I’ve mentioned before that we make the sometimes-joke that we’ve never had real food before. but honestly, we haven’t. there are so many times that I pick up a vegetable out of my CSA box and haven’t a clue what it is or else don’t recognize the taste. or else splurge on a piece of meat, much closer to the natural life cycle process than I’m used to, and find that it looks, feels and tastes, all together different than anything I’ve had before.
As the years tick on, we’ve tried to acknowledge meat for the luxury it is. We’ve learned a bit more about the physical, emotional, economical and environmental effort it takes to raise chickens for eggs and/or meat, and then made it a priority to source the best we can. I think once I recognized what a process it all was, the price tag was a little less shocking and more understandable. It’s a process of cutting back in other areas, spending a bit more and eating a bit less (I know, this is a bit nonsensical), in an effort to buy the most healthy, quality pieces you can afford. For me, this means using the whole bird to yield multiple meals and at least 10 quarts of stock.
White Oak Pastures is perhaps the best chicken we’ve ever add. They practice what’s called the “Serengeti Grazing Model…rotating complimentary animal species side-by-side through pastures. The cows graze the grass, the sheep eat the weeds, and the chickens peck at the grubs and insects.”
At first glance they’re so much smaller than the organic birds next to them…much more birdlike. Once I get it home and remove the packaging, it looks like a completely different animal: the legs and wings are huge and the breast meat minimal…sort of how you’d imagine a chicken to look, I suppose.
using the whole chicken is economical and so rewarding. I find I get the most out of it by first poaching it. One of my favorite new recipes is a one-pot dish from Jerusalem Cookbook, Poached Chicken with Sweet Spiced Freekeh.
the chicken is gently placed in a large dutch oven or pot,along with one onion, quartered, 2 carrots, skinned and chopped, a bunch of parsley, salt, pepper and a big pinch of cinnamon , covered with water, brought to a boil then reduced to a simmer, covered and cooked for 45 minutes or so. The rest of the recipe details the delightful grain (I used bulgur wheat) made with the broth from the chicken and a wonderful topping of sliced almonds quickly fried in butter.
I skim the fat off the top and strain the broth in a fine meshed sieve and store the stock in the fridge for a couple of days to use in a stew or soup. Ideally, it becomes incredibly gelatinous.
after carving the chicken I refrigerate the leftover bones to make yet another broth (less flavorful than the last but still delicious and very usable). Either overnight or while out for the day, I place the bones and carcass in the crock-pot, add in a few vegetables we have laying around (skins work, too), cover with water and cook on low for about 8 hours.
All told, dinner and lunch for two enthusiastic eaters, ~8-10 quarts of stock for the price of a chicken (in this case right around 10 dollars) and items like carrots and onions you likely have on hand.
all this to say, if I’m going to eat meat, i want it to be the best I can afford. and if I’m going to invest in the best I can afford, I’m going to make it worthwhile. that means using and reusing every bit of the animal and looking outside my comfort zone for inspiration and practical, perhaps lost methods. the investment in time makes us appreciate it much more, too, and become even just a bit more in touch with the process that affords us the opportunity to enjoy meals like this without raising animals ourselves. I think that’s incredibly important.