MOUTHWATERING & NUTRITIOUS ROOSTER RECIPES FOR IMAGINATIVE COOKS
WHY THIS BOOK?
It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning in September when I started out for the
highway. Before leaving the house, I had nervously entered the destination’s
address into the GPS, but in my anxious state, had little faith that it would send me
to the right place. Throughout the entire half hour drive, I wondered to myself if I
were able to carry out the task ahead of me.
Earlier that week, my friend, Michelle, who owns the local health food store had
invited me to her farm for that day to help her and her husband complete an unusual
Sunday afternoon ritual – the slaughter of 50 cocks (also known as roosters).
Normally Michelle and her husband, René, had raised hens (female chickens),
but in that particular year, the hatchery sent them all male chicks. The salesman at
the hatchery assured them that these birds would be fine eating when grown to full
size, but what they found was quite different and not at all pleasurable to the modern
palate. The birds were tough and straw-like, dry and difficult to chew.
Knowing not only my penchant for trying new recipes, but also my interest in
pursuing a challenge, Michelle figured that I would be the perfect candidate for
finishing the job they had started the Sunday before. In fact, she was so
disheartened by the results of some of the recipes she had tried, that she offered to
pay me in cocks – 25 to be exact – knowing that I would jump at the chance to play
around with them.
As a holistic nutritionist, who must to remain pragmatic in all things pertaining to
food, that September morning was to be the ultimate test of my pragmatism. Many
people’s food choices are based upon ideology and perceptions of cruelty towards
animals. However, in my business, such a stance can be quite literally fatal, should
someone deny him or herself a piece of meat that might be crucial to reversing a
disease. Yet eating a piece of meat and killing an animal are two very different
events for most people in industrialized societies. I was no different from any other
city slicker and on the drive to my friend’s house, I worried that I was perhaps too
chicken to step up to the plate and lop their heads off.
When I stepped out of the car, the air was clean and crisp. To the innocent
bystander, it would not have been apparent that in a few moments time, the scene
would become far more sobering.
I walked up the stone steps into the house, where I was warmly welcomed.
Michelle and I sat around chatting for a few minutes, giggling and gossiping about
the absurdity of the week’s newsworthy events. A few moments later, René showed
up in the truck with our victims.
One-by-one, the birds were let out of the cage, knowing that their life’s purpose
was about to be fulfilled. It was amazing to me how calm they were. Many farmers
had told me before that animals ready for slaughter “understood the deal” and
willingly submitted to their fate. Seeing this play out gave me a new understanding of
the cycle of life as well as terms like “food chain”. This also gave me an even deeper
appreciation for honoring any food that ends up on my plate, whether animal or
Immediately after slaughter, a pot of very hot water was kept nearby for the
purpose of de-feathering the bodies. Then the birds were all brought inside the
house for the tedious task of removing the entrails and feet. The bodies were then
bagged individually; heads and feet bagged separately for making rich nutritious
stock; and gizzards, livers and hearts sorted and stored in their respective packages.
Many hours later, I returned to my car with 25 cocks in a cooler to stuff in the
trunk. This is where the real challenge began – finding delicious ways of preparing
these tough old birds.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE A COCK ANYWAY?
As I drove home, I began to think of the many ways I could prepare my first cock
when I got home. I knew that the tough, dry nature of the meat meant that would not
lend itself to quick cooking such as frying, sautéing or even baking. Whatever the
preparation, it would require long cooking, preferably in a moist, liquid base. Some
experts claim that if the cock is young enough – less than one year old – that it could
be cooked just like a young spring chicken.
These lean lads were a mere six months
old, but based upon Michelle’s experience with them, they were way too tough to be
enjoyed by any of the faster cooking methods.
The French dish coq au vin came to mind first. This dish, which today is more
commonly prepared with the female of the species, from its name clearly originated
with a rooster in the pot. The same goes for cock-a-leekie, a traditional Scottish
soup, which despite its rather humorous name is quite delicious. I also recalled my
mother telling me of cockerel (young cock) soup, a traditional Jamaican soup often
fed to pregnant women to ensure that her baby would receive the best nutrition
possible. Americans often chuckle to find cock soup sold in packets at West Indian
Unlike their female counterparts, cocks have a lean, sleek body type instead of a
more rounded, voluptuous shape. As a result of this physique, they yield larger
amounts of bone-building, stomach-soothing gelatin into every dish in which they
appear, and a deep, rich flavor unparalleled by any hen.
One type of cock that does not fit this body type is the capon. Capons, or
castrated cocks, are widely recognized as the best of both worlds for their nutritional
value and delectable flavor. Since cocks do not lose part of their nutritional intake in
the production of eggs, it is thought that they maintain more of the nutrition that they
ingest within the body. However, the removal of the testes makes them prone to
gaining weight in the same way that a hen would. Therefore the meat is plump,
tender and juicy, while maintaining its robust flavor and nutritional profile.
The more I contemplated the variety of ways that these birds could be prepared,
the more I realized that cock could very well be lurking in nearly every processed
“chicken” product on the market.
On traditional farms (and presumably on commercial farms), the females of various animals tend to serve long-term functions
in food production such as bearing offspring as well as producing milk and eggs. On
the other hand, with the exception of oxen, which once upon a time would have been
used to plow fields, male farm animals serve virtually no purpose once they have
been used for breeding and therefore are often the first to end up on the dinner
plate. The ornery cock is no exception to this rule. Something to think about that the
next time you reach for chicken nuggets or canned chicken soup.
As you might imagine, today, it is rather difficult to find 50 recipes specifically
calling for a cock as the main ingredient. I consulted many people around the globe
about their countries’ cock-eating traditions and while nearly everyone had some
anecdotal stories or advice to give about eating cock, very few were able to produce
recipes requiring it as the main ingredient. Even their grandparents had forgotten the
recipes their parents used to prepare for them.
Knowing the basic principles of long, moist-heat cooking I was able to adapt many
chicken recipes to cock cookery. In fact, it is entirely possible that many of today’s
recipes calling for a stewing hen would have used a cock interchangeably a century
ago. So if you cannot find a cock, feel free to substitute a stewing hen or even a
young spring chicken, if necessary.