Friday, April 5, 2013

Flavorful, Succulent, Tender - Every Time

You've noticed haven't you, that the demand for locally raised, sustainably produced, fresh, real, whole, and flavorful food is on the rise?

And, you've also observed that there's a surge of interest in homestead practices, self sufficiency, earth keeping, participation in co-ops and markets, natural non toxic products, all things homemade or handmade,  and farm shares, right?

In fact, I think there's a word that's been adopted to try and capture the essence of some of these practices, and although I've not mentioned everything the word implies, much of what I've written is included when someone describes themselves as "crunchy". It's kind of fun reading through the urban dictionary and other sources when you put "crunchy" in the search bar!

When Weekend Farmer Husband and I made our big move to Liberty Farm, being crunchy was completely off the radar.

That was then.

Now, we at many levels talk the talk and walk the walk.

Why this long introduction that has nothing to do with the title of this post?
Well, first, if you've been here very long, you know that's typical.
Second, it's important that you know that much of what follows comes out of a vast share-house of people like you and me who are interested in the same topics, and have written and shared extensively on their success, failure, and practices.
So, what I'm about to record is a compilation of many generous sources.

For the last three years we have raised Freedom Ranger chickens to fill our freezer and eventually our bellies.  We purchase our chicks here, and if you visit the website, you'll get an easy overview of the breed and their distinctives.

They are quite large when finished. They are big breasted, long legged, with substantial thighs.  So, it's taken some getting used to when cooking.

If I remember the following steps, our dinner is flavorful, succulent, and tender - every time.  (phew, you were wondering weren't you if I'd ever get there?!)

  • First, and I'm coming to believe most importantly, give these birds plenteous time to defrost.  Like days.  If it's a whole chicken I have it in my refrigerator for up to 5-7 days just slowly thawing, tissues softening. If I've been flighty - right- when I'm flighty and I forget to plan ahead, I sometimes rush this process, and without fail the meat is less flavorful and not as tender. Chicken should be tightly wrapped.
  • Second, use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.  For me this began because my oven does not have a thermostat (no joke), so the temperature is not well regulated.  I have learned to cook by "feel" until such time as we replace the oven.  And, my trusty partner is an oven thermometer that can endure the heat of the oven and give me feedback about doneness. Your "normal" super store chicken is quite a bit smaller with more moisture injected into its tissues, so they cook much faster.  Which leads me to my next point.
  • Third, allow enough cooking time.  These birds (given my particular wonky oven) take up to 1/3rd longer than the name brand chicken I used to get from my grocery store.
  • Fourth, be generous with oil or butter when preparing your bird.  I've come to love butter for oven roasting chicken, and let me tell 'ya, even Paula Deen would be shocked by the amount of butter I use!
  • Fifth, get your chicken started in a hot oven.  450 degrees. Then, back the temperature off to 350-375 for the remainder of the cooking time.  If my oven isn't behaving too schizo, I keep it hot for about 25 minutes, and then finish out at the lower temperature. (Most of the birds I prepare for our family are between 6.5 and 7 lbs.  Yup, you read that right.  Smaller birds = less time)
  • Sixth, once your wonderfully aromatic chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees, pull that golden masterpiece out of the oven, discretely wipe the corners of your mouth because you're starting to drool. Wait. That's just me. Let the bird "rest". At least 10 minutes before carving.
  • Seventh, keep in mind that I am an intuitive cook.  I rarely consult recipes and am prone to cook and create from what's available in my pantry, freezer, and refrigerator.  If what I've written is not detailed enough, use your mighty computer to source more specifics.  I'll link some helpful info at the end of this post to get you started!
  • Eight, if a whole bird is too much for you (and there are many reasons why that could be - no guilt, I promise), fire up your YouTube channel, sharpen your knives, put on an apron (I like cute and colorful ones), and watch and learn how to portion up a whole chicken.  
Ignore the straight face and focus on the cute apron.  It was Monday. And February.  And I live in the North.  Brr.
  • You then have options.  Dark meat in stews or soups.  Breasts on the grill or in a spicy pasta dish.  Endless opportunities.  Remember - plan ahead for defrosting.  In my family, this approach requires me to defrost three whole birds, but the variety and flexibility of using different part of the chicken at different times make the refrigerator space and time worth it. 
What? you're wondering if I have a restaurant size refrigerator?  Mwahahahaaaaah! Nope. I have a humble 16 year old "regular" refrigerator.  Maybe even a lot like yours?

  • Ninth and finally, keep trying.  It's taken me awhile to fine tune my process to accommodate for the different kind of bird and meat than I'd been accustomed to.  Commit to the value of the product, the practical ideology of supporting your local farmer, and the nutritional benefits of whole, real food.  No experience is ever wasted, and if you end up with a mealtime bust, clear the table, whip up some scrambled eggs, or bread and cheese, or whatever. Shred the chicken, turn it into soup, salad, or casserole, and purpose to try again.  You won't regret it.
Okay, my fellow crunchies and crunchy wannabes - join the conversation! Share your best pins, Aunt Ginny's no fail recipe, or your questions.  Please? We'll all be the better for it, and so will supper.


Link to the You Tube channel with myriad tutorials on cutting up whole chickens here.
This is an informative blog post about the chickens I reference and we use the same practices at Liberty Farm.  Bonus - specific recipe included!
Many of these tips are a repeat, but it's sometimes helpful when sources independently confirm each other.
This post has lots of comparable information as well, but toward the bottom there's a yummy looking recipe for a split roasted chicken.  Will definitely be trying this!
And, last but not least, this a a magazine article reprinted from Alice Water's (a queen bee crunchy if you ask me...) The Art of Simple Food.

Note: Although I've read each of the posts above, I've not explored the each blog in depth - maybe you'll come back and tell me what you found?


  1. HI Laura! Cute apron! Yes, I understand the Monday :) I'm catching up on your posts. Life has been busy, busy! As always, blessed by your writings, thank you. Hoping all is well and spring is arriving, what a crazy winter this year :(
    Have a blessed Monday and week!

  2. Ah, Bree - checked in on you not so long ago. What a sweet season you're in. Thanks for sharing some of your precious time with me!

    *Ugh* about that particular Monday. The bright colors help me. ;-)

    And, yes, it has been cray, cray, crazy climate and season-wise. Learning patience - again!