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Tough old bird

 
gardener
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Something someone posted a little while ago about using chickens that are past their egg laying prime made me realize that permies have a challenge that few people get exposed to any longer. How do you make a moist succulent meal out of a tough old bird. Something that stuck with me, from the cooking program "Good Eats", is that Coq Au Vin traditionally used a rooster because that tougher meat had more flavor, after following the recipe the meat was completely tenderized.

My families traditional recipe for chicken and dumplings would probably be another good one for making the most of a tough bird. We boil the chicken in a herby broth and then pull it out to debone the meat while cooking a mix of mosty cruciferous vegetables and pull them out as the just start to soften. Often carrots make their way into the pot as well. We mix up a basic drop biscuit recipe with a lot of dill and garlic and use that to cook as dumplings in the broth and then pull those out. All the chicken meat and vegetables get piled into a casserole dish and are just barely covered with the cooking broth. The dumplings are piled on top so they just touch but aren't submerged in the broth. The whole dish goes into the oven to bake until the dumplings form a golden crust. When it comes out the dumplings are flakey, fluffy and moist and the meat and vegetables below are covered in a rich meaty gravy. The leftovers freeze very well also, if you add as many vegetables as my family you might find it worthwhile to split the meat and veggies into two dishes and make enough dumplings to cover both. The second dish can go directly into the freezer and be pulled out to bake another day.

It took me many years before I realized why most chicken and dumplings skipped that last cooking step. I thought chicken soup was just the sensible reuse of the remaining thickened broth after you made the casserole. We usually reserved some of the chicken meat for this purpose and would have chicken soup with a fresh mix of veggies on another day. I didn't realize in most houses chicken and dumplings was actually a soup.

Does anyone else have recipes they use or want to try that can help tenderize your tougher meats?
 
steward
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My wife has a coq au vin recipe and the author has a sense of humor and says that coq au vin is french for how to turn the most inedible piece of meat into something delicious. I have to agree :) We also find that chicken as tough as shoes turns out very nice when cooked all day in the crock pot.
 
pollinator
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I agree with James on the coq au vin. My husband isnt big on the taste of wine, so I have used chicken broth with a hefty glug of whatever vinegar best fits with the seasoning and vegetables I'm using. The crockpot will definately make anything tender. It took 18 hours for one old rooster, but he tasted wonderful.
 
gardener
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We do lots of slow simmer (brazing) cooking and we also use our pressure cooker for tougher meats.
The other method we use is good old genuine BBQ, meat smoked low and slow for around 16 hours comes out fall off the bone tender, regardless of the cut of meat.
I also use the wrap to finish technique that keeps a burnt mess from happening.

When we brazier chicken we usually use chicken stock for most of the brazing liquid or a good wine mixed with stock.

BBQ is one of my specialties, I use various woods, depending upon what meat type I am cooking and the flavor profile I am wanting.
I have available oak, hickory, persimmon, pear and apple woods that I just have to cut to have on hand.
I like to use mesquite and hickory together for a great smoke flavor that doesn't bite the tongue.
My BBQ chicken has to be wrapped around two hours before it comes off, or you will not get it off the grates when it is time to eat.
 
gardener
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Pressure cooker. You get a good broth as side benefit
 
gardener & hugelmaster
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My grandmother's EXCELLENT old fashioned southern chicken & dumpling recipe.
 
Posts: 664
Location: Australia, New South Wales. Köppen: Cfa (Humid Subtropical), USDA: 10/11
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I grew up with my Dad dispatching the older, low egg laying hens and when we had hatched too many roosters (White Leghorns).

Unlike the hens, the roosters never made great eating – good taste but sinewy and not meaty like a hen. In hindsight they would’ve made superb gelatinous stock and soup. We always curried the old hens – the low and slow cooking meant the flavour went through to the bone and, being old birds, the meat didn’t fall off the bone and make a soup-like mess.

I’ve not continued the culling practice (for the time being) but miss the dark, gamey meat and the full REAL flavour of a home grown chook. Also, the healthy and tasty livers, giblets and heart ... YUM!

In contrast, the commercial Frankenstein birds are VERY fatty, too tender for slow cooking, and taste like cardboard.
 
pollinator
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Here in Kenya people LIKE tough meat and tend to shun softer meat.  If you go in a restaurant you will generally find broiler chicken (soft, tasteless) listed separately and at a lower price than kienyeji. Kienyeji is the local, indigenous chicken (almost feral). It is hard, chewy, lean, and actually tastes like a chicken.  Boil it long, low and slow before cooking it in your preferred method, which here usually means pan frying with tomato and onions.  The locals also make a kind of marinade which contains (I think?) The ash from bean plants, which (I think?) acts like baking soda and has a tenderizing effect.  The tough old chicken really does have so much more flavor than supermarket variety broilers, but so hard on my teeth!  We also make a chicken and dumplings, but boiled on the stove top, not baked, my grandmother's recipe from the depression, definitely NOT Kenyan.  This thread is making me hungry!
 
pollinator
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Another hint on tenderizing any meat is to age it properly.  This means to simply let the whole or partitioned animal sit, after killing, eviscerating, and skinning (or plucking in the case of a bird) at a cool to cold temperature for a period of time depending on the size of the animal in question.  This give a chance for enzymes and beneficial microbes to work on the meat to improve it's flavor and tenderize it.  Generally the timeframe is that the animal should go through rigor mortis and become supple in the joints again....this varies by size and by temperature....the smaller the critter and warmer temperature the quicker it happens.  Even in hot summer weather a dressed chicken can "hang" somewhere out of the reach of flies for a few hours, or a couple or three days in the refrigerator before cooking.  With a large animal such as a beef cow it can be several weeks "hanging" as a side of beef in a cooler.  
 
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As has been mentioned slow cooking is the answer.  Most cultures have recipes for slow cooked meats and with the internet they are easily available.  Some experimentation will add some recipes to you portfolio.
 
pollinator
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I like putting them in a pressure cooker.  Makes any kind of meat tender and tasty.  I either make some kind of soup, dumplings or I will then put it in the over to crisp up the skin.
 
pollinator
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The resurrection of this thread was timely as it's mid-winter, yet signs of looming spring are in the air.  This means that the roosters are fighting a bit more and occasionally one of the "tough old birds" meets his maker from a scuffle.  If I come across one already dead or nearly so, the head gets chopped off and (again, midwinter) the bird hung by its feet in the root cellar for up to a week or so before plucking and evisceration.  After cleaning and even with a tough one, I find that a several-hour 'steaming' (simmering) on the back burner with a generous amount of water is sufficient to turn it to reasonably tender meat---and very flavorful!  Did a first batch of chicken and dumpling soup last night after many years of just making chicken noodle soup in the past, but the bulk of the meat is usually used for things like chicken salad, chicken curry, stir-fried veggies with chicken, etc.  And its amazing to me how many meals are afforded by one bird!.....
 
pollinator
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If you are not familiar with this site, it is my go-to for tough meat prep.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. These are applicable to tough chickens. I have done many of his recipes and they are really good. Great inputs on here, keep them coming!
 
pollinator
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For a different take on an old bird, skip wet-cooking altogether.  I've found that a dry-roasted spent hen can be plenty tasty and still chewable when put in the oven at about 325F for two hours or so.  You're definitely cooking it to well-done and then some, but the extra time seems to break down the muscle fibers to make them chewable, more or less like braising does.  The meat will be firm, certainly, but it ought not be tough.

Coq au vin is a classic, but for a rather different dish that utilizes the same basic technique you could make cock-a-leekie soup.

I've never tried it, but I had a customer tell me that using alcohol is another method of rendering an old bird palatable.  I don't recall the specifics, but I think he was brining the birds in whiskey.  I imagine an herb-flavored vodka might be interesting too.  He may have even used the alcohol as his cooking liquid, or part of it, but again I don't recall.
 
John Weiland
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Wes Hunter wrote:

I've never tried it, but I had a customer tell me that using alcohol is another method of rendering an old bird palatable.....  



:-)   I have to admit my first thought was how little I might care about the tenderness of the meat if I'd had one too many shots of Stoli's before dinner.... :-)
 
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I like to put chicken in heavily salted water for a couple days. The salt preserves and tenderizes the meat and also gives beneficial probiotics.
 
pollinator
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Colleen Oleary wrote:I like to put chicken in heavily salted water for a couple days. The salt preserves and tenderizes the meat and also gives beneficial probiotics.



I dry brine most of my meat.  Much easier and less consumption of fridge space vs wet brining.  And studies showed you get moister meat from dry brining.  Sometimes it's as little as tossing some salt on the meat moments before it goes in the oven/grill.  Sometimes I start the brining 2 days before cooking.  Smaller pieces of meat (e.g. chicken thighs, small steaks) don't need as much time as, say, a whole turkey.

If you want to tenderize meat long cooking at low-moderate temps will allow the connective tissues to break down resulting in tender meat.  Keeping it covered, and sometimes using liquid, can prevent excessive drying of the meat during the prolonged cook time.  Liquids also moderate temperatures as the boiling point is as hot as it will get.

I braised elk cheeks when my daughter shot her first elk.  Cheeks are some of the toughest muscles, short of shanks.  A few hours in some red wine and veggies and it melted in your mouth.
 
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What did I do with a tough old bird?

I married her!
 
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We find that if the bird is pressure steamed for a half hour or so, we can do anything we'd do with a broiler or fryer. Works pretty good and the flavor of those old birds is far superior. After this treatment, the texture isn't mushy or flabby like a young chicken, but firm and chewy, although not tough at all. Otherwise, we use them for soup or cacciatore or paprikash or something like that, but the pressure cooker is the bomb for everything. Very fast and preserves nutrient content. Now I know why my mom used hers so much.
 
Alan Loy
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Two additional options

marinate in your preferred acid based marinade (wine, lemon etc)

strip the carcass and then mince/grind the meat then use as you would ground beef
 
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I put them in the crock pot on low.  just the bird,  no water.    After about 12 hours on low in the crock pot I turn the animal over carefully as it is falling apart.   There will be about an inch or more liquid in the bottom by then.  I let it cook a another 3 - 6 hours or till the next meal.  Then I let it cool enough to remove the meat and pour off drippings to save.  Then I add water to fill the crock pot and put it back on low for the next few days.  Pulling out broth as needed and adding more water.  
 
John Weiland
pollinator
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Alan Loy wrote:Two additional options

marinate in your preferred acid based marinade (wine, lemon etc)

strip the carcass and then mince/grind the meat then use as you would ground beef



Wow!....I've never heard of these salt and acid/vinegar incubation options.  I assume the meat which has not yet been cooked, once ground, could be used for sausage, correct?
 
Alan Loy
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I imagine so, I've not done it myself
 
gardener
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Dark meat tends to get tender, but the white meat is tougher than shoe leather with an old bird.  You may want to cook the two different types of meat separately.

We lost a couple of birds to coyotes last week (I know, in Los Angeles none-the-less) and one of them was badly injured.  I put her out of her misery, and then proceeded to clean and process it.  A couple of things surprised me.  1.  How small the actual dressed bird was when I got it all cleaned.  It was a Bar-Rock, and with feathers, she looked to be about 4 or 5 pounds.  But once processed, she was maybe half that.  She was all fluff.  2.  How flavorful the broth was, but how stinking tough the white meat was.  3.  How nobody in my house blanches at the thought of utilizing a bird like this, nor at the sight of chicken feet in the pot.  10 years ago, that wouldn't have been the case.

I think that in some instances (like any bird over 2 years of age), just boil it for a long time to make chicken stock, and then feed the bird to the dogs.  The stock will be amazing, but the meat will be so tough, it may not be worth it.  Even after cooking it all day, it would be so dry and stringy, it wouldn't be pleasant.  
 
Andrew Mayflower
pollinator
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Marco Banks wrote:
We lost a couple of birds to coyotes last week (I know, in Los Angeles none-the-less) and one of them was badly injured.  I put her out of her misery, and then proceeded to clean and process it.  A couple of things surprised me.  1.  How small the actual dressed bird was when I got it all cleaned.  It was a Bar-Rock, and with feathers, she looked to be about 4 or 5 pounds.  But once processed, she was maybe half that.  She was all fluff.  



We lost 7 last week in coyote attacks.  4 were carried away, one (a French Black Copper Maran) was stiff when we found her, so I didn't think it was a good idea to try and salvage the meat even with as cold as it was that night.  One of the Barnevelders I had to put down due to a gaping wound in the neck.  She was about 11 months old.  I didn't weigh the cleaned carcass, but I'd be surprised if she was more than 3lbs dressed out, probably 2.5.  Like you said, mostly fluff.  I gave that to my neighbors though as I didn't think the kids would be OK with eating her.  The trauma of discovering the attack was still too fresh.  One of the old (almost 4 years old) Austrolorpes died several days after the attack from her injuries and/or shock.  We chose not to eat her, and will instead plant something over the spot we bury her.
 
gardener
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jack vegas wrote:What did I do with a tough old bird?

I married her!


My dad put his in a home.....
 
gardener
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chicken broth with onions herbs etc, then again for bone broth.  I use the pressure canner to seal and make ready for storing

use the meat in enchiladas , or feed to house pets or compost pile
 
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Growing up, the death of an old bird meant grandma spent a day rolling and cutting dough for egg noodles.  Not proper dumplings, although that's what we called it.  There's three inches of snow on the ground right now, and I'd kill for a bowl.
 
pollinator
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jack vegas wrote:What did I do with a tough old bird?

I married her!



That is hilarious! =D
 
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As earlier posters have described, I make a batch of chicken stock followed by a batch of bone broth. Some of the meat gets put aside to be added to the soup but most of it goes into the crockpot with bbq sauce to make pulled chicken. We eat it on a bun with homemade sauerkraut and it is probably the most popular meal in this house.
 
pollinator
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Marco Banks wrote: I think that in some instances (like any bird over 2 years of age), just boil it for a long time to make chicken stock, and then feed the bird to the dogs.  The stock will be amazing, but the meat will be so tough, it may not be worth it.  Even after cooking it all day, it would be so dry and stringy, it wouldn't be pleasant.



Couldn’t agree more! And the dogs (and cats) are just so amazed that I’m giving them an entire chicken!
 
Andrea Locke
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It occurred to me that people might want to know more about how to make the pulled chicken. I don't have a recipe as such, but this is the recipe I used for inspiration:

https://natashaskitchen.com/slow-cooker-bbq-chicken-recipe/

She uses chicken breasts, but I use white and brown meat from a boiled up young adult rooster and it works just fine. I'm sure it would be fine with spent hens as well. Also, she uses a coconut coleslaw (which sounds good, and one of these days I will make some) but every time I've made the pulled chicken I've had sauerkraut on hand so just threw that on instead and it makes a good substitute.


 
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Several folks posted that they boil the bird ending up with good broth but tough meat.
 To get both you start with water enough to cover the meat cook on a high heat for one hpur. Then lower the heat to a simmer and let it cook till it falls off the bones. I often use my oven but you can do this on top of a heat source. It works with any tough meat. I just did this with some raccoon.
 Also worth noting that older animals have more nutritious meat so It's worth the extra effort to make use of them.
 
Julie Reed
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Hi Candace, so are you saying boil the meat for an hour before slow cooking? I was always taught that cooking at high heat/quickly made meat tough. An hour seems like a long time to boil something?
I’ve never tried raccoon, and curious about the taste. I’ve been told they can be very gamey, much like black bear.
 
Candace Williams
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If I had it on top of a heat source it would not have to be at a hard boil but yes, a high heat for an hour which serves the purpose of heating all the way through and killing any surface bacteria.  Then turning the heat to very low and simmering a number of hours till tender. I've used this method over and over and it always works. It works well with tough meat. I do this with large roasters in my oven with venison ribs and bones then cool, skim off the fat, remove the bones and can or freeze. With old hens or roosters this method works well. Sometimes I use our woodstove in the fall and just move the pan of meat around as well as making a hotter and then less hot fire. Either way simply start hot, then drop the heat down to simmer till the meat falls off the bones.
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