Butcher's tips on getting an old friend ready for the pot

Preparing a chicken from scratch is a tricky task. So Sarah Todd called up some expert help.

LIKE most hen keepers it's been impossible to escape dispatching the odd feathered friend, in this case one called Orangella. Killing was my husband's department, plucking, dressing and cooking was mine.

It's a bad workman – and the same probably applies to a butcher – who blames his tools but I might as well have been using a butter knife to saw through the neck and legs. Finally, about three hours later, it was time to get the insides out. Getting the crop – all the corn and other food – out from inside the neck was easy. Following the step-by-step guide in an old copy of Mrs Beeton, everything seemed to be going swimmingly. But then it was back to that knife and everything – went wrong

Mrs B had warned against hitting the gall bladder but yes, you've guessed, this is what happened. Orangella didn't end up in the pot. The cats didn't even fancy eating her. So, when another hen, Clucky, needed dressing, it was time to get expert help.

Paul Nicholson, 36, is the head butcher at Fodder, the food hall run by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society in Harrogate. He's recently won top honour at the Butcher's Shop of the Year Awards. He said he'd never dressed a hen that was so old. Once the aprons were on, Paul did that butcher's thing of sharpening his knife with a flourish, cutting off the neck low down and the legs just below the hock joint in about three seconds flat. He then made a cut through the skin at the back of the neck, getting his fingers in to draw out the crop. Turning the bird around he made a cut at the tail-end, getting his whole hand in to draw out the insides. He brought it all (heart, gizzard etc) out in one piece so cleanly there was no need to wash inside the bird. From start to finish it took less than five minutes.

It's a formula that meets all needs for any poultry or game, although with pheasants Paul tends to skin them. On our bird he used a kind of giant needle and string to "tie it up and make it look pretty".

Paul's wife Jane is a trainee shepherd and he too would probably have followed his father and grandfather to work on the land if he'd not been taken under the wing, at the age of 15, of butcher Frank Turner, of Rillington, near Malton. "Frank was a farmer as well as a butcher and that's why I learnt such a lot from him," says Paul. "I learnt it all, from rearing the animals right through to killing them – doing the slaughterman's job – and then preparing the meat and having the banter with the customers."

It is on these traditional lines that Paul runs the butchery at Fodder. His family – he has two little girls Annie, six and three year-old Lilly – will be having a free-range herb- fed bronzed turkey from Edward Wilkinson's farm at Thirsk for Christmas lunch.

"I travel all over Yorkshire and Humberside, going to different farms," says Paul. "It's the best job in the world. I still love being behind the counter though. "

Perhaps he needs a new chicken supplier for the

New Year? "My customers would like to hear about the long and happy life they have with you," he says diplomatically.

Fodder is the UK's first fully charitable food hall. Paul Nicholson can arrange WI or group visits for butchery classes. www.fodderweb.co.uk or telephone 01423 546111.

CW 11/12/10

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