Posts Tagged ‘pastured chicken’

Low Carb Easy: The Clay Pot Bake

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When I’m having special friends over for dinner and want to have plenty of time for serious conversation, my favorite weapon is a 14″ Spanish cazuela that I got at a Spanish import store many years ago. Any large clay baking pan would do just as well. The idea is to be able to roast chicken and vegetables together in chosen seasonings and have a veggie-rich low-carb meal come out of one pan without a lot of fuss, and be able to bring the baking dish straight to the table fairly attractively. Dark meat of chicken is ideal for a “mixed bake,” and if you don’t grow your own, get the best pastured chicken that you can lay hands on.

Decide on your seasonings. One of my favorites is a loose paste of a few cloves of garlic, about half a cup of oil-cured black olives, a little salt ( half a teaspoon or so, since the olives are pretty salty,) a sprig of rosemary chopped, the juice of half a lemon, and enough olive oil to form a runny paste in the food processor. Work this paste over eight pieces of chicken thighs and legs and set them in the refrigerator overnight.

Then choose your vegetables. A head of cauliflower cut into florets is top of the list for me because it takes up the seasonings so beautifully. Leave out all the stemmy center, which is a nice break for your backyard goat. I always add a cup of thickly sliced celery and a lemon sliced thin, peel and all. You can put in 7-8 chopped stalks of green garlic at this time, or if you already have some cooked green garlic in the refrigerator, it can go in later with the chicken. Have your veggies prepped in a bag in the refrigerator.

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About forty-five minutes before you want to serve, preheat your oven to 425. Spread the lemon slices in the bottom of the dish and put the other veggies on top. Sprinkle lightly with salt but for the most part they will be seasoned by the chicken. Stick in the oven and roast about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, enjoy some wine and nuts or other nibble with your company. Pull the pan out and arrange the chicken on top of the veggies skin side up. If you like (and I do,) you can also add several stalks’ worth of green garlic at this time before putting in the chicken if you have green garlic waiting, pre-sautéed, in the refrigerator. Glop any remaining seasoning paste on top and pour in about half a cup of rich chicken broth to prevent burning.  Return to the oven and roast until the chicken is done, put the pan on a trivet on the table, provide a large serving spoon and a pepper mill, and eat. That’s all there is to it.

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I find the softened, slightly caramelized lemon truly delicious and include a bit of it in each bite, but dubious guests can shove it to the side of their plate if they prefer and still get the flavor. I only suggest doing this with organic lemons.

Even people who don’t usually eat low-carb will find this a satisfying meal, but you can provide some toasted sourdough bread if you want to make sure.

Berries or dark chocolate or both make a good finish.

The Pollo Real Chicken: A real chicken, indeed


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!

Kitchen Staples: Ethical Chicken

Recently a friend came to visit me and I proudly led her to the back of the yard to see my six beautiful hens in their secure coop. Instead of admiring them, she was dismayed because “They’re so crowded.” I must admit that I was floored. I have six hens in a 4 foot by 7 foot coop, with lots of headroom and high perches, and I think my chickens have it good.   Upon questioning, it was clear that she buys her chickens and eggs from the grocery store and has no idea what conditions in a commercial chicken operation are like. So here are some images to ponder: In the best possible commercial set-up, laying hens would have a square foot per bird. That means 28 chickens in my coop instead of six. More likely, there would be 4 hens for every 3 square feet, or 36 birds in my coop. Up to 42 hens would be in it in some operations, and they would be in cages no more than a foot high, often less, so that the hens couldn’t even straighten out their necks, but stacking the cages would enable 5 layers of birds to be kept in my 28 square feet, or up to 210 birds total, since my coop is 5 feet high.  Broiler chickens are even more crowded, if you can imagine such a thing, and the stench is hellish. I refuse to discuss the slaughter practices, because I don’t care to remind myself. When I had my sheep farm , I lived near a broiler operation, and I didn’t eat chicken again for years. If you comfort yourself by buying “free range” chicken, think again; a 20′ X 20′ yard may be the “range” for a barn holding 20,000 to 30,000 chickens.  If you want to be realistic about commercial farming practices, I urge you to read Michael Pollan’s best book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Be aware that, by the end, you will feel driven to change your habits if you haven’t already.

All too often, people refuse to think about where their meat comes from and how it’s killed for a simple reason; they would have to drastically change their eating habits if they let themselves acknowledge what goes on in standard CAFO operations. I don’t care to perpetuate such cruelties, and so I am starting my own laying flock and I get my meat chicken from Pollo Real at the Santa Fe farmers’ market. They are a pasture operation, which means that the chickens are kept on pasture in “yurts” which are moved frequently. They are fed grain and they eat plants, insects, and all the things that chicken should eat. They have plenty of room. They re slaughtered on the farm, quickly and humanely. They cost a lot more than supermarket chicken, and they should. They are better for you and yours, better for the chickens, and better for the planet. Paying more makes us realize that we have to pay to support humane farming practices, and that meat should be a pleasant addition to a meal rather than the center of it.

Better ethics and a better dinner; this is well worth an occasional trip to Santa Fe with a cooler, or look for Pollo Real chicken at La Montanita Co-op. Once you have some, there are a million ways to cook it, but here’s a simple favorite: just rub it with a paste made from a few clove of fresh garlic, a teaspoon of salt for every pound of chicken, a tablespoon of Spanish Pimenton de la Vera or smoked paprika, the juice of half a lemon, and enough olive oil to make  a paste. Grill it over a low fire until done to your taste, brushing with any leftover paste. Serve with lots of vegetables and whole grains. Sleep like a baby.

And, just for fun, here’s my own chicken flock.