I don’t remember the last time I bought a package of chicken parts. It seems strange to pay for a selection of boneless, naked breasts or a random selection of thighs or legs from who knows how many animals. Do you believe the package of ten breasts comes from 5 distinct chickens from one distinct farm? Or is there one breast from ten different chickens from ten different farms in there? Or?
To use the whole chicken is to know the one distinct chicken you have before you with all its parts intact (or anyway all the parts you are likely to eat). If you know the farmer who raised this chicken, you likely know something about the life it lived and the food it ate. If you are the farmer, you know even more.
I don’t have chickens yet, though I hope to begin keeping them in the next year or two–to take advantage of their yield in meat and eggs, manure and light tillage. But I buy whole chickens from farmers I know, and I love how much there is to do with the complete bird.
Ideally, the only thing left of a chicken when I’m through with it is a pile of somewhat bleached-looking bones. From the initial roasted dinner, to the leftover bits and bites for sandwiches and salad and dinners with biscuits and gravy, to the rich and nourishing stock and soup, to the little nibbets of skin and cartilage I slip to the dog, one whole bird brings almost a week of deliciousness to my (admittedly small) household.
I suppose a whole lamb might bring an entire winter of deliciousness, and a whole cow or hog a year–but a whole large animal requires a bit more storage space (and commitment to a single meat diet) than I’m willing to make at this point. So, I’ll buy a piece of lamb or beef, and I am pretty partial to bacon. And I buy those meats from farmers I know either personally or through friends, or through the organization I work for.
One of the best parts about roasting a whole chicken is making stock from the carcass. There’s hardly a single savory dish it doesn’t improve in some way. Since I’m not equipped at this time to reduce a whole large animal down to the point where I can make stock from its bones, I often take the shortcut and buy packages of meaty soup bones.
A couple weeks ago, I got such a package of beef bones from Moonstone Farm, and late last week I took them out and roasted them in the oven ’til browned, then simmered them with a gallon of water, a little red wine, and a couple of bay leaves. The stock has been sitting in the fridge since then–until tonight when I strained it and pulled the meat off the bones.
The dog got the bits of cartilage and gristle, and I got a great base for a hearty soup. I simmered barley in the stock, and sauteed some carrot, onion, and sweet red pepper with a little dried celery and hen of the woods mushroom pieces. A few herbs, the bits of meat from the bones, some salt and pepper, and a little more red wine, and dinner was served! Tomorrow’s lunch is also in that pot–and maybe supper, too, if I can keep myself from eating too much all at once.
And this time, even the bare bones will offer deliciousness–at least to the dog.