Chicken

The Big Fat Hen

I have nothing less than extravagant praise for the chicken raised by Jill and her boys at Jolly Farms in Santa Fe (Texas, that is). They have solved all of the many problems confronting those who have tried to raise free range chickens year round. They do it better than our several tried and failed chicken partners - and not by just a little bit. The product is just delicious while avoiding ALL of the negatives that come with industrial chicken.

After consuming the breasts, wings, legs and thighs, you will end up with a carcass that has some meat clinging to it. What signal does that give you? It’s bone broth time! Third child John Henry has come up with additions to our broth recipe (see the recipe section on our website) that adds zestiness to the result. Here goes.

For a gallon and a half of water, add the carcass plus the ingredients listed in our recipe section, and these additions á la John Henry:

  • 2 inches of whole ginger cut into 3 equal chunks, and
  • 2 whole lemons, cut in half with the skin on

Follow the rules for broth making - always a long, slow simmer to produce a pretty, clear broth. I like 24 hours but it doesn’t have to be so long. 6 hours will do and in a pinch, 3 hours will produce enjoyable results.

How to eat it: strip the remaining meat from the carcass and add it back along with your choice of vegs and a starch if you like; drink it straight from the pot; use it to make rice or pasta; or any combination of the above.

HoniAnn and I make 4 dinners from the one 4 lb. hen grown by Jolly. That’s not only great eating but also a wasteless and therefore frugal use of your package.
 

French Chicken

I got a tantalizing article from one of you (thanks, Trish) about the joys of eating chicken in France where the caged chicken does exist but is largely spurned in favor of free range chicken roasted on an outdoor rotisserie. Made me want to fly straight to France to eat a chicken. The taste and succulence of a properly raised bird cooked on a rotisserie is the right way to eat, but you cannot underestimate the contribution of a rotisserie cooking method to enhance any chicken. We take one of our fine Jolly Farms chickens, put it in our handy-dandy countertop, electric rotisserie, let it rotate for a bit over an hour, and I assure you, this makes a great tasting and juicy chicken. The rotisserie is not terribly expensive and you will never go back once you try it. Jolly does such a fine job of raising chicken and the rotisserie finishes the job. My hat’s off to both, but I still want one of those French chickens. 

Sustainable

Sustainable is a term used frequently to describe farming techniques implemented to assure that farming will enhance or at least not damage the immediate as well as the larger environment, be that soil, air or water. But as we plumb more deeply into sustainability, we find it has application to many techniques utilized by the modern food system that dominates our dietary lives.

Let's jump to chicken and how we eat it today, contrasting that with the presentation less than 60 years ago. I am old enough to remember grocery shopping with my mother and seeing nothing but whole chickens, with the giblets stuffed in the cavity, as the only way to buy chicken. Mom was expert at dissembling the chicken into pieces if she was going to fry it, or leaving it whole if she would roast it. The giblets would make a wonderful gravy using the neck, gizzard and heart, and the liver would be eaten either fried or as a pate' on bread. The only part of the chicken not consumed, I suppose, were the feet and head. My supposition is that those parts were sent to the pet food factory. Feathers? Who knows? Pillows and mattresses perhaps. My recollection of price was in the neighborhood of 29 cents a pound. So a three pound fryer cost less than a dollar. And nothing was wasted. The sustenance gained by eating that whole chicken was far superior to today's most popular choice, the skinless, boneless breast. You all know what kind of price that cut commands - because the producer has to sell the rest of the chicken at a discounted price somewhere else in an effort to recoup his costs of production. Legs, thighs, wings, neck, skin, liver, gizzard, heart. In other words, the bulk of the remaining chicken.

So where does it go? I understand that much of it goes to the Asian countries and other cultures that understand that the superior sustenance in a chicken is found in those lesser parts. We should refer to that as the sustainable sustenance of a chicken. So we Americans spend ship or jet fuel in huge quantities trying to get rid of the parts that Americans won't eat based on the misguided belief that the chicken breast will sustain us.

Does that strike you as sustainable sustenance?

Chicken “in the kitchen” Not

We have had a long and happy farming partnership with David and Lori Crank of Oaks of Mamre Farm. Seven years ago we handed our chicken production over to them and a year later gave them our slot at the Rice U. Houston Farmers Market as we transitioned to a pure home delivery plan. Both farms have enjoyed success since then. But too much success can be a negative when demand begins to exceed one’s land and labor capacity. That point was reached at Oaks of Mamre. David and Lori have decided to pull back on their production to give both land and creatures more time to grow and recover. Since we are their only wholesale customer, it only made sense to put all of their reduced production into their higher-priced retail sales. We understand - without financial sustainability, there is no sustainability at all. Keep on keepin’ on, David and Lori. We thank you.

We do lose the 3rd meat in our cooler as a result; we regret that. But you can find it at David and Lori’s stand at the Rice Market on Tuesdays and the Eastside market on Saturdays. We urge you to continue to support this fine poultry farm at their market stands. And for your cooler it means more of our pork and beef. 

When It’s Not a Big Fat Hen

What do you do with the little chickens in your freezer? Make soup. Here’s how.

You could start with a dry brine — cover the chicken inside and out with kosher salt 2 days before you cook. But if that’s too much trouble, skip it and just add salt to your stock pot of water until it tastes like salt water. Add onion quarters, a couple of celery stalks and peeled but not crushed garlic. When the salt water boils, add the whole chicken and do a slow simmer for HOURS. Do not boil or even do a fast simmer. Your pot should just barely bubble. Fast simmers and boils make for a cloudy broth.

It’s not ready until the meat is falling off the bone. And then you can cook it even longer with no ill effect, allowing your stock to reduce and intensify.

Remove the chicken, discard the vegetables and separate the meat from the bones. You now have 2 basic ingredients: chicken broth and meat. With the broth add your favorite mix of veggies, rice, noodles, or chicken meat or all or some of the above. Serve with crusty French bread and a glass of wine. With your meat make chicken salad either in a mayonnaise base or topping a fresh green salad.

Now you’re cookin’, sister! 

Recipe: Whole Chicken with Herbs in A Slow Cooker

Many if not all of you have expressed concern about the blandness of our chickens. We have noticed the same thing, though on a hit and miss basis. Do not know what is going on but we are working the problem with our sub-farmer. In the meantime, your fellow member, Lolita, has discovered chicken Nirvana with this recipe. I would suggest only one modification: Salt the bird with Kosher well before cooking — four hours is good, twelve is better.

From Lolita, a Big Fat Hen recipe found, tested and loved.

Lolita's Whole Chicken with Herbs in A Slow Cooker

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 lb.  whole chicken, giblets removed
  • 3 onions, halved, then each half cut in quarters
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 sprigs fresh sage
  • 9 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

Directions:

  1. Spray or grease inside of slow cooker.  Scatter 2 of the cut onions over the bottom, separating the onion layers.  Add 2 garlic cloves, along with 1 rosemary sprig.  1 sage sprig, 3 thyme sprigs.  Place chicken inside slow cooker with legs and open cavity pointed up.  Sprinkle black pepper inside chicken cavity and stuff in 1 rosemary sprig, 1 sage sprig, 3 thyme sprigs, 2 garlic cloves, and the remaining cut onion; pour soy sauce into chicken cavity.  (Some soy sauce will run out of the chicken into the slow cooker, and some will remain inside chicken to flavor it from the inside.) Place chicken breast side down, cover, and cook on low for 5-6 hours until instant read thermometer inserted in thickest part of breast meat registers 165 degrees.  Do not overcook chicken, in order to avoid dry, stringy texture.
  2. Remove chicken to platter with breast side up, cover with foil, let rest for 15-30 minutes to allow juices to settle in meat.
  3. Meanwhile, use slotted spoon to remove caramelized onions; set aside.  Pour broth the remains in bottom of slow cooker through wire mesh strainer to remove solids.  Allow liquid to settle and spoon off fat (or use a grease separator).  Keep warm to serve with chicken.  Strained broth may also be used to make thickened gravy, if desired.  May be diluted with an equal amount of additional chicken broth, if more volume is needed.
  4. Cut chicken into pieces and arrange on platter, spoon onions over top, and ladle on warmed broth or serve with gravy.  Salt chicken to taste, if necessary.
  5. Chicken may also be shredded or chopped, refrigerated or frozen, for use in other recipes.

Oh, Those Texas Free Rangers

Some find that oven roasting the Big Fat Hen produces a bit too “textured” of a bird for their liking. Keep in mind that your bird is an active, healthy and muscular grass-hopper chasing, clover-seeking free range bird and therefore may need a slower cooking method. If this is a problem for you, it is easily resolved. Use a low-and-slow cooking method instead of oven roasting. Cut the bird in half and put it either in your slow cooker or dutch oven. Daughter Elizabeth tried this recently with “astoundingly great results” (her words). Tender, moist, full of flavor. (Include in your pot onions, garlic, rosemary, potatoes, carrots, etc. as you like but add these later in the cooking process to avoid over-cooking them).

Recipe: Beer Brats & Summer Grilled Chicken

'Tis the Season To Be Grillin'.

Summer is upon us, turning officially into that season just before your cooler arrives this weekend. We have instructed Isiah at our custom butcher shop to accommodate that change by making more grillable cuts. So you’ll find more of these in your cooler this month and even more in July and August until we reach the cooling days of Fall in late September when you return to the kitchen with pot roasts and First Northern Chili. For now, keep your kitchen cool by turning to the outdoor grill.

We served beer brats along with weenies, watermelon and peaches at the Open Farm earlier this month (it was great to meet 62 of you) and they were popular to say the least. We have asked Isiah to pull the link size back to a 6 inch length so that it fits a hot dog bun or baguette. Here’s the easy-as-pie recipe.

Beer Brats & Summer Grilled Chicken

Slice desired quantity of onions and saute in butter. Add brats, cover with beer (we prefer a heavier beer, but any old beer will do). Boil for say 15 minutes, remove brats but keep beer warm. Throw on the grill until  a nice browning is accomplished. Return to beer until ready to serve, with or without beered onions.

For a nice addition, grill peppers too - sweet, mild or spicy. Cut into strips to be added to your brat dog po’ boy. While at it, you might as well grill the bun too and if you happen to spread the bun with a garlicky butter first, you’ll be sitting on top of the grilling world.  Cooking is fun and therapeutic, don’t you agree?

What about the big fat hen in your cooler. Do you have to cut it in pieces to grill it? No. In fact it's better to simply butterfly it with shears or scissors — cut along the spine then cut through the breastbone. Lay it flat on the grill and take it from there. When it is finished, it will be easy to pull off into pieces for the table.