As you may know if you’ve seen my post on The Meaty Issue, I started raising my own meat chickens this summer. The results have been thrilling, but I have been hesitant to write about my kitchen experiments with them because most readers don’t grow their own and wouldn’t have access to this kind of chicken. This problem has now been solved because our local growers of pastured chickens, Pollo Real, have returned to the local farmers’ markets. Their French Label Rouge chickens are absolutely the best that I know of besides my own, and the pasture-raising is humane, environmentally friendly, and results in higher omega-3 content and a better taste. There is no such thing as a completely grass-fed chicken- they just aren’t able to survive on pasture alone- but these chickens have access to all the things that chickens naturally eat. Look for the Pollo Real booth at the Albuquerque downtown market on Saturday mornings and at the Corrales market on Sunday mornings. Ask them about their CSA, and please be sure to tell them that Heather at My Urban Homestead sent you. I want our local ethical growers to know that I’m recommending them.
The first time you get hold of a really good chicken, roast it fairly plainly and enjoy the meaty, nonmushy texture and the full flavor. My favorite method is this:
24 hours before you plan to roast the chicken, salt it generously inside and out or (my preference) put it in a large plastic bag with a brine made from half a gallon of water and half a cup of salt. If just salted, leave it in the refrigerator until ready to cook. If brined, leave it in the bag of brine in the refrigerator overnight, and in the morning pour the brine down the drain. Return the chicken to the bag and put it back in the refrigerator until ready to cook. This lets the added salt and liquid distribute themselves more evenly throughout the flesh.
When ready to make dinner, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Smash two cloves of garlic in a mortar and pestle or chop them finely, add a tablespoon or two of white wine, a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, and two tablespoons of chopped fresh tarragon or one tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme. Rub the paste over the chicken inside and out, cut a lemon in half and stick it in the cavity, truss the chicken, and put it breast down in a baking pan. Pour about half a cup of good white wine in the baking pan and set in the hot oven. Roast for half an hour, and meanwhile cut some cleaned potatoes into chunks about an inch on a side. After half an hour take the pan out, turn the chicken breast side up, rub all visible skin well with good butter, and add a little more water if needed to keep the bottom of the pan lightly filmed with liquid. Roast until done, basting with more butter every 15 minutes. When the chicken is done, remove to a platter to rest for 15 minutes and, if the potatoes aren’t done, return them to the oven until they are. Pile them around the chicken and carve the chicken at the table. Pass the pan juices in a gravy boat. A salad and a good bottle of wine are all that you need to complete the meal.
What does “roast until done” mean? Well, it all depends on the size of your chicken. An oven thermometer is an absolute necessity, and oven heat can still vary depending on how often you open the oven. I have been cooking chickens for 30+ years and I roast them until the drumstick wiggles just right in its socket, but this isn’t something that can be conveyed in writing. so it’s safest to use a good meat thermometer and roast until it reads 170 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh. Even so, prick the thigh and check for any pink juices running onto the platter. If pink shows, return it to the oven until the juices run clear. Roasting a chicken well is a skill worth mastering. I aspire to roast a chicken on a spit next to a hot wood fire, but I haven’t tried it yet. If you have, leave a comment to let me know how it worked out. For that matter, every enthusiastic cook has a favorite way of roasting a chicken, so feel free to leave yours in the comments. And please, support our great local growers and farmers!