January 5: Chicken
Chickens are good January food—warm, nourishing, and simple, but full of possibilities. One bird can make several meals: roast the whole bird on a bed of root vegetables and use the leftover meat to make chicken salad for school lunches, or shred it and use to stuff enchiladas or empanadas. Cover the bones with water and add a couple of tired carrots, a leftover onion, and some garlic for a delicious stock.
CISA’s list of chicken growers can be found here.
How to use a whole chicken
Most of us are used to buying our chicken in parts. Locally grown chicken only comes whole, because regional slaughterhouses do not cut chickens, and cutting adds extra time and expense for farmers who do the processing themselves. Making the switch to locally grown chicken means learning what to do with the parts of the bird that are not boneless, skinless breasts, and learning to cut it up yourself if you don’t want to use it whole. You’ll also find out how far one bird can stretch, because it’s possible to get a lot of meals out of one chicken! Here are some tips:
How to cut up a whole bird
Here are instructions, one version with good line drawings from Rural Vermont, and a video version from Gourmet via a Vermont CSA.
Once you’ve cut up a chicken, you’ll find that there’s a lot more to it than just the breast—even though breeding has increased the relative size of a meat chicken’s breast from 36% of its retail weight to more than 40% since 1980 (Slate.com, see link below). One explanation for our strong preference for the white meat portions of the bird is that the drumsticks look too much like a piece of a real animal on our plates. Buying local is a good way to forge a closer connection to the source of our food, and remembering that it was once alive—and the concern for the quality of its life that that recognition requires—is one of many good reasons to source your food locally. Buying and eating whole local birds also reduces the global shipping and extensive processing that are industry solutions to the problem of what to do with the parts of a chicken that Americans don’t want to eat. See this story from Slate.com to read more about what happens to the glut of dark meat from U.S. chickens.
How to cook the chicken
There are lots of ways to cook a chicken, and it’s often fruitful to ask the farmer who grew your chicken if you’d like some new ideas. In the last couple of weeks, this is how we’ve prepared chicken in my house. At the beginning of the holiday break, we roasted a whole chicken, rubbed with garlic and some sprigs of thyme from the garden, on a bed of root vegetables. There was quite a lot of meat left after that first meal, and we made chicken salad for lunches and added chicken to bean burritos for a second evening meal. We threw the bones in a pot with a couple of carrots, part of an onion, and some celeriac to make stock, and then made a brothy soup with more storage vegetables and a couple of handfuls of tiny star-shaped pasta. This made another evening meal with a batch of cornbread of local flint corn and frozen sweet corn.
We decided to make buffalo chicken wings for New Year’s Eve. We raise our own chickens, about 25 a year, which gives us, of course, 50 wings—a couple of big barbecues each year. We had frozen the wings with a couple of legs. We prepped the wings by cutting off the tips for stock. A couple of days later, we poached the legs in the stock and pulled off the meat for a chicken pot pie. If you buy your local birds, you can buy and cut up a batch at once, if your budget allows, which gives you a stockpile of different parts for different meals. Otherwise, try cutting each bird up as you buy it, then adding to your stockpile of wings or drumsticks if you’d like to barbecue those parts.