I choose to eat my hens at three years. They are considered “old” by then but a chicken’s life span of five to ten years. Apparently the oldest recorded chicken was fourteen years old. Commercial farms slaughter chickens at six weeks and some free range and organic farms at fourteen weeks.
A three year old hen has some distinct differences in the quality of meat. The skin and meat is tougher and the bird has more fat. These facts lend to a different texture and more distinct flavor. Not knowing what that meant and if there are known recipes for old hens, I called my mom to ask if she recalls what her parents did with older hens. She said, “Do you know what Mexican’s call old hens?” Eager to know our cultural term that refers to a particular stage of chicken developmental, I said “no, what?!” Her answer, “mole.” Nyuck nyuck mom. Though traditionally mole is made with turkey, as chickens are not native to the Americas. But I get the point, stew the bird long and pack the dish with flavor robust enough to stand up to its “henniness.”
Turns out this is a pretty well known fact. There seems to be many recipes for old hens. In fact, it turns out that old hens have grown in popularity and are even in demand, at least according to the New York Times. Apparently, though the meat is not as tender, the flavor of an old hen lends itself to a sweet and tasty stock.
Beeton’s Book of Household Management says an old fowl that is no longer good for even eating, is best for stock. For the old girls that are still tender enough to eat, they need to stew for a few hours. A few dishes that can accommodate the flavor and length of time required include:
Caldo de Gallina Viejo; Mole Negro; Mole Colorado; Mole Pipian; Chicken Adobo; Chicken Mull; Coq Au Vin
There are many recipes for cooking the innards, specifically, the neck, liver, heart, gizzards, testes, ovaries (little yolks inside hen), and the kidney. The heart, liver and gizzards are collectively called the “giblets.” a quick peak in the Oxford English Dictionary revealed that the word “giblets” dates back to 1303 when it was first used in Middle English to describe an unessential appendage in the passage:
“A messe ys ynoghe for pe pe touper gyblot, late hyt be.” okay?
The Joy of Cooking says that gizzards and hearts make a good stew. Traditionally, they are chopped up and used in stuffing for the bird. The liver can be sautéed and also ground for pâté. Backs, necks and feet (really well cleaned) can be used for stock. Chicken feet can also be prepared Dim Sum style.
For free style cooks, Chow.com offers a nice description of flavor affinities for chicken:
Balsamic vinegar, basil, black pepper, carrots, chipotle chiles, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, garlic, ginger, honey, lemons, mushrooms, mustard, olive oil, olives, onions, red wine, rice wine, rosemary, sage, savory, soy sauce, tarragon, thyme, tomatoes, white wine.
Cooking a rooster tends toward the same recipes. Though, I recently cooked a cockrel with someone that said you could cook the cockrel the same day it was killed. We did this and made adobo. It came out great. So I am back to being confused about whether you need to chill a bird for two days before cooking or not.