Butchering Chickens

I hailed a taxi from the bank and needed to go to the pharmacy instead of the University. “Le gran carrefour at Bon Berger,” I told the taxi driver, and he giggled. I figured he was laughing at my accent, because “carrefour” is an evil word which I say ever other day yet STILL butcher. He kept giggling all the way to the place, when one of the other passengers got out. He shook his head when I said I could get out there (Bon Berger was on the other side of the very busy road). He then proceeded to drive to the university, where I explained again that I wanted to go to Bon Berger, more specifically the pharmacy. Then he groaned, and it was our turn to giggle.

Yesterday the guy in charge of the copy room was translator for my housekeeper, and kept saying ‘chicken’ instead of ‘kitchen.’

The little things….

My kitchen light is still not fixed, and no sign of the electrician. Moreover, my small lamp (for which I finally got a new bulb) has been possessed, and cycles through the settings without any input from me. Bets on whether the light ever gets fixed?


On Saturday, CG taught me how to kill a chicken. So that’s what this post is about. If you are squeamish about raw chicken, switch to this or something. I won’t show the chicken at the point of death, though, because we were both otherwise occupied.

PETA is working in the wrong country.

Yes, chickens here run around free-range. Cattle are led down the side of the road. Horses are given free graze of grass. But those same chickens are carried around hanging upside-down from motorcycles, in the rain. I’ve watched in horror as a cow consumed an entire plastic bag. Many of the horses are bone-thin and have nasty sores on their backs.

So hardly surprising when we went to the back of the market and selected a chicken that a boy pulled out of a small cage, tied the legs, and put in a black plastic bag, apathetic to the screams of the poor bird. Mr. Chicken then poked a hole in the bag, and seemed fairly content to ride around with the occasional bump on the head when CG accidentally hit a table.



Killing chickens is a man’s work, but CG said she does it anyway. There is a raised sand pit in the middle of the cluster of houses specifically for this purpose. Now that I’m looking up this stuff on the internet, it seems that they do it the best way. You hold the chicken down by stepping on his legs and pulling the wings behind him (the same way you carry him) and stepping on them with your other foot. He stops protesting shortly… some sites call this chicken hypnotism. Dunno. Once the chicken is secure, you cut the jugular with a knife as quickly as you can. The internet says this actually fairly humane, because the blood drains from the brain super fast. It was a bit traumatic at the time, because you’re imagining the poor thing feeling pain until the body stops moving, which is false but hard to convince your heart of. Plus, she had given me the knife, and I prolonged the poor thing’s trial by having no idea what to do when the dull knife didn’t cut through in one pass. I know better next time, and the next chicken shall feed us with minimal pain. Thank you for your sacrifice, chicken.


Cutting up the chicken was enlightening. The video is here. It’s not very bloody, but there are plenty of organs.
First, we plunged the carcass briefly into boiling hot water, then pulled off all the feathers. That part was waaaaay easier than I had imagined, and we were done quickly. She warned me not to keep it in too long or the skin would slough off.

chicken defeathered web

The first cut is behind the wings, so that the wings are disconnected from the spine. After that, it sort of falls into two pieces and the organs come away neatly, no icky excavating required. We left the feet on (she loves to eat the bones). We ID’d all the organs, removing the inedible bits.

Next, we made the ‘sauce’ and the starch, kabatou jaune. The sauce was okra, and simple and versatile. You boil okra with the chicken, a few peppers, an onion, and whatever else you want, then remove it and pound it with a mortar and pestle. CG’s college-age son, who was lounging on the couch watching television (and studying?) this whole time, thought it was hilarious to see me doing this, and I very much enjoyed it myself. They’re a whole lot easier than mashing something with a potato masher or fork or something. Did I mention this whole time I’m wearing a pagne that she’d shown me how to wrap? That’s pretty much it.

Okra 1 web

CG mortar web
Testing to make sure it’s done. The kitchen is behind her, and the rest of the house is behind me.

For the kabatou jaune (short video here), we had bought yellow corn flour (corn starch? I’m still not sure) from the market. She said sometimes they add ‘potasse’ (potash) to the flour, and she can tell the difference by the color. There’s also white kabatou, made with the white corn, but it doesn’t behave the same as the yellow. You allegedly have to add potasse to it. However, that can be mixed with cassava or millet.
This stuff is like working with any starch– you have to be careful. She boiled water, then removed it from the stove and mixed a little in part of the flour, then put it back on to boil. Repeat until it’s a thick paste; it’s fine if it boils for a while or becomes bumpy. Video here.  As it cools it becomes very thick. Overnight, it stiffens into a stiff gel, as you might expect.

On a side note, although they don’t eat a lot of vegetables here, starches like this and attieke (not so much gari or attoukpou) are made in ways that promote starch retrogradation. This means that the starch changes form at the molecular level. Did you hear about that way of cooking rice that ‘cuts calories by 10%?’ That’s what they’re doing. Potatoes do this when you cook them then stick them in the fridge overnight. The resulting starch molecules are indigestable to you, but your gut bacteria love them and turn them into short-chain fatty acids that are food to your intestinal cells and other cells as well. Lots of good things associated with these guys. So maybe even better than the fiber they don’t get via veg?

ANYWAY. That’s it, done. Grab some kabatou with your right hand, roll it in the sauce, and enjoy.

Kabatou jaune 1 web
Stir in the corn flour (starch?) a little bit at a time, into very hot but not boiling water.
Prepared meal 1 web
Bon appetit! For the record, turns out chicken feet is not one of my favorite things.

3 thoughts on “Butchering Chickens

  1. As a young girl I remember walking with Nana to Pappys house at the end of the street and watching him kill chickens. Sometimes he would show me the gizzard and by looking at it tell me what the chickens last meal is. As a kid I thought that was fascinating


      1. I think chopped off the heads after which the chicken fluttered around a short time. I don’t have a memory of the actual killing like I do the rest of the operation


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