I made a trip down to Kuala Lipis with an entourage of food enthusiasts at the start of the weekend. Jointly organised by Cumi&Ciki and BabeKL, the main reason for our trip was to visit the Sunshine Chicken farm and witness first-hand the traditional methods of castrating a rooster. Her Royal Highness Queen Lyrical Lemongrass, Bald Eagle, Boo_licious, Marian Eu, Capt’Hook, J Chocoholic and Alexandra from Fried Chilies made up the rest of the entourage.
Our day trip started early and wet. It took us approximately more than 2 hours before we reached the old capital of Pahang. The journey was a smooth one thanks to the farm’s co-partner, Mr. Gerald D’cruz, who gave us very detailed map and directions. We met up with Thule_Leo right before we made the last 2km ride off road into the farm. As most of us started the trip without any breakfast, we swore we could eat the entire chicken farm by the time we got there.
Thankfully, a light western-styled breakfast was served the moment we got off the 4WDs. Chef Marinus of The Grand Life Sdn Bhd kindly prepared an array of pâté, namely the Baked Chicken Terrine with Pistachio, Duck Liver with Walnut, Duck Pâté, and his specialty the Farmers Chicken and Duck Feet Pâté. A liver-spread French Loaf on one hand and a hot coffee on the other while taking in the vast scenic view of this highland farm made this a very special moment. By the way, Chef Marinus’ excellent pâtés are sold at Bangsar Shopping Center’s newly opened food hall, O Gourmet.
Now that the foodies are all well-fed, a brief introduction of the farm was given by founder Mr. KS Ong. Being sick and tired of mass produced “tasteless” chicken meat that’s available in the market, Mr. Ong started experimenting an alternative way to breed poultry with better texture and succulent meat. After several attempts, he found the perfect recipe and started the farm about a year back. One of the key ingredients in his winning recipe is that his chickens feed on Guinea grass – a specific variety from the Napier grass family which are normally fed to horses. Hence, the name of their main produce, Ma Cho Kai (Horse-Grass Poultry). The grass and his natural farming techniques (free range, no added hormones, vaccine or antibiotics) only make up to about 90% of his winning formula.
Another signature product of the farm is the Free Range Castrated Rooster or Capon Rooster (Yim Kai). By definition a capon is a rooster castrated to improve its flesh to be used as food. Capons are considered by many people to be a boutique and old fashioned sort of food, and they tend to have more tender, flavourful flesh as well as a higher fat content. Traditionally, they are meant for that special occasion and served as the centerpiece at the feast.
The process of turning a rooster into a capon is known as ‘caponisation.’ Caponisation at Sunshine happens at 8-weeks of age and are only ready to eat after 12-weeks from the castration. A sifu, Master ‘Yim Kai’ Fatt, is hired and brought all the way from Kuala Lumpur on a weekly basis to remove the testes of the cockerel using traditional surgical methods. A good sifu is able perform this painlessly under 2 minutes with virtually no fatality at hand. The rooster is able to run around immediately after the surgery. Master Fatt who is a tofu producer does this as a side business. This hereditary skill has stayed in his family for more than 4-generations. However, it’s sad to say that he may just take this knowledge and art to the grave as his children refuses to take up the skills.
Here’s a video of how the master removes the gonads.
Viewers discretion advised. Contains nut busting scene which may be unsuitable for the chicken-hearted.
As a result of the castration, a capon becomes much more mellow, losing the aggression commonly associated with roosters. This makes capons easier to handle, and also changes the way in which their meat matures. Capons flesh are much more tender and fatty because they are not as active as their cocky rooster brothers are. They also tend to be sweeter due to the absence of developed sex hormones. In addition, their bodies undergo small physical changes, including the development of a smaller head, comb, and wattle.
By now, I’m sure you are wondering what happens to the removed testicles? Well, according to Mr Ong, he keeps them frozen and uses them whenever he makes traditional medicinal tonics. They apparently contains properties to heal back problems as well as strengthen one’s back. He suggest to add about 10-20 of these chicken balls to herbs which can be bought from Chinese medicine hall.
If you are planning for a special feast, you may want to reserve your supply now as these are only available in limited numbers as it takes more then 20 weeks to mature. You may want to try your luck getting your hands on these instead of a turkey this coming Christmas. A castrated rooster generally weighs between 3.5kg to 6.5kg and is good for a family meal. It’s recommended that they are slow-roasted or slow cooked to make that ideal holiday treat.
Updated (10 Dec 2009): I’ve just been told by Gerald that their chickens are now available at O Gourmet, Bangsar Shopping Centre.
Special thanks to Mr. Ong and Gerald for graciously hosting us on this educational trip.
SUNSHINE CHICKEN – Highland Free Range Chicken
For more information: www.sunshinechicken.com