A Masters Degree in Chicken?

It didn’t start out this way, but this blog seems to have turned into a school for cooking chicken. To be honest, I never really used to think much about chicken. Like most Americans, I eat a lot of it – assuming it’s healthier for me than beef or lamb. And I have a bunch of recipes designed around inexpensive chicken thighs from Perdue or Tyson Foods.

But a little reading is a dangerous thing. These days I stand paralyzed before the poultry case at my local supermarket. How on earth can they sell chicken thighs for $1.69 a pound? Of course the chickens are factory farmed; the thighs have no taste; and they’re pumped with salt water, antibiotics, and tainted by salmonella. To be safe you practically have to don a hazmat suit to keep your family out of the emergency room.

Hunters chicken compliments of Joy of Cooking 1964.

Hunters chicken compliments of Joy of Cooking 1964.

My mother, who would be 80 this year, grew up in the depression and hated raising chickens in her back yard. “They’re nasty birds,” she scoffed when she heard that young people wanted to keep chickens in downtown Albany. But though she loved buying chicken in yellow Styrofoam trays, she sometimes became wistful about fryers. She tried to explain that there used to be tender, small chickens in the stores but I honestly had no idea what she meant. Except for already cooked rotisserie chickens, all I ever knew were boneless breasts, legs, thighs and roasters.

Fryers

My last few farmers’ market meat purchases were stewing hens. I now have buckets of broth in the freezer and have eaten my fill of chicken fricassee, chicken tagine, and chicken soup. I was looking for something tender -- a spring chicken. And there they were – fresh 2 lb. fryers. Arriving home with my tiny bird,  I set about looking for a recipe…

I’m sure there’s a cookbook out there dedicated to fresh local chicken, but I can’t find recipes on line and the books I have, except for my old Joy of Cooking, feature cooking times and techniques made for CAFO birds. So I went back to my Joy, which still had recipes featuring fryers and broilers. I selected Hunters Chicken (p. 469) and followed the recipe to the letter. The results were perfect. The chicken was tender, the sauce velvety. I now know I can use those techniques in lots of different ways.

Hunters Chicken

  • My fryer was freshly slaughtered so I let it sit in the refrigerator for a day. Then I salted it inside and out and chilled it for several more hours.
  • I cut the chicken into serving pieces -- separating the leg parts, cutting off the wingtips and cut the breast into four small pieces. All were dredged in flour and browned in olive oil.
  • After removing the pieces from the oil, I sautéed a chopped up medium onion, garlic, and sliced mushrooms. To this I added ¼ c tomato puree, 1 c white wine, and ¾ c of chicken broth along with half a tsp each of marjoram and thyme.  I tossed the chicken back in and brought the mixture to a boil -- simmering for an hour. The stew was served over spaghetti along with spinach, which is finally back in season thanks to high tunnel green houses.

The only problem with the dish was that I could have used another chicken or two! I now know that I can use my little fryers in anything requiring quick browning and hour-long cooking.  Next week we’ll see what happens if we simply bake them!