Cooking Cockerels with

Not sure where to start with cooking a Chooks at the Rooke cockerel?

Chef, author and owner of Du Fermier in Trentham, Annie Smithers has very generously shared three recipes using our cockerels and she uses all of the bird. Annie takes us, step-by-step, from the moment you bring the cockerel home and put in on the chopping board, to serving and utilizing it in three very different and delicious ways.

When you first bring home your fine rooster grown by Xavier at Chooks at the Rooke, it’s a great idea to lay it out on a large chopping board to inspect your purchase and understand why it is so different to a regular chicken purchase.

The first thing of note is that it has feet, a neck and a head still attached.

While this can be a little confronting for some, for me it is the realisation that you have bought a life, there is no disconnect from the highly packaged, anonymous food chain here.

What follows are three different recipes that use the entire bird in a very ‘French farmhouse’ vernacular.

The first thing that you will notice when you start to cut up your bird is how hard the bones are. A typical chicken has been processed at 35-42 days old. The bones are soft, easily cut through.

Xavier’s roosters have been grown on pasture for over 125 days, that’s a lot more days to run, and scratch and grow good strong bones and muscle. So be careful when you start the knife work!

Back in the day poultry shears we’re always part of a young cook or zealous home cooks equipment, ever since I have started cooking with Xavier’s birds I have been on a search to uncover mine, as yet to no avail. The three recipes here are a traditional Coq au Vin, a little sausage made from the neck skin and a basic chicken stock that is much more unctuous than a regular one due to the strength in the bones.

The first thing is to butcher up the bird. I do this with a large cook’s knife and a boning or paring knife.

First, chop the two feet of and put aside. Second chop the head off right at the top of the neck, this can join the feet. Then I run a knife around the skin at the very base of the neck and pull the skin off the neck bone, set aside in another pile. Using the base of the blade of our knife, chop the neck off and place with the head and the feet. Remove the first two joints of the wings, add the the feet pile. Now, remove the two legs and thighs from the chicken frame, set aside. This will leave you with the breast on the frame, in a cut known as the crown, at the base will be a raggedy piece of bone from where you have taken the legs, this can be removed with a diagonal cut down and through the spine, this piece of bone can be added to the feet pile.

So now you have a pile of bones for stock, a sleeve of skin from the neck for your sausage and two marylands and a chicken crown for your coq au vin. If you want, for a touch of ‘je ne sais quoi’ you can remove the comb from the rooster’s head and add it to the coq au vin pile. Sometimes for ease of sealing in the pan and serving, I divide the leg into drumstick and thigh.


Coq au Vin

1/2 cup lardons (or very thickly sliced bacon)
2 or more tablespoons olive oil
1 Chooks At The Rooke Cockerel cut into parts
1/4 cup Cognac or Armagnac
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
20 pearl onions or shallots, peeled
2 cups red wine preferably Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône, or pinot noir
About 2 cups homemade chicken stock, or beef stock, preferably brown chicken stock
2 garlic cloves, minced
400 gm button mushrooms, quartered if bigger

Heat a large heavy based pan with 2 tablespoons of oil, add the lardons (or bacon) and toss them over medium or medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer the lardons or bacon to a plate, leaving the fat in the pan.

Heat the fat remaining in the pot over medium-high heat. Add the rooster portions, skin side down, being careful not to crowd the pieces. You may need to work in batches. Cook the chicken, turning frequently, until nicely browned on all sides. If working in batches, return all the chicken to the pot.

Carefully pour the Cognac or Armagnac into the pot and wait until it becomes bubbling hot. If desired—and if you’re brave—ignite the sauce with a match. Let it flame for a minute, gently tilting the pot by its handle and swirling the sauce to burn off the alcohol. To extinguish the flames, simply cover the pan with its lid.

Season the rooster with a little salt and pepper. Add the bay leaf and thyme to the pan and then nestle the onions around the rooster.

Cover the pot and let the rooster simmer gently, turning the pieces once, I tend to balance the crown, spine to the top over the leg meat, for about 10 minutes.

Add the wine and enough stock to almost cover the rooster. Add the lardons or bacon, garlic, cover, and gently simmer for about an hour and a half.

Test the rooster for doneness, the flesh should yield easily on the legs and thighs. Once the rooster is nearly cooked, remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce a little. Check the seasoning.

Serve with potatoes of some kind, a green vegetable or salad.

For the neck sausage, I love to use my Toulouse sausage mix. But you can stuff the neck with a pork stuffing of your choice. This is a technique commonly associated with duck necks, but I actually prefer the taste of Xavier’s rooster skin. As I process many birds at once, I usually cook them submerged in duck fat, but if just doing 1 it is also okay to roast the sausage.

To start, I make sure that the neck skin is inside out, I then remove the two tubes, one soft, one harder from the skin and with the bottom part of my chef’s knife scrape the excess fat from the skin. Once cleaned up I turn right side out and stuff with the filling. This recipe gives you more than you need for one neck, it makes a great pre-seasoned mix for a pork and fennel ragu for pasta!

Toulouse Sausage Mix

340 g pork shoulder, finely chopped
110 g hard back fat (order from your butcher), finely chopped
9 g flaked salt
4 g sugar
2 g freshly ground black pepper

Mix the pork and fat with the seasonings, then cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, mince the pork mixture and fill the rooster neck. Make sure it is really packed in, if confining put in a small loaf tin all the like, where it fits snugly, cover in duck fat and cook at 160C for about 45 minutes, check for doneness, cool in the fat. Reheat in a hot oven. If roasting, secure both ends with sturdy toothpicks, roast at 160C for about 30 minutes, check that it is cooked through. Rest before slicing.

Rooster Stock

Your pile of bones and off cuts
1 carrot
1 onion
2 sticks celery
Bay leaf
Parsley stalks
Leek tops

Place bones in a 4-5 litre pot, cover with cold water and bring to the boil.
Skim. Chop the vegetables into 2cm pieces Add to the stock. Simmer for 4 hours, skimming occasionally. Strain.