffier or Harold McGee, was witnessed only by me.
But here he is in all his glory, waiting to be turned into coq au vin, as per the excellent and only slightly flawed recipe to be found within the pages of Doing Without Delia.