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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Meat Month: Whole Chicken

Whole chicken is one of the more common cuts of meat that Acorn Acres Farm (formerly Welcome to My Garden) offers. The sizes vary from very small (think Cornish hen) and average-large. They carry young ones and older birds that are great for soup. All of them come with the offal and neck. All of them produce an amazingly rich stock when you boil up the leftover bones with veg and herbs. Every bit of these birds can and must be used. The flavor is rich, the meat is lean, and the texture is dense. The whole bird is consistently juicy from dark meat to breast.

I've gotten many chickens from them over the years. Some they have butchered in small batches and are sold fresh in large heavy-duty plastic bags. As of late, they've been getting some processing done at Sunshine Acres (Middlebury, Indiana). These are vacuum-packed and tightly sealed. Whichever you pick up, you're in for a treat.

After removing the neck for soup and removing the offal for either a chef's special or pate, I generally prepare the bird one of two ways. For both, I keep the seasoned bird in the refrigerator overnight or at least a couple of hours. I keep it in the roasting pan (wings tucked and legs crossed). Below are some general guidelines, but you can adjust the spices according to taste.

Spicy Roast Chicken (Paste)
1 tbsp Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 tsp Cumin Powder
1/2 tbsp Paprika (Hot for More Heat)
1 tsp Course Ground Salt
Olive Oil

Crush and mix spices with enough olive oil to make a paste. Coat the chicken evenly with the mixture. The amount of each spice depends on how big your bird is, so adjust accordingly. I generally make enough to fill a jar and use about 1-2 tbsp per bird.

Herbed Roast Chicken
1 to 1/2 tbps of Herbes de Provence
1 tbsp Course Ground Salt
Pepper (a couple of grinds)
1 tbsp Olive Oil

Coat the chicken with the olive oil. Rub the salt evenly over the chicken. Sprinkle herbs and pepper over the chicken. A squirt of lemon juice after it's cooked gives this version a lighter flavor great for the summer months.

After the bird has sat in the spices, take it out of the refrigerator to get to room temperature. Welcome to My Garden recommends to cook their poultry low and slow for even cooking and tenderness. "Cook for an hour and a half for at 250 (with a lid on) and 300 with the lid off for fifteen minutes." This method produces a crisp skin and an extremely tender bird. 

I use the America's Test Kitchen Weeknight Roast Chicken method, which hasn't failed me yet for juiciness and crisp skin. Apparently, they discovered this method when the power to the studio when out. 
  1. Preheat oven to 450° F. 
  2. Cook for 20-25 minutes.
  3. Turn the oven off completely and keep the oven door closed. 
  4. Leave the chicken in there for another 20-25 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and loosely cover. Let rest for 15-20 minutes to keep all of those juices in.
  6. Carve and serve with your favorite vegetables.
For a smaller bird (around 1#), I'd go with the slow and low method or reduce the weeknight method to 15 minutes cooking and 25 minutes sitting in the oven. 

Generally the bird is so tender the wings start separating from the body. Carving is less cutting and more pushing the tender meat off of the bones. There has been times that I've pulled the leg to cut it and the bone has pulled out.

Don't forget to keep those bones for broth! Leftovers are great in soup or shredded in tacos.

Keep the following points in mind when handling raw meat:
  • Always wash your hands and your preparation surface thoroughly before and after touching the meat.
  • Never consume raw poultry. Your poultry should be cooked until the breast meat registers at least 145° F. There is some carry-over cooking as it rests. (Note: USDA guidelines are 160° F internal temperature, but guidelines from other farmers have been less, so use your best judgment.)

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