The whole bird, and everything from the bird.

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Truly nothing grosses me out more that seeing yellowy pink chicken breasts in a foam tray wrapped in plastic film on the grocery store shelf. Nothing, well aside from mayo, but that stems from a lifelong issue I have yet to uncover, and no desire to get into at this time. From this I am sure you can assume you will not find a “super chicken salad sandwich” recipe here, ever!

But lets get back to the bird. I can’t tell you when the last time I ate conventional chicken was. The thought of beakless caged, medicated almost translucent ghost birds eating old battery house hens, cows and often times mercury and lead rich fishmeal, had all driven me to vegetarianism for years. But in the past 5 or so years I met a number of really stand up poultry farmers, who’s farms I toured and who’s birds I came to enjoy.  Now I always laugh (sickly to myself) when I see pictures of a quant little farm on the packaging of any conventional meat & dairy products, as if the food in those containers comes from anything but industrialized processing compounds. Compounds where animal health and the impact on the health of the humans who eats those animals, is never calculated in to profit projections.

Well now I have my own little farm and a lovely flock of chooks which I have raised from 2 day old chicks through the slaughter, and the plucking, and the cleaning right to the fryer (as was the case for many of our roosters). We enjoy the chicken-ness of the chickens fluffing away in the garden, and we cherish the warm fresh multi-coloured eggs we collect each morning from our little feathered friends.  I have learned a thing or two about chicken keeping and eating this year, but more than anything, all of this chicken-ness has given me cause to celebrate the full life cycle and all the bits of a whole bird.

No stranger to frugal cooking (although you will find truffle oil in my pantry, along with saffron, and fig spreads, fine olive oils, and luxurious sea salts) I grew up watching my grandmother (a poor mother of twelve) make meals out of scraps and fridge cleaning, and each day she fed dozens of mouths with soups made from nothing and left over-overs turned into new creative dishes at every meal. I was always in awe of her well-honed skill for doing this, perfected over decades, what a lady. My generation really has no idea how to cook like this, if they cook at all. Food has become an inconvenient necessity for some, for others an opportunity to explore the bounty of the drive through and the frozen microwave meal isle. Luckily that is not my personality and clearly my genes have blessed me with a passion for growing and preparing delicious real food, which now drives me back to the frugal ways of farmhouse cooking. Waste nothing. I wanted to write this to explore all of the chicken.

Last night I roasted a rooster very simply in a bed of carrots, parsnips, turnips and cauliflower, with a simple seasoning, we enjoyed it along with quinoa finished with some pan drippings and garlic. He was a skinny little rooster (part of our early season rowdy bunch of trouble causing cocks) so there wasn’t a whole lot of him left after we ate but my plan was to use him twice more to feed my family of three, for a total of three meals, a happy dog and some stunning earrings all from this 4lb bird…

This afternoon the carcass was simmering away with garlic and onion with the left over roasted veggies from last night to flavor the broth, along with dried sage from my summer garden, I had an extra carcass in my freezer which I added to the pot for a XL batch of stock brewing. When I am making stock (not just a pot of soup) before I get the bones in the pot I like to pick off any good pieces of meat and keep them aside until later. I always start by browning onion, and garlic in a little glug of oil, along with any other aromatic veggies you have around, Get some spice in the pot; S+P, a nice poultry blend, and a couple bay leafs. Get a good amount of water in the pot and let it bubble for 3-5 hours. Pour the broth and bones into a large colander and into another big pot or bowl, set aside to cool and drip, and put the strained stock back on over medium heat. Once cooled you can start to clean off the bones I usually have two piles or bowls going 1 for the good meat your taking off which you can add to the stuff you removed earlier, the second pile is for fatty bits of skin and more gristly bits (not bones, just stuff I wouldn’t eat, but the dog will LOVE). At this point you can jar up some stock, keep it in the fridge and use it up within the week, or you can freeze the jars and use them later, and if you had a pressure canner you could can them and keep them for years.

This is the point in which I started making a gluten free chicken and rice gnocchi goulash of sorts (recipe below). Tomorrow I will use the broth as a base for a spicy Asian noodle soup.

When the whole chicken slaughtering bit is done we try to use as much of the birds as we can; I haven’t ventured into the culinary world of chicken feet cooking, but our birds are various lovely heritage breeds and my daughter collects their beautiful, stripped and spotted feathers which we craft with, she even trades these feathers with local artist and jewelry makers. As for the owful, the dog gets spoiled.

Chicken and rice gnocchi goulash of sorts. Gluten Free and Dairy free.

In a large pot bring about 1 L of chicken stock to a slow boil, Add in 2 cups of cooked chicken meat, and season with; a splash of apple juice, some worcestershire sauce, a splash of Braggs, and a heavy Tbsp of paprika. And 2 cups of halves shitake mushrooms, and 1 package of gluten free organic rice gnocchi’s. Allow everything to cook slowly on a low heat, until the gnocchi start to float. Then remove 1/2 cup of the stock and to it add about 1 heaping Tbsp of tapioca flour, mix well and add it back into the pot, stir gently and allow to thicken for a few minutes. Finish with fresh pepper and sage.

Enjoy, and connect to your food source!

Interesting side note; CBC radio just reported this morning: a marketplace investigation done on Canadian chicken and the superbacteria found in it due to the abundant use of medications to keep commercial meat birds alive long enough to get to market. Read CBC report here

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