At long last, chicken!

March 16, 2015

I found chickens!

Near-organic, not-factory-farmed, non-hormone-injected, taste like real food, chickens! And I don’t have to drive three-quarters of the way across the state to get them!

cooked chickenLong-time readers may recall I discovered the joys of “tractor chickens” back in Hot Springs, when I bought them from a farmer at the Farmers’ Market. After I left, since I had a client down that way, I would frequently take my cooler and pick up chickens, along with their pork products, on the way home and stash them in the freezer.

That gig ended last fall, and while I’ve been down that way a couple of times, it’s not a regular enough trip to depend on for a chicken supply. I found natural beef and pork here in NEA, but I’d been unsuccessful in finding chicken, so I’d been reduced to occasionally buying the grocery store bird, where even the organic ones are pale, flaccid versions of the farm chicken.

Tractor chickens are not quite free range, the chickens that used to run about the yard, pecking up bugs and such along with their ration of grain they got daily, supplying eggs until the day they became the object of the farm cook’s eye and got snatched up by their little necks and were quickly dispatched for the day’s dinner. But they’re the next best thing. Tractor chickens live in large mobile chicken house cages that are moved periodically to different spots in a pasture or hayfield, giving them fresh hunting grounds where they can hunt bugs and worms in the ground through the open mesh cage bottoms, not to mention allowing the chicken poop to fertilize all over the pasture and the chickens to share space with the cows and/or pigs. Sustainable, y’see? And because they’re not jammed into the cages, they have room to move about, they’re protected from predators (until it comes time to be slaughtered and packaged, anyway), and they live in fresh air and sunshine.

And it makes a difference in how they taste.

Small-farm-raising, as opposed to feed-lot, factory farming, makes the biggest difference in the taste of beef, but chicken isn’t far behind. The farm raised chicken has more flavor, and its meat is of a better texture, than the grocery store chicken, in much the same way the farm egg has a better flavor than his distant cousin the organic egg fro the grocery. Plus, you know you aren’t getting a bird (or a steak) that’s been pumped full of antibiotics and hormones and that’s been bred for bigger breasts or roasts or what have you.

Anyway. I discovered that a farmer in Forrest City is part of a statewide network of local farmers who are raising tractor chickens as part of a cooperative effort that’s being coordinated by Heifer International in Little Rock. The Foodshed Farms CSA delivers natural chickens in the Little Rock area, but the farmer told me I could pick up chickens locally by calling him. So I did. Four birds, weighing between 3 and 4 pounds each, set me back $48, which is not a bad price at all for naturally raised poultry. (They can’t term their chickens “organic” because it’s difficult to find chicken feed that’s certified organic, but they’re doggoned close.)

I brought those birds home last week and stashed them in the freezer. Saturday morning, I got one out and defrosted him, along with a pound of ground beef; we would have Italian Roast Chicken for Sunday dinner at Chez Brockwell, yes, we would.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

I’ve detailed on this blog before how I came by the recipe for Italian Roast Chicken. Briefly, one takes ground beef, mixes it with ricotta and parmigiano cheese and seasonings, and stuffs the chicken with half of it; takes the remaining mixture, adds bread crumbs, and makes meatballs with that. Chicken gets a nice coat of good olive oil and sprinkled with some seasoned salt, pepper, and oregano. Surrounding him in a big roaster are potatoes, carrots and onions, along with the meatballs, sprinkled with a little more seasoned salt, pepper and oregano. (If you liked bell pepper, some quartered bell pepper would not go amiss. I don’t like it, so I don’t include it.). That gets covered and goes in a 300 degree oven, where it basks for 2.5 hours while you are at church. Come home, take it out of the oven, let it rest for 20 minutes, and dig in.

I don’t know how to describe the difference in the taste and the flavor of this chicken, other than to say it’s more chicken-y. The texture is like that of a perfectly cooked steak, except a perfectly cooked steak would be medium rare but the chicken, obviously, is not. But there’s that same buttery, firm-yet-yielding texture; never mushy, and not dried out. Definitely worth the difference in price — you figure a whole organic chicken at the grocery will run you at least 10 bucks, and these are 12 — pffth. No contest.

I made a wild rice salad to go with it that was just OK. I made this once and it was marvelous, but I don’t remember what I did with the dressing to make it so good, and I  haven’t been able to duplicate it since. Need to work on my dressing skillz.

And I have a chicken carcass that still has enough meat on it to do something with, and a good deal of the ground beef stuffing, plus a carcass to make chicken broth to go in the freezer. And chickens in the freezer, and all’s right with the world.

If you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em want some seriously good chicken, email me and I’ll put you in touch with my chicken dealer.

 

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