Phyllis, our bearded lady Ameraucana: definitely not for dinner
I love my chickens. I love them even if I am going to eat them: I am just that kind of person. As a child, I always envisioned myself as a veterinarian, or maybe a zookeeper. Life intervened and now I am simply a chicken rancher.
The Eat Local Challenge for October was fun, though I did kind of drop the ball about foodstuff. Call me fickle, but…well I have 15 posts saved in my drafts folder, all about things like chicken and millet and squash and the importance of eating salad (or raw food in general) and I never did get around to posting them. Maybe they will see the light of day here sometime; maybe not. One of the things I mentioned, though, was meat thrift. How many meals can I squeeze out of one chicken? Or, in the instance below, out of half a chicken?
Chickens, though. Being a recent convert to carnivory, and being a general tightwad, it’s not like we binge on flesh around here. In most cultures other than the big-slab-of-critter-on-the-plate U.S., meat is used as a condiment, as a flavoring, and as such gets shoved to a small portion of one’s plate. I take that example as a model. It makes the creature’s sacrifice seem more worthy.
Last Saturday I thawed a chicken half (about 3.5 lbs.) while we worked on the greenhouse. That evening, the child chose a pumpkin to roast and we halved it, scooped out the seeds, and roasted the seeds while the bird was in the oven atop a bed of carrots and celery. (I roast the bird on a large saute pan: I want the drippings, see, and it’s easier done in a pan.) When the bird was roasted, the pumpkin halves went in on their cookie sheet, and I turned the oven down. The roasted seeds went atop the salad.
This was something of a special meal, so I made mashed potatoes and pan-roasted greens too. I lifted the bird off the saute pan and placed it on a platter, covered with tinfoil, to rest before carving. Dang: I didn’t have any white wine to deglaze the pan, so…I improvised by whizzing about a cup of green tomato chutney in the food processor, and used about a quarter cup of that to deglaze the drippings in the pan. I put about a half cup of the potato water in a cup and added about 2 tablespoons of flour to it, stirring well; I added this to the drippings. Over a low heat a nice rich gravy formed. I added more potato water to thin it. The rest of the potato water would be saved to make bread the next day.
We didn’t eat the whole half a chicken. In fact, we ate maybe a third of it: mashed potatoes with gravy, the greens, and a huge salad with those roasted seeds was the majority of what we ate. In point of fact, meat is never the center of our meals. Vegetables are. Anyway, when we cleaned the table after dinner, I pulled some of the meat off the carcass and put all of it, and the cooled, scraped-out pumpkins, into the fridge for tomorrow.
On Sunday morning, then, I made stock with the carcass, made two pie crusts with leaf lard and butter, and made bread with the reserved potato water. I let the stock cook all day: two celery stalks, their leaves, two chopped carrots, thyme, sage, salt and pepper; water to cover. You barely let it boil: one bubble every 10 seconds or so makes a very clear stock. I went about my day from there and later made a leek galette for dinner with a salad and pumpkin pie for dessert. After about 7 hours of cooking, I strained the stock, picked the carcass clean, deposited the bones in the trash, and reserved the stock for later. Bread and pie smell pretty good when they bake together.
Monday’s dinner is somewhat sacrosanct: it’s an office day for me so we always have pasta with tomato sauce. The kid got chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy in her lunch, though.
Tuesday: Election night! Time for some comfort food, so I made biscuits and gravy. Used some of the meat, added milk and flour, sage and red pepper flakes to the sauce. Nothing like it!
Wednesday: chicken tacos! Yum. Some Green Zebra tomatoes on top too, along with my black bean/corn salsa. Lots of lettuce and shallots; no cheese.
Thursday: Pumpkin soup with half of that chicken stock; cornbread, salad.
Friday: Beet risotto with the other half of that chicken stock; braised chard, salad.
So: One half of one chicken, five meals, two child-sized lunches. Not bad for one little birdy. Thanks.