Chicken Man Part II: Cooking the Chicken Man’s Chicken

May 14, 2006. 11:00 a.m.
Ballard Farmer's Market We stalk and claim our elusive chickens. Our early morning visit to the market pays off. Laden with vegetables, meats and cheese, we return home to plan our dinner.

"They're frozen," observes the Butter Bitch. Sadly, she is right. We were so happy to get chicken that we overlooked this minor detail. The birds will not thaw in the few hours before dinner and our hard-won chicken is denied us until another night (a whole week in fact). The evening of the chicken victory, I sautee three leeks and a handful of sliced morel mushrooms in butter and serve them with fresh bread from Tall Grass Bakery. The meal is tasty and special in its own way. We will be patient while our plans unfolded.

May 21, 2006. 10:00 a.m.
I decide to wait until Sunday to allow for a leisurely meal and another visit to the farmer's market. We eat breakfast in Ballard with the Butter Bitch's mother and aunts, who were visiting from Oregon, and stroll over to our local farmer's market. (Ballard is a large Seattle neighborhood with a thriving downtown that dates to its existence a century ago as an independent city.) While the Butter Bitch and her relatives look for honey and jams to take home as gifts, I get busy with my shopping.

I want bread, cheese, asparagus and apples to go with dinner and vegetables for use later in the week. The asparagus will be grilled with olive oil dressed with apple cider and topped with cheese and a boiled Skagit River Ranch egg. (The recipe is based on the one found in Chez Panisse Cooking.) The asparagus and Braeburn apples I buy from an organic farm stand that offers CSA boxes. We already paid for a CSA box with Helsing Junction Farm, but I take a brocure for comparison and mentally add to my list of places to investigate.

The bread comes from Tall Grass Bakery, a local organic bakery that operates near our house and sells baked goods at several farmers markets. I already know that Tall Grass's oat and honey bread is delicious. At Tall Grass Bakery's stand, the man confirms that they try to use local grains, and adds that they get as much of their grain as possible from Washington and Oregon. ("As much as possible? What does that mean?") My thoughts must appear on my face, because the man sheepishly mutters, "Local is important." (Another vendor at the market commented on the effect of Michael Pollan's book on his sales of chicken and on the interest in local food, making me wonder if the "Pollan Effect" will be temporary, but no one at the market complained.)

The cheese for the asparagus is at home (we bought organic parmesan two months ago from Puget Consumer Co-Op), but I want a different cheese as an appetizer to go with the bread. My choice is our new favorite source of cheese, Estrella Family Creamery. Estrella doesn't have a website, but you can read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer write-up of Estrella. I'll write about Estrella Family Creamery later.

I stop by Skagit River Ranch's stand and open the chicken cooler with an air of non-chalance. It is full of chickens! They just processed a batch of chickens and will have a steady supply until mid-July. I rejoin my family harboring secret thoughts of hoarding chickens in our freezer through the chickenless end of summer.

May 21, 2006. 6:00 p.m. "I want to read about the chicken!"

Preparing the chicken for stuffingWe dodged impatient emails all week from the Dairy Queen. Read? We want to eat the chicken. Our family has left and our friend J., who was with us last week, arrives to share the meal and provide an unbiased opinion. J. and the Butter Bitch relax at the dining table. I get to work.

Thawing a whole chicken takes about two days. Roasting a chicken depends on one's recipe, but in my case it will take 70 minutes to roast the bird--20 minutes for each of the 3.5 pounds. My recipe originated with a verbal description passed to me by my friend Mariko in Portland. The recipe has been modified over a decade but the core idea remains: Put butter and spices inside the chicken, tie the legs together to seal the cavity, and roast the chicken at a certain temperature for a set number of minutes per pound.

Stuffed and trussed chickenI stuff the chicken with rosemary from our garden, dried lavender saved from last year's CSA box, one of the apples and butter from the nearest organic source, Straus Family Creamery in California. Two rosemary branches are inserted under the chicken's skin for additional flavoring, though that will turn out to be unnecessary. For the record, I used nearly the same recipe when I cooked Rosie's Organic Chickens on the previous three Sundays. Those were stuffed with a lemon, but since lemons are not local to Washington I used an apple and seasoned it with a tart hard cider.

The cheese and bread disappear too quickly for me to take a photograph in the fading evening light. I start grilling the asparagus on a cast-iron stovetop grill fifteen minutes before the chicken is done and am pleased with the results. Grilled asparagusThe one egg is large enough and rich enough to be divided between the three of us, and the asparagus spears are an irregular mix of thin and thick. We have a few minutes until the chicken is ready, enough time to enjoy the asparagus spears. They taste green and earthy and the fatter spears have a satisfying crunch. I am pleased that they taste nothing like the bland organic asparagus that is flown from the southern hemisphere to my local Whole Foods. The egg is rich even though it has been boiled. (This is not surprising--we cooked eggs and bacon from Skagit River Ranch on Saturday and saw how thick and rich the eggs were then.)

The chicken comes out of the oven and is set aside while I deal with the the fatty juices that I plan to turn into gravy. The skin is crisp and golden and, yes, I am pleased with the results. I make a mistake with the gravy, adding the flour while the burner is still on high, and am rewarded with a clotted mess. I try to salvage the gravy but it is ruined, a sad waste of food. Skagit River ChickenIf the chicken is any indication, the gravy would have been delicious. I carve the chicken and server it with several more pieces of bread.

May 21, 2006. 7:30 p.m.
It doesn't taste like chicken. It's better.

There is a slight gaminess that reminds us of turkey, especially in the dark meat, and a grassy flavor that does not come from the apple or rosemary. The chicken does taste like chicken, but a richer more intense chicken. I ponder what the gravy would taste like, or how salt would affect the chicken. (I salted and peppered the asparagus but not the chicken.) J. agrees that this is good chicken and declares that she cannot wait to cook her own chicken. The breast meat and one of the legs disappear. Butter Bitch observes that some people would be put off by the richer flavor, especially the gaminess. People are used to foods that taste like cardboard and sugar and salt, not foods that taste like--well, food.

The carcass is stored in the freezer to be made into stock with the Rosie's carcasses. I put the leftover meat in the refrigerator for the following day and note that there is less leftover meat than from the Rosie's chickens, even though the birds were of the same size.

Is the chicken really better? We think so, but a scientist would poke holes through our testing method. Butter Bitch, a pragmatic non-scientist, pokes these holes for me. We would need to cook the chickens in the exact same way and serve them side by side in a blind taste test. Lemon has more acid than apple cider. The Rosie's flavor was enhanced by gravy but still not as good. Maybe I didn't use the same amount of butter this time. I sweep away those doubts and eat another piece of chicken. It really is better.

Next in the Chicken Man saga: After our journey to Idaho and a couple of other detours, we will visit the chicken man's chickens at the farm.

5 Responsesto “Chicken Man Part II: Cooking the Chicken Man’s Chicken”

  1. DairyQueen says:

    MMMMM -- I just had a leftover pork sandwich but you've made me hungry again. I'm going to buy a Rosie's to practice my first roasted whole bird on. So why do you think you could skip the step of inserting rosemary under the skin? I was intrigued by that surgical maneuver. And will you please blog about making stock from the carcasses? I want to do that too, and never have.

  2. Omniwhore says:

    I just put the frozen chickens (in a plastic bag) I get from Kevin in a sinkful of cold water for a half hour, then cook 'er up! He says that's what his wife does. I've done this three times now with absolutely no problems, and it always tastes awesome.

    Love,
    Omniwhore

    p.s. I heart Ballard.

  3. Man of La Muncha says:

    The chicken was tasty enough that I figured I didn't need herbs to improve the flavor. The Rosie's benefits from a bit of herbs, but Skagit River Ranch chickens have enough flavor that they don't need a bit of umph from rosemary (though the rosemary complements the chicken nicely).

    I will blog about making chicken stock, possibly before Memorial Day journeys.

    I've used the water method that Omniwhore describes for meat that is partly thawed, but not with meat that is frozen solid. I don't have a good reason for this, but I'll try to think of one.

    Let us know if you visit Ballard and we will show you some of the new quirky places.

  4. Malcolm says:

    On this note, I was wondering if you've come across a good explanation of why chicken eggs come in different colors, i.e. white and brown?

    Brown ones are sold as being "more natural" but I don't know if that's hype or not.

    Also, I've got a cooking blog now, at the link above. I've linked Ethicurian, of course!

  5. Man of La Muncha says:

    Butter Bitch says, "Brown eggs just come from different chickens."

    Also, Michael Pollan points to the 60s idea that all things brown were better than things white (brown bread instead of white bread, brown sugar instead of white sugar, brown eggs instead of white eggs).

    Thanks for the link to the cooking blog. I look forward to that.