When I was contemplating what to write about this week, it occurred to me that this is not simply a food blog. It also is a farm blog, a blog on food issues and a life-style blog. Food is at the center of our life, which dovetails into several things. Quality continues to be the litmus test that determines what we grow here on the farm. To that end, we not only grow nutritious vegetables, but we also raise both laying and meat birds. Many of us are conditioned to go to the grocery store and purchase food that has been produced commercially. The farther removed we are to its origin, the less we think about how it was grown. This benefits the food industry that is in the business to produce food cheaply, often using ingredients that are questionable to our health.
The meat birds that we grow are called Cornish Cross, which is a cross between a Cornish Game Hen and a Cornish Roaster. Now I say ‘grow’ because we purchase the chicks, and grow them for 10 weeks in a chicken tractor. The tractors are a frame that is 4 X 8 feet and enclosed with chicken wire. They have a simple peak roof with a removable opening for feeding and watering. There is no bottom and it has small tires on one end to move the unit with ease. Each tractor holds 15-20 birds that graze on pasture grass and eat organic feed. The tractors are moved daily so they get new grass, fresh air and sunlight. The tractors limit the movement of each group of birds so that they do not develop strong muscles, which means a more tender roaster. The tractors also protect them from predators. They are not stressed during their development and although they are on this earth for a brief time, they are cared for and respected. When the birds reach a weight of 5-7 lbs. they are ready to harvest.
Now it wasn’t always called harvesting. Historically, words like slaughtering, butchering or processing have also been used. These words have helped us keep a distance from the actual taking of life for our nourishment. This is often debated, but the truth remains…..something must sacrifice itself for our survival. This is why we choose the word harvest which is more respectful to all things raised on a farm for our personal benefit. Whether vegetable or animal, each is once living and then harvested for food. We take life respectfully and with consciousness. Humility is indeed part of farming.
There are many benefits to home-grown meat birds. Remaining some of the best poultry available, they are tender and flavorful. In the past when I used commercial birds, layering garlic or herbs between the skin and muscle was virtually impossible without tearing the skin. Home-grown birds have well-developed, elastic skin that easily separates from the muscle for flavoring. We also routinely roast two birds at a time, giving us the option for making home-made roasted chicken stock (that is fabulous in soups) as well as chicken-pot-pie and other recipes requiring roasted chicken. If you have the option of using roasters from a local farm or not, this roasted chicken recipe is one of the best. You will never buy deli chicken again.
Perfect Roasted Chicken
- 1 six pound roasting chicken
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 large onions, sliced 1/2 inch thick
- 1 lemon
- 1 head garlic
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 sprigs fresh tarragon or rosemary
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
- To ensure even cooking, let the chicken stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Rinse the chicken inside and out with cold water, then dry thoroughly.
- Place onions in rows in a roasting pan to form a bed for the chicken. The onions will flavor the chicken and pan juices will form the base for an excellent roasted chicken stock. They also provide a rack for the chicken, keeping it out of the juice, which prevents it from sticking to the pan.
- Take the fresh lemon and roll it on the surface of the kitchen counter to encourage the release of juice. Pierce it all over with a paring knife and put it along with the fresh thyme and garlic bulb (that has been trimmed to expose the tops of the cloves) in the cavity of the chicken. The chicken will absorb the aromas and flavors as it cooks. Place the chicken on the onions breast side up. Tuck the wing tips under the bottom of the chicken to keep them from burning.
- Gently loosen skin from both side of the breast. Place thinly sliced pieces of garlic and one sprig of thyme on each side of breast, repeat up around the legs. Bring legs forward, cross them and tie with kitchen twine.
- Spread 2 tablespoons of the softened butter over the surface of the chicken. This is what ensures even browning and the crisp skin we are all looking for! Season the skin liberally with salt and pepper, then place in the preheated oven.
- Roast the chicken for 45 minutes then taste with the last tablespoon of melted butter. Roast for an additional 30 minutes and check internal temperature. Breast meat should be 160 and juices should run clear.
- When the chicken has finished roasting, transfer it to platter and let it rest for 20 minutes. This will set the juices. Don’t skip this step, or your beautiful birds will lose much of its moisture and the juices will be sitting on the bottom of you platter.
You will be surprise at the flavor and texture of a chicken cooked by this method. If you’re lucky enough to have a locally-grown chicken, it will blow you away. The next post mid-week will explain how to make a roasted chicken stock, that is far better than packaged broth and so easy you will wonder why you didn’t do it before.