It looked too little to have left its mother, its neck no bigger than a finger or a baby carrot, but the almost 3-pound free-range bird from Echo Glen Farm in Statesville had the sweetest, palest white meat of any I’ve ever eaten. And even though it costs more than supermarket chicken, this is the way we’re going to have to go, I think — eating only meat that’s been humanely raised, without antibiotics and without hormones.
I write this as the wife of a retired dairy farmer, someone who knows the costs of fuel and labor, who knows how chemicals and genetic engineering have increased the world’s food supply, someone who realizes how many people still don’t get enough to eat, someone who has gleaned many a field for The Society of Saint Andrew .
But I believe that those of us who can must support small family farms competing in an agribusiness world or they will disappear. Their produce, meat and eggs are good, good for us and the earth. Eventually, some of our small farms will meet, maybe even overlap.
So here I am, preheating a large cast-iron skillet to 450 degrees in the oven, rubbing 3 tablespoons of olive oil all over this wee tender bird and chopping 6 fresh garlic cloves, along with a big fistful of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (no kidding!), along with some fresh oregano and tarragon. The oiled chicken goes breast-side up in the pre-heated skillet with the garlic and herbs scattered over it and the pan. At this temperature, they’ll quickly float in chicken fat without burning. Put a couple lemon wedges in the chicken’s body cavity and squeeze the juice over the meat when ready to serve.
The chicken roasts for about one hour (to a temperature of 160 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh) and “rests” for another 20 (covered with foil, the temp rises another 10 degrees). Remove it to a platter and deglaze the skillet with 1 cup dry white wine. Bubble, stirring to scrape up the yummy bits from the bottom of the skillet, until reduced by half and strain.
This makes an ambrosial sauce, far better than the chicken fat which was on the cutting board for the outside dogs and which one’s husband spooned over breast meat slices for our first meal from this chicken! I couldn’t understand why it didn’t taste like anything until I thought about the colors — golden fat and rich brown sauce. The droplets on our breast meat were yellow, but at least he was parsimonious with them.
Today we enjoy dark meat with sauce over instant (10 minutes) brown rice. And if he wants, Farmer Bill can take a hot dog to work tonight with a taste of the relish I made this morning, using sweet and hot peppers, cabbage and onion, mustard and celery seeds and whole allspice. I have never been so jazzed about pickles and relishes!