Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Harvest Meal: Chicken in a Pot

I never posted about the source of the main course of this harvest meal.  It was a runty broiler that my farming friend gave me when it was half-size to the rest of her broilers, which were ready for slaughter.  Something was definitely off about this Cornish Cross bird, because it took me more than two additional months to raise it to a size that looked sort of ready to harvest.  I finally decided on the slaughter date (Sunday) only because our own broiler chicks really needed the extra room provided in the poultry schooner, which is still in service.

Monday night's method of preparation...well, that was an experiment for which I had to work up my nerve.  "Experiment" only in the sense of trying something entirely new with a precious bit of homegrown meat.  I'm usually loathe to branch out too far with high value ingredients, and no food is so scarce as meat raised on less than an acre.  But this Chicken in a Pot came from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table cookbook which I found on the new arrivals shelf at the library.  Greenspan is no slouch in the kitchen.  The rustic appearance of this mundanely name dish appealed to my peasant cooking propensities.  (But trust me when I say the cover photo of this dish is far more beautiful than the one above.)  So I took a risk, and I'm glad I did.  Basically, the chicken steams itself inside a cast iron dutch oven sealed air-tight with a ring of simple dough.  The bird and the accompanying vegetables are pre-browned to ensure some color, but every drop of juicy goodness collects in the dutch oven.  Everything turned out super moist, super tender.  For copyright reasons, I'm not going to reproduce her recipe verbatim.  But I will tell you what I put in the pot.

Our broiler chicken weighed just under 5 and a half pounds.  Had it been any larger I don't think it would have fit into our standard size dutch oven.  Aside from the bird, I put in homegrown purple potatoes, garlic, shallots, rosemary, thyme and a few boughten carrots.  I browned the bird and all the vegetables except the potatoes in a mixture of bacon fat and olive oil.  The dough was just water and flour, though I did add some of the leftover fat from browning the ingredients.  The rest of the fat went into the dutch oven.  I enjoyed the challenge of tucking as many potatoes as I could around the chicken, without stuffing it so full that it wouldn't cook through.  Greenspan called for adding both white wine and chicken broth to the pot, but I omitted these, largely because I was moving 100 miles an hour on Monday and only scanned the recipe well enough to get a general sense of it.  At serving time there were plenty of juices in the dutch oven; I think it would have been a swimming pool of liquid had I been more faithful to the author's intention.

The only tiny disappointment of the meal was the crust that sealed the chicken and vegetables into the dutch oven during cooking.  I was surprised to find that Greenspan's recipe made no reference to it after the chicken was cooked.  I wondered whether it would be worth breaking up and soaking in the abundant juices in the bottom of the dutch oven.  I can't abide the thought of wasting the flour, you see.  Not only did my crust end up just this side of well charred, but it also had little flavor or texture.  We tried the juice soaking technique and found it really only made the crust marginally edible. If I were to repeat this dish in the future, I might try sealing the dutch oven with a loop of good yeasted bread dough.  If the dough started out well chilled I can imagine it forming a beautifully browned and scrumptious ring, the perfect vehicle for dunking in roast chicken juices.

It was incredibly satisfying to tuck into a meal that was almost entirely homegrown.  The carrots might have come from the garden if it hadn't been for the few that I had hanging around in the fridge, the leftovers from a spate of morning glory muffin baking.  Other than that, the only ingredients that weren't produced right here were the fats, salt and pepper.  This bodes very well for our six broilers, which are coming along nicely and are now out on the "pasture" full time, in the poultry schooner.

By the way, if any of you are raising birds for the table, or mulling it, and are planning to do your own slaughtering and processing, you may have pondered the same questions I did.  How soon does rigor mortis set in?  How long does it last?  Does it adversely affect the dish to cook a bird in rigor mortis?  And if so, what are the windows of opportunity for cooking the bird?  The basic answers to these questions are that rigor mortis sets in very quickly with poultry, and yes, it's best to avoid cooking a bird in rigor mortis.  Fortunately, it doesn't last too long.  Either cook a bird immediately upon slaughtering and processing, or refrigerate the bird and wait about 24 hours for the rigor mortis to dissipate.

Some of you have asked for a pictorial guide or even video on my slaughtering process.  So far we haven't had any clean hands available to hold a camera on slaughter day, but I'm keeping it in mind for the broilers we are raising at the moment.  If I can corral an innocent bystander with enough intestinal fortitude into taking some pictures or video, I will certainly post them later on.


Laurel H. said...

Oooo! I saw this very cookbook and contemplated this very recipe; it looks great! If I lived close enough, I'd come hold the camera for you. :)

Laurel in PA
Always learning

Hazel said...

It sounds delicious!

I think my dogs would enjoy the crust...

The book sounds interesting too. Actually, I've just finished reading 'A Life of her Own' after your recommendation.It was fascinating, especially the first part where she is detailing her life in the village. I knew that continental Europeans had a more recent peasant history than us, but it is incredible that people were living like that in living memory.

Kate said...

Laurel, whereabouts in PA are you? I really need a documentarian!

Hazel, it was very tasty, and your dogs probably would love the crust. I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed A Life of Her Own. It's always a pleasure to share books with other readers. I too was especially fascinated by the life of the village. Imagine baking bread only once in the year, and later softening it up by hanging in a byre!

meemsnyc said...

Isn't it just wonderful when your meal is entirely homegrown? Love it! I like the pen you have your chickens in.