I keep wanting to be a booster for the community-supported agriculture but I often fail. My stories are often about what doesn't work, as my friends can attest. Potatoes anyone? Cabbage? Chard? I'm sure they wonder why we continue, year after year. A few years ago, in the early days, we had chickens. A poultry farmer in the back-country village of Cipieres provided chickens to a co-op and agreed to work with us as well. It was the first time in my life that I ate "real" chicken - one that did not come from a supermarket (and I include Whole Foods here too). These chickens had taste, not just texture and not just the taste of the lemons and rosemary I often roasted them with. They tasted...earthy and in a very very good way. It was during these two seasons that I discovered cooking the chickens en cocotte and I haven't looked back. The chickens are jucier and the kitchen isn't filled with too much roast chicken smell. Alas, after those two seasons our poultry provider decided to call it quits with us and took his hens elsewhere. Back the supermarket for us.
Imagine my excitement then when last fall a new chicken agreement was reached with the CSA. I signed up right away and ordered two a month. It turned out to be two too many. These chickens gave a new meaning to free-range - in the mouth the stringy meat felt like these chickens had been running marathons. They didn't hold up to the dutch oven so I tried a poulet à la basquaise. All I ended up with was a nice tomato sauce with some stringy chicken. The second one I just cooked into stock, so disappointed I was with the meat. I hated doing that though; just cooking it and throwing all meat away.
As you may know, with the CSA, you don't just buy what you want. You engage. So the chickens keep coming home. (Oh, and did I mention that you have the thrill of chopping of the head and feet and figuring out what to do with viscera which has been kindly included? Yum) Just before Christmas, two more. We froze them both whole and drove off for our holidays. Upon return, there they were, taking up enormous space in our tiny freezer. Something had to be done. I took one out on New Year's morning intending to cook it that night. My heart wasn't in it. Back to the fridge. Yesterday I decided extreme measures were needed: Time to brine. My thinking was that if the fanatics did it for turkeys, maybe it's what my chickens need. At least, I reasoned, it wouldn't make it worse.
I found a basic brine recipe and the only thing I skipped was putting into the fridge- we just don't have that kind of fridge space and I figured I was going to be roasting it later anyway. It sat in the brine all day approximately 8:30 to 4:30pm. At five it was in the oven after being rinsed, dried, rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper and stuffed with lemons. I roasted it the old fashioned way, in a pan with rack at 400F/200C. I drove off and picked up my family and when we came home an hour later it was nearly finised and golden, crackling brown.
We had invited friends over (excuse: finish the fois gras) and I warned them they may be eating stringy chicken. Luckily : No! It was a perfectly delicious roast chicken. It wasn't an exceptional, rave-about-it roast chicken but it was moist in the right way and had both its own flavor and a bit of the lemon. I'm so encouraged, I'm ready to empty my freezer of the second one and try a different brine, something with some other flavors to add to it.
If you haven't done it, I say give it a go - it might even give the supermarket chicken something. If you've done it before - any further tips or good brine recipes you want to share?