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So many folks have been waiting for chickens in the share, and this is the month! For those that are new to the CSA or to our poultry principles, we raise a few different kinds of birds that vary greatly by size and meat "color". We raise both the traditional "modern" style of chickens (Cornish cross), and more heritage-style birds. Cornish are the breast-heavy birds that grow fast, but have a much lighter-colored meat and more sweet flavor. The others, of varying breeds, have smaller breast sizes but do cook more evenly and have a larger amount of dark meat across the entire carcass. While both birds are tasty in their own right, they are quite different from each other. Chickens, typically considered a boring bird and a vehicle for other flavors, have a significant amount of flavor when raised on pasture and with the high quality feed, as is our method of raising. The cooked meat often tends to be closer to pink, or even red, while also containing a high amount of yellow fat produced by the copious amounts of forage they consume. We wanted to cover both the various methods of cooking the birds, as well as the various methods that can be used to extend the harvest beyond a single meal.
First, let's talk about how we get that perfect, crispy skin. One of the key secrets to crispy skin is a generous salting prior to grilling. This process is known as dry brining and is quickly becoming a common cooking prep method amongst all the recipes I'm seeing around the interwebs. It's simple, effective and most of all, tasty. For my tastes, I generally pre-salt chickens 24-48 hrs before cooking, and 48-72 hrs for turkeys on Thanksgiving. The salt not only dries out the skin significantly, but penetrates throughout the bird for a more thorough salt distribution, i.e. flavor.
GRILLING WHOLE BIRDS
Grilling whole birds can be done one of two ways— trussed or spatchcock. A trussed bird is the standard way in which people have come to think about chickens. Tied up tight, stuffed with herbs and grilled on indirect heat. With this method you can also add a bit of smoke by adding some wood chips to your grill or smoker for added flavor. The perils of this are that you have a hard time keeping the various cuts cooking at the same rate. Pick your poison with this method, so-to-speak... you can only cook one of them correctly. You'll either end up with perfect breasts and undercooked legs, or well-cooked legs and overcooked breasts. The reason for this is the cavity in the middle of the bird, which changes the rate of heat transfer to the breast area.
Trussing is a controversial topic. Some people feel it's crucial. Some people feel it's unnecessary. I fall somewhere in the middle. I like it for a utilitarian and look purposes. It just flat our looks neat and more traditional, but it also keeps the cavity closed and all the goodness you stuff the cavity well secured in there. With respect to if it makes a difference in cooking, science says no.
Basic Roast Chicken
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with the salt and pepper and fold the wings akimbo to position them closer to the body. Place the chicken on its side in an oven-safe skillet, preferably cast-iron.
- Place the chicken in the skillet in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, then turn the chicken over and cook another 20 minutes. (By cooking the chicken on its sides, the juices stay in the breast and, since only the back is exposed, the chicken does not need constant basting.) Finally, turn the chicken onto its back, baste it with the cooking juices and continue to cook 10 minutes. It should be golden in color.
- When the chicken is cooked, cut it into pieces and serve, with the drippings on the side.
If the cavity makes things tricky to keep even, how can we just remove that variable and ensure that everything is evenly cooked? Easy! Spatchcock the bird, essentially removing the backbone and flattening the bird so that the heat transfer and cooking times are far more even during cooking. Have no worries, you still get everyone's favorite, crispy, salty and herb-y chicken skin. Don't be intimated if you have never butchered a chicken before, either. Practice makes perfect.
- 1 large chicken, about 4 to 5 pounds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, savory, or a mix (optional)
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 medium stalk celery, roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup dry vermouth or sherry
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
- Set oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 500°F. Using sharp kitchen shears, remove spine from chicken and cut spine into five to six 1-inch long pieces. Set spine aside. Flatten chicken by placing flat skin side up on cutting board and applying firm pressure to breast bone. Rub chicken on all surfaces with 1 tablespoon oil. Season generously with kosher salt and ground black pepper.
- Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Position chicken so that breasts are aligned with center of baking sheet and legs are close to edge. Roast until thickest part of breast close to bone registers 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and joint between thighs and body registers at least 170°F, about 45 minutes, reducing the heat to 450°F if the chicken starts to darken too quickly.
- Meanwhile, heat remaining tablespoon oil in small saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Add chicken spine and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned, about 3 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add bay leaf and deglaze with vermouth or sherry and 1 cup water, using wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Reduce heat to maintain simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Strain out solids and return liquid to pan. Boil over medium-high heat until approximately 1/3 cup remains, about 7 minutes. Whisk in soy sauce, butter, and lemon juice off heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Remove chicken from oven, transfer to cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest five minutes before carving. Serve with hot jus.
8 OR 4 PIECING
One of the questions we get quite often is if we sell portioned-out birds. The short answer: No. The reason is simple— it costs an additional 50 cents per lb. straight from our processor to do this, and most people flatly do not want to pay the additional cost, which makes it harder for us to sell the pieced birds. We also want to encourage people to cook more creatively with their birds. We want them to understand how to utilize the bird most effectively and how to take the bird from one or two meals to three or four. One of the ways to extend the bird's reach is by portioning out yourself, based on the cooking style you and your family prefer. In addition, you'll be able to save the bones, back and necks for stock, which you can add to the other bones after you're done cooking the rest of the bird. More on that later...
Alright, so the bird is done, cooked to a perfect 145-150 degrees internal. You've let it rest. The skin is browned and taut and the smell is taking over the room. Time to eat! Carving the bird is one of the areas that seems to intimidate folks more than most anything else. How do I portion it out? How do I get as much meat as possible? How do I cut it so it works for leftovers? All of those things and more are simple, provided you have 5 - 10 minutes and a nice, sharp knife. In case you can't tell, I'm a big fan of Jacques Pepin and the way in which he handles poultry (and most anything else culinary). In this video, you'll see how to expertly break down a bird after cooking, but also how easy it is with just a little practice.
This is where you make your money back— stock, or as the kids call it these days, "bone broth." Turning what would otherwise be wasted into gold, and additional meals. For us at HSF, we have a few freezer bags going at any given time full of bones, labeled by type. When the bag fills, we then use our remnant vegetables [which can also be frozen in a bag] and make a nice stock to use in a variety of dishes from chicken pot pie to rice, from soup to risotto. The applications are endless and just about any recipe that calls for water use stock instead. Why add water when you can add flavor, right?
One thing to consider about stock is, what kind of stock do you want? Do you want a clear stock (consommé)? Do you want just a standard hearty stock? How about a white ramen broth? For the purposes of this blog post, lets focus on just a standard broth and maybe in another post we can get into the other kinds of broth/stock.
This week has been a stern reminder that fall is here and winter is just around the corner. You can see your breathe and a sweatshirt is a requirement. Now that the days of shorts are just about over and harvest season is in sight, it's time to switch from outdoor recipes to bone sticking indoor cooking and that means braises and roasts. This share is a kickstart to fall with the inclusion of chicken and duck, both a great option for those stick-to-your-bones meals we mentioned.
Chicken in Milk
This is perhaps one of the best recipes for chicken I've ever made and, on top of that, it's dead simple. This recipe gives you an easy way to bring a roast chicken to the table, while also providing enough food to last a few days an extend the reach of the bird. If you're so inclined, we save the bones after eating and use them in stock, only furthering the use of the chicken and giving you more for the money.
Slow Roasted Duck
For us, duck is a beautiful meal in the fall. It's rich, it has crispy skin and the smell is just amazing. With the abundance of fat that is typically found on duck compared to chicken, roasting the duck with vegetables pretty much gives you a one-pot meal that's fit for a king. When it comes to how to cook duck, there is no one we trust more than Hank Shaw, who is not only a close friend, but also the author of Duck, Duck, Goose, veritable Bible for cooking any species of waterfowl you can think of. His recipe for slow roasted duck is a great place to start, and you won't go wrong.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "You're no spring chicken"? People talk often about "eating seasonally" and how important that is. The idea is typically applied to the world of produce, but people often forget about it in the context of meat. The reality is though, meat is as seasonal as any produce. This is the reason that when people ask for pork or chicken in the winter, if it's not in the freezer, we won't be able to provide it. We choose to raise and harvest our animals when they are in their optimal environments, that being pasture and/or the woods in the fall.
Specifically though, lets talk about chicken. It's our belief that chickens need to be raised outside and eating bugs. When large enough to be less vulnerable to predators from the sky, they need to be able to range beyond their coop, consuming bugs, grass, worms, snakes or any other items they may find throughout their journeys. Allowing them to range like this and consume this variety ultimately makes for a much better tasting meat. There is more intramuscular fat, more blood movement and subsequently... and perhaps most obviously, more flavor. This is how this month's chicken, and all future chicken through the CSA will be raised, as well as your upcoming Thanksgiving turkey.
In addition to pasture-raising the birds, we're also doing something a bit unique for our members as well. Historically, most people are used to what are called Cornish Cross chickens. These are fast growing meat birds to be raised to slaughter weight in 6 - 8 weeks. The birds we typically raise, called Pioneers, are raised to slaughter weight in about 12 - 14 weeks. However, there are thousands of different chicken breeds, all with their own merits. We wanted to expose our CSA members to this variety, and have chosen to raise 4 different breeds of birds this year; Cornish Cross, Pioneers, Turkens and Speckled Sussex. Throughout the remainder of the year, you'll be able to taste the variety of different breeds and learn just how much variety and flavor there is in Chicken.
Enough with the rambling, lets get to the cooking. The first bird you'll be getting will be the Cornish X, and because of it's younger age, large breasts and mainly white meat, we're going to need to bring in some flavor. Obviously, smoke and char is an easy start for flavor, so we'll be cooking it on the grill in a style known as spatchcock. Spatchcock chicken is probably the best way to cook a chicken on a grill, and it also happens to be one of the quicker ways to do so. Essentially what you're going to do is split the bird in half and and cook it flat on the grill. This gives you great surface area for flavor and heat transfer. Breaking the bird in half sounds tricky, but it's quite easy— rather than me explain it, check out this video on how to do it with a turkey, but the same applies to any bird:
Now, regardless of whether your bird is whole or split, everyone loves crispy skin and good flavor. The secret to great crispy skin is removing all the moisture you can from the skin before cooking. Luckily, this is easy to do. 24 Hours before you plan to cook your bird, and after you've decided to split or keep your bird whole, generously salt the skin of the bird and place on a wire rack set in a cookie sheet, and place in your fridge for 24 hours. The salt will draw out all the moisture from the skin, and you'll notice that over time the skin will become dry and taut. This is exactly what you want.
Approximately 1 hour before you're ready to grill, remove your bird from the fridge so that it can come up to room temperature, and generously coat in ground fennel and sweet paprika. You can simply grind the spices together and generously coat the chicken in the spice seasoning on both sides. This is my go-to spicing for grilled chicken, especially when I'm cooking the bird spatchcock-style.
Once your grill is nice and hot, throw the bird, skin side down, directly over the heat and cook until nicely charred, usually about 12 - 15 minutes. Flip the bird and cook the remaining time with skin side up until the chicken hits an internal temp of 145. Once it hits temp, remove and let rest, as you would a steak, to allow juices to redistribute. Cut and enjoy an amazing chicken.
One thing to note is that you may see a slight pink tone in the meat color. This is absolutely normal and typical in pasture-raised birds. Do not be put off by this and resist the temptation to keep cooking until it's gone. If you cook all the pink out, you'll be cooking the bird to 165-170 and it will most definitely become a great candidate for making stock or perhaps a new pair of shoes.
Save the bones in a ziplock freezer bag, until you're ready to make stock with them! This is a great way to stretch your dollars, while also providing your family with excellent, hearty food. We usually just start a gallon-sized bag, label it "chicken bones" [we always have separate bags going for chicken, pork, beef, duck and turkey bones, as you can just keep adding until they're full], and then keep it around until fall hits and we're ready to fire up the stove and make some stock. Stock is very easy to make, good for you, and freezes well!
A couple of other recipes for other items in your basket:
It's grill time people. IT'S GRILL TIME!!!! This month's share celebrates this by bringing you products that are meant to get you outside and over that open flame.
First up, the beef. In this month's share, you'll find some burger patties that are flat-out delicious with just salt and pepper, but also a flank steak. The most common use for flank steak is fajitas. While fajitas are a perfectly fine preparation, with a little bit of work and awareness of how to cut the steak, you can create a grilled steak that everyone will love. When cooking flank steak, we simply use salt and pepper, but this steak is well suited for any marinade or rub. When you're ready to cook, generously season the meat and then cook over a high heat for only a couple of minutes per side (depends on thickness of course). You want to be sure to not overcook the meat, as it has the potential to get tough if given the opportunity. You're also going to want to ensure adequate resting time, generally about the same amount of time that you took to cook the steak. Once well rested, slice the meat and serve to your family and/or guests. It's not your standard slicing though, as you're going to want to slice it -across- the grain to help tenderize the cuts. Here is a good video.
Once you're all set with the cutting, there's nothing left to do but open a beer or a bottle of wine and enjoy the beautiful weather.
Pork chops are probably the best grilled item on a pig, at least in my opinion. They have great marbling (at least ours do ;) ), a nice fat cap and don't take too long to cook. That's where people go wrong with pork chops though— they overcook them. This country has been told for so long to cook pork to 150 or 160 or even higher, but really, the optimal temperature in our opinion is about 135-140. They'll be just a little bit pink in the center and absolutely perfectly juicy. With this being the first opportunity to try pork raised our way, I suggest using the opportunity to just do salt and pepper for seasoning so that you can clearly taste the difference. As for cooking, you're looking at 3 - 4 minutes per side for a room temperature pork chop and the same rules as above for resting. After that, slice and enjoy with a nice spring salad or even some smashed potatoes. There really is no wrong side when it comes to pork chops, so just enjoy the flavor with whatever you enjoy on the side.
Please remember that the fat on this pork is not the fat you know from the grocery store! These pigs were finished on barley, which makes their fat snow-white, softer, more flavorful [some would say "nutty"]— you may even notice that it looks and feels different on your hands as you prepare it. You may be tempted to cut the fat off, but this fat is partially unsaturated, like olive oil. It's good and good for ya! If nothing else, you can save it and use it when you're cooking something else, to grease your skillet or flavor a soup. But, you might find that you like it just as it is, on the chop as part of the bite.
It's been a long cold winter and the start of the CSA means we're that much closer to spring, and we couldn't be more excited. We're not out of the winter woods yet, so this month's share has those stick-to-your-bones ingredients in the hopes of helping you stay warm until Spring decides to make an appearance. You hear us talk a lot about "value cuts" and the importance of utilizing the whole animal. These cuts don't always get a lot of love at the meat counter, but they have a great deal of flavor, plus in some cases the beautiful addition of gelatin [i.e. the stuff that makes soup or the trendy "bone broth" so delicious]. We kicked off the season squarely supporting this whole-animal philosophy, adding in pork shanks for the first edition of the small shares. These shanks are huge and are some of my favorite cuts on the animal. For the best use, you're going to combine three methods of cooking: searing, braising and broiling. It sounds like a lot of work, but I can assure you, it's not. This is a simple dish that's perfect for a cold day, and will give you a good deal of leftovers for the rest of the week.
Now onto the second recipe, the top round. The top round was in all the shares this month and is a great introduction into the world of grass-fed beef if you're unfamiliar with it. While you've invariably had beef before, grass-fed beef is, well, a different animal than what you typically find in stores. The cows tend to be older so that they put on more weight (also more flavor), and they also tend to be a bit more lean. Because of this, you need to take some care when cooking so that you can avoid having meat that is too tough. For the top round, we're going to do a simple roast, cooked to medium-rare and sliced thinly. You can pair this with roasted veggies, mashed potatoes or even atop a salad if you wish. Lets get to the recipe.
If you were to ask people, "What is your most feared meal?", chances are it would be Thanksgiving. The meal is always a large one, usually with many people around the table, all eyes on the pièce de la résistance. This is what we think of when we think about the Thanksgiving table, and no one wants to be remembered as the one who ruined an avian centerpiece. The fear is unwarranted, however, as with a few steps ahead of time and some careful planning the day of, you should be able to avoid a dry, tasteless turkey and have something remarkable for your guests and/or family.
Heritage vs. Broad Breasted
One of the main reasons people fear cooking a turkey is because conventional turkeys have been bred to the point of massive breasts and overall unnatural size and growth rates— weighing in well over 20lbs when they are processed! If there is one thing that's certain in this world, it's that a wild turkey or any heritage breed turkey, will rarely, if ever, weigh in past 20lbs dressed weight. You see, while the Broad Breasted Whites are the Kardashians of the turkey world, our heritage breed birds are far more in proportion, with a whole lot more flavor to bring to the table (pun intended). They have smaller breasts, much more proportional bodies and higher distribution of intramuscular fat [not to mention being far less obnoxious and way more useful than any Kardashian, ever]. All of these things mean that we need to cook these turkeys differently, but when done right, you'll be met with some superb flavor. If this is your first time having a pastured, heritage breed bird, well, you are in for quite a treat.
Cooking and Prep
Cooking a turkey is not difficult in the least if you pay attention and think it through. It all starts with the prep of the animal, and as far as I see it, there are three basic options as to how you begin the Turkey Day ritual. Lets take a look at these methods now.
It seems that the most popular way to prep a turkey is to brine it. Brine is simply a solution made up of water, salt, sugar and various other aromatics to impart flavor and water into the bird. Notice I said flavor AND water, which is key to understand. The water is what keeps the bird seemingly "moist", however it's a bit of a misnomer, as it's not so much moist so much as it is wet. When meat is tender, it's because of the fat, the protein breakdowns, etc. Think dry-aged beef for instance— it's the fat and the protein breakdown from the aging that improves the texture, not a brine. The same is true for turkeys.There is 0 shame in the brine, so long as you're aware of why it works and what it's doing. If you do happen to take this path, make sure to pull the bird out of the brine with adequate time to let the bird come up to room temp and for the skin to dry. Do not cook from cold, as this will both slow down cooking times, as well as begin the horrible uneven cooking process.
If you're interested in detailed science and studies around brining (I know this is odd), here is a fantastic article on it: http://www.genuineideas.com/ArticlesIndex/brine.html
If we're keeping with common tradition and going to put a whole bird on the table, this is my go-to method. It's also incredibly simple, yet so very effective. Take 1/2 to 1 tbsp of salt per pound of bird, and very generously salt the skin of the bird. Place on a wire rack over a plate or pan in the fridge for 24-48 hours. About 2 hours before you're ready to cook, remove the bird from the fridge to allow it to come up to room temperature and then begin the roasting process. This prep method has proven to create the most crispy skin and evenly seasoned bird of the methods mentioned here. I use this very same method on pretty much any bird I cook, except duck, but that's a post for another day. What happens here is that the salt helps to pull out the moisture from the skin, as well as break down some of the protein in the muscle, creating tenderness, as it migrates throughout the bird.
If you can get away from the traditional mindset of a whole turkey, trussed and stuffed, the absolute best way to cook a turkey is in rolled form. One of the biggest challenges with cooking a whole turkey is that different parts of the bird do best at different temps and different lengths of time [think legs vs. breast]. When cooking a whole bird, you're really in an exercise of compromise, trying to find the happy medium. However, if you modify your cooking shape, you can unify the cooking times and create a much more evenly-cooked turkey, but in a non-traditional form. I know that boning out a turkey may seem daunting, but with a little bit of patience and a sharp paring knife, you can accomplish it with no problem. Here is a great video for deboning a chicken, which is exactly the same as a turkey, just on the obviously smaller scale.
Now that you have a prep method, you're going to need to make sure you cook it to the right temp. If you read any conventional cooking method instructions for typical turkey, they will suggest pulling the bird at a temp of 160 - 180. If you happen to hit anywhere near that temp with a heritage bird, which has smaller breasts, you will have a beautiful mount for your wall, rather than a delicious heritage bird. Don't do it! For a heritage bird, you want to cook to 145 degrees. A meat thermometer is essential, and for a whole roast bird, you're looking at 6-8 minutes per pound at about 400 degrees. When you pull the bird, you'll get carry over of about 10 degrees, leaving your dark meat at about 155, which is perfect. You can go lower temp if you choose, but the time per pound will obviously increase (325 is 12 - 15 minutes per pound). Invest in a good instant read thermometer to monitor the thigh and breast meat, they are indispensable. You'll want to ensure that your thigh is cooked to 145
Stretching the Bird
No, don't physically stretch your turkey out! People splurge on holiday turkeys, we all know this, but there are way to extend your purchase beyond Thanksgiving dinner and Leftovers sandwiches. Save the bones and gristle that's left over and make a stock. Take that stock and remaining meat and make some pot pie. Save the bones again and make a remoulage.
Recipes to get you going
After a week of cooking and a long day at work we found ourselves with a number of leftovers— high quality leftovers in the beautiful slow cooked ham with cider, cloves, apples and spring onions. While the food was perfectly fall, we decided to treat ourselves to a little tropical excursion with a Passion Fruit Margarita made with all fresh ingredients and something kinda yummy. While we were eating leftovers as our main course, we did manage to incorporate some new foods as we whipped out some homemade crackers we got at the last food swap, some fresh cheese and home-cured bresaola. You can learn more about my meat curing over at Eat the Pig if you’d like …