I hate making roast chicken. It just really grosses me out. But I started making my own chicken stock about a year ago and once you have made and used your own chicken stock you can never go back to using bouillon cubes.
So about every three month, I buckle down and make a roast chicken, use the meat for tasty risottos and stews and curries and use the carcass to make stock which I then freeze in one cup portions.
Sure, there are other ways to make chicken stock, some people say better ways. There is Ina Gartens famous chicken stock recipe which is supposed to be fantastic. Or The Amateur Gourmets chicken stock recipe. But wasting that much chicken and not even getting to eat it, I morally just cannot get myself to do.
On top of that I found a new recipe - Jamie Olivers "Chicken in milk" which I have been wanting to make since I first laid eyes on it and since we also just got ourselves a brand new Lodge Dutch Oven (the poor man's Le Creuset) that I had been dying to try - I knew it was time to face the chicken.
Since starting to follow Michael Pollans food principles I found that when it comes to meat - it is relatively easy to find grass fed beef in most grocery stores (I guess it has become somewhat of a foodie staple) but it is nearly impossible to get pastured chicken in Chicago, in the winter. In the summer, a lot of local farmers can be found at the farmers markets but there are only one or two weekly farmers markets which brave the winter. Through the Eat Wild website I found out that there is Farmers Market which sells pastured chicken but that's not happening for another 10 days.
So I made my way down to Chicagos biggest Wholefoods which apparently is the 3rd biggest Wholefoods in the world. There were three different kinds of whole chicken: Amish, "natural" (Wholefoods own brand) and Kosher. I checked all the labels and none of them said "pastured". A Wholefoods employee asked me if I needed help, so I asked him if Wholefoods sold any pastured chicken. His answer:
"Erm, we have the Amish, which are Amish raised and the natural and then we have the Kosher. And erm, yeah, all our chickens are, you know, organic and all pastured and all that stuff."
Clearly he didn't understand what pastured meant because I am pretty sure that if the chicken were pastured it would say so. A lot of people who buy their food at Wholefoods would spend extra to get a pastured chicken, I am sure.
His response reminded me of the response I got from a Trader Joes employee after asking him if any of the beef they were selling was grass-fed. He had to go ask. When he came back he said:
"Yeah, all of our beef is organic which means it is grass-fed." - Again - if the cows were grass-fed, I am pretty sure it would say. In fact, I had seen beef at a bigger Trader Joes that said in big letters "Grass-fed only beef".
Anyway, I ended up grabbing one of the Amish chicken, hoping that this would be the best choice of the three.
When I got home and I checked the recipe, I noticed that it asked for a 3 1/2 pound, organic chicken. I noticed that the chicken I had bought was 4 1/2 pounds. According to Michael Pollan pastured chicken are usually smaller, since they are outside and have to find bugs and grass to eat.
Had I, after all my extensive research, chosen an obese chicken?
After doing some research now, I found out that Amish chicken are
NOT free-range, they are antibiotic free though, at least.
The thing I hate most about preparing a whole chicken is sticking my hand up its behind to get out the insides. In most cases the insides are in a bag but I have had cases where they were just thrown in there loosely.
In the case of this Amish chicken - this is what was inside:
I am not sure if it is visible from the picture but this bag is chicken-head shaped. Now, a headless chicken is disturbing enough for me to look at but the head? I know - it's most likely just the neck which people like to throw in the pot when they are making chicken stock but let's just say I was not brave enough to open the bag. It is in my freezer right now. I don't think I could have eaten the chicken if I would have seen its face.
The headless chicken itself looked like a headless baby. For me - roasting chickens always kind of look like headless babies but this chubby chicken even more so:
I actually ended up apologizing to the chicken and thanking it for giving us its meat. I realize that probably sound somewhat nuts but I mean - look at it:
And this ladies and gentlemen is why I eat mostly vegetarian these days.
(The "Chicken in Milk" was very tasty though and I can highly recommend it - especially if you like lemon - but make sure to read the comments under the recipe, since they give some good tips)