Since we got Pollan-ated, buying humanely raised, free roaming chickens has been a priority for us. When we still lived in NYC it was easy – we could rely on “the bearded guy” (in our case, Mike of Tamarack Hollow Farm) or a few other trusted Greenmarket purveyors for the good stuff, and while we pay far more than for a supermarket bird, we have found it to be well worth it in terms of quality and flavor. That we were spending more also meant it was imperative to use every bit – one whole roasted or grilled chicken would yield a great dinner the first night, then remaining meat would be shredded and incorporated into soup or pot pie or taco/enchilada filling or chicken salad, and the bones and trimmings would be frozen and used for stock.
When we moved, we hoped we would be able to find chicken of the same quality that we had grown accustomed to. We had heard great things about Antonelli’s on Federal Hill, but the birds we brought home, while unarguably fresh, were lacking in the flavor department. We were incredibly disappointed, and though we knew hat in a pinch we could (and did) fall back on the air-chilled, organic free range birds sold at Whole Foods and the like, we missed the whole connection of being able to talk to the person who actually raised those chickens. It may sound hokey, but it’s true, and it’s important to us.
The Hope High farmers’ market kicked off in full force last Saturday, and as we have done for the last several preview weeks, Mike and I made the short walk down to get there bright and early. Though we had always brought home good things to eat from the pre-season market, the offerings were a bit sparse, so we were thrilled to see so many new stands when we arrived. Among them was Pat’s Pastured, selling grass-fed ground beef from Watson Farm, and pastured pork and chickens from their own Casey Farm. We waited our turn and made our selections, then we waited for our beautiful bird to thaw in the fridge (apparently local laws prohibit them from selling fresh meat, so everything must be frozen).
Yesterday, our chicken was finally ready to cook, and while I was on the train home, Mike got the grill going, spatchcocked the bird and rubbed it down with a compound butter spiked with his chile powder and smoked paprika. We enjoyed a cocktail on the patio while it cooked, and from the smell of it we knew we were in for something good.
When the chicken was nearly done, I prepared the sides – black-eyed peas, doctored up with shallot and smoked paprika, and collards from the farmers’ market, stemmed and chopped, quickly sautéed in olive oil then covered and left to steam through, and finally hit with a splash of sherry vinegar before serving. Mike warmed up a little of the barbecue sauce he made over the weekend to serve on the side, and once he carved the chicken into serving pieces, we sat down to give it a taste.
It was exactly what we’ve been missing – ultra-crispy skin, juicy and richly flavored meat, absolutely delicious. We all but forgot about the sauce since the chicken was so good on its own, and we hadn’t even finished our meal before we were talking about what to do with our next bird, and about stockpiling some in the freezer when the market season nears its end in November. I can’t wait to walk up to the guy at Pat’s Pastured on Saturday, introduce myself and thank him for the first of what I’m sure will be many great chicken dinners.