while the average grocery store is fairly clean and monitor, any meats they receive have passed through several other facilities first. farms, slaughter houses, storage, trucks, freezers, boxes, butcher blocks, etc. God knows how that meat was raised and handled every step of the way. even the labeling today is questionable. 'Free Range' only means that the animals have access to an outdoor area. this does not guarantee that the outside area for 5,000 chickens is more then 5 square feet big, but just that they do have ACCESS to the outdoors.
while this is not necessarily right, i still buy meat from the grocery store like anyone else. and honestly, i don't pay more for 'Organic' or 'All Natural' brands. in fact, i tend to trust those brands less, there are too many loopholes to use and to many rings of fire to jump through in obtaining those labels.
this aside, i never hesitate to buy meat from a LOCAL source. this is the kind of situation where you drive up to a place and see cows in the field, you go in and buy short ribs and milk. simple as it gets. the point of all this being, you don't KNOW how your meat was handled unless either you SEE it or you DO it. i am a fan of the latter, and in the circumstance you are as lucky as me to acquire ducks at $5 a piece from a local farmer, here is how you process them from a live state to a roasted duck on a pretty plate state. this same process would apply to any other poultry. wild or farmed chickens, ducks, turkeys, pheasants, ginnie hens, etc.
sadly to say, the ducks are pretty cute and made this whimpering sound on my drive home. it was important i keep in mind that i am doing this because i know they lived well and i will ensure that they also die well and are well utilized. also that my landlord would not be happy with me if i had pet ducks.
here is what you are going to need:
A Turkey Frier
One Road Cone
One Very Sharp Knife (Large)
One Very Sharp Knife (Small)
A Garbage Can and Bag
Honestly, i would recommend doing this outside in a woodsy place where you don't need to worry about picking up the feathers, though it is very possible to just pluck the birds over the garbage can and then sweep up.
the road cone is the first item you are going to prepare. I am sure you were wondering about this anyway. cut off the top and the bottom of the road cone and then nail it to a wall or a tree upside down directly above your bucket. this is going to serve to hold the animal before you make quick work of it. (you may also wring a chicken or roosters neck, but i prefer this method for water fowl)
meanwhile set the turkey frier going so that the water is boiling by the time you have the birds ready to be plucked. take a bird under your arm and put it head first down the cone. once through, hold the head in one hand and the neck in your other. have your helper use a large sharp knife to completely sever the ducks head from its body. the body will begin to seize which is why you wanted to have a firm grip in the neck above where you are making the cut. the neck is going to drain the blood from the duck and you don't want it going willy-nilly-all-over. if you were not fortunate even to have a partner, just make sure that you cut low enough to the head and grab the neck quickly, directing the flow into the bucket.
Let the bird seize and drain for 10 minutes, don't feel bad, the bird is already passed away, this is only the final reactions of nerve endings in the body that are no longer attached to the brain. also, if you have a weak stomach, my father recommends NOT looking in the bucket, the heads can be a little sad.
hopefully by the time that you have fully drained your birds, the turkey frier has a bubbling pot of water waiting for you. you are going to dip the bird in neck first, but ONLY dip. a duck has water resistance feathers and you are trying to loosen the feathers with hot water. you do not want to cook the meat, so what you must do is dip the bird repeatedly to get the water up and under. you will know when you are ready to pluck, because the feathers will be sodden and pull free of the flesh easily. do this over a bag or garbage can.
Prepare to become Edward-Feather-Hands. This gets messy.
you are going to need to be detail orianted here. there are alot of little (down) feathers, especially on the breast. time needs to be taken to get EVERY feather, the most unpleasant thing to have in your mouther at dinner is a burnt feather. fortunetly you can also singe some of the smallest feathers off. you can use a small blow torch for this, but since we already had the turkey frier going, we just used the flame from that to singe off some of the finer feathers. you will probably need to singe, pluck, dip to get them all. sometimes the pin of the feather stays in the skin when you pull the feather. get them out now or worry about them later when you have the bird fully dressed
lay the bird on its back with the legs facing you. a small table near a garbage can is handy for this. get out your small sharp knife and find the genitals of the bird. make an shallow incision here and gently guide the knife up to where you hit the rib cage. you want to separate the skin down to the innards here, but you do not want to pierce the innards as that would get very messy.
cut around the anal hole of the bird so that the intestine will pull out fully when you remove the innards. at this point you can stick your hand up and inside the bird and loosen the tissue connecting the innards to the side walls. once you have a firm grip on the lungs or innards in general, pull down in a slow and gentle motion. you are trying to pull the windpipe down and through the neck of the bird with the rest of the innards, but you do not want anything to tear. again, thats messy.
Once you have cut through the skin you will find a large amount of fat. on a duck, i pull this out and discard, on a chicken that i am roasting whole, i leave it in
once you have pulled the windpipe down and through, scoop up the rest of the innards and pull again, this time trying to pull the intestines cleanly through the anal hole. once both ends are clear, place on a plate and find yourself the liver, heart giblets and neck. reserve these for gravies, stuffing and stocks. the last two times i gutted a duck, i could not find the heart. it turned up still inside the cavity of the bird. so if you are missing the heart, double check inside the animal.
now you can clean up and take the bird to your kitchen (if you are not already there),rinse the bird thoroughly inside and out. comb over the skin to find any remaining pin feathers and remove. this is similar to when you get a turkey for thanksgiving and fine a few pins left under the skin.
you can now freeze your bird, roast it whole or follow this link to learn how to cut it down into '8's'