If you have decided to buy chicken from a farmer who raises his birds outdoors, you will soon discover that these chickens do not come in packages of drumsticks or breasts. The right kind of chicken always comes as a whole bird. If you have never cooked a whole chicken before, don’t be daunted. It’s actually very easy, and the leftovers can be transformed into a delicious chicken soup.
Ask the farmer to reserve the head and feet of the birds you buy. These are full of gelatin and help make wonderful chicken stock (broth). Also, tell him to keep the fattest birds for you. Much of the goodness of a properly raised bird is in the fat! Of course, you will also want the organ meats or giblets (liver, heart and gizzard).
If you are planning to cook the bird whole, as a roast, remove the neck and outer portion of the wing (use kitchen scissors for this). Pull away the fat glands at the tail and remove the fatty skin from the neck area and underside of the bird. The neck and wing tips, along with the head and feet, will be used to make stock and the fat and skin will be rendered to make chicken fat or schmaltz. The giblets can be cut up in gravy or soup.
If you are cooking the chicken in pieces, as in fried chicken, you will still want to make stock with the head, feet, neck and wingtips. However, leave the skin on the chicken, removing only the fat glands if they are large. Using a sharp knife plus a sturdy pair of scissors, cut the chicken into pieces in the following order: remove wings; remove legs and cut them into drumstick and thigh; cut the carcass lengthwise into two halves (back portion and breast portion); cut the back portion crosswise into two pieces; cut the breast lengthwise into two pieces.
Note: Cooked chicken dishes are delicious with raw sauerkraut.
Roast Chicken with Gravy
1 whole chicken, wing tips, neck, about 4 pounds, fat glands and back skin removed
about 3 tablespoons olive oil,
melted chicken fat or melted butter
Several sprigs fresh rosemary or thyme
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
sea salt and pepper
about 2 quarts chicken stock
the giblets, cooked in the stock (optional)
Place the bird breast side up on a rack set in a roasting pan. Stuff the cavity with thyme or rosemary. Strew the onion slices in the pan. Rub salt and pepper into the skin and brush the bird with butter, chicken fat or olive oil.
Set the bird in a 450o oven and reduce heat to 350o. Bake about 1 1/2 hours or until the legs feel loose in their sockets. Brush the bird occasionally with the drippings in the pan.
When the bird is ready, transfer to a board and carve into pieces. Transfer chicken pieces to a platter and keep warm in the oven while making gravy. Reserve the carcass for making chicken soup.
Place the baking pan on the stove. You should have at least 1/2 cup good drippings, hopefully more. Add an equal amount of unbleached flour. Stir flour into drippings over a medium flame until well amalgamated and the flour begins to turn brown. Add stock and bring to a boil, stirring vigorously with a wire whisk. Strain gravy into a pan. If it is too thick, add a little water. If it is too thin, let it boil uncovered until it reduces a bit. Chop the optional giblets very fine and add to the gravy. Just before serving, season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes or brown rice.
head, neck, feet and wingtips of 1 chicken
giblets from 1 chicken
1/4 cup vinegar
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
3-4 sticks celery, chopped
several sprigs parsley and fresh thyme, tied together
filtered cold water
Place chicken parts in a 1-gallon pot with vinegar, vegetables and herbs. Add about 3 quarts filtered cold water. Bring to a simmer and skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Cover and simmer several hours, skimming occasionally. Let cool and strain into a bowl or pitcher, reserving the giblets. Refrigerate and remove congealed fat (which can be added to fat rendered to make schmaltz).
fat glands and fatty skin from 1 chicken
reserved fat from making stock (above)
1 large onion, diced
Schmaltz is the German word for rendered chicken fat, used frequently in Jewish cooking. The cracklings–crisp pieces of chicken skin–are called greben or grebenes and sometimes referred to as “Jewish Popcorn.” They are delicious added to mashed potatoes and, when cooking, make the house smell
Cut fatty skin and fat glands into small pieces. Cover with cold water, add the fat reserved from making stock and cook in a heavy pot or frying pan, uncovered, until the water has almost completely evaporated. Reduce heat and add diced onion. Continue to cook until the onion is nicely browned and the
pieces of skin are dry and crisp. Remove cracklings with a slotted spoon to paper towels. Let fat cool slightly and strain into a glass jar. Refrigerate for later use.
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
about 3 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
about 4 cups leftover whole grain pancake batter (Nourishing Traditions, page 478)
about 2 cups lard
about 1 quart chicken stock (for optional gravy)
Place flour, salt, pepper and cayenne in a paper bag and shake to blend thoroughly. Melt 1 cup lard in a heavy Dutch oven or skillet. A few pieces at a time, place chicken pieces in the bag and shake to cover with flour. Use tongs to dip into pancake batter and then fry in melted lard about 10 minutes per side. Add more lard as needed. You may cover the pan to ensure that the larger pieces cook through. Remove with tongs onto paper towels.
Serve the chicken cold or tepid with potato salad, or hot with mashed potatoes and gravy. To make gravy, pour out all but about 3/4 cup lard and remove any debris with a slotted spoon. Stir 3/4 cup flour into drippings over a medium flame until the flour is well amalgamated and the flour begins to turn brown. Add stock to flour/lard mixture and bring to a boil, stirring vigorously with a wire whisk. Strain gravy into a pan. If it is too thick, add a little water. If it is too thin, let it boil uncovered until it reduces.
Leftover Chicken Soup
1 chicken carcass, leftover from roast chicken
1/4 cup vinegar
filtered cold water
cooked giblets from 1 chicken (optional)
any leftover chicken from the roast, chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cups chopped celery
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
about 2 cups fresh corn cut off the cob,
diced potatoes or leftover brown rice
sea salt and pepper to taste
Place chicken and vinegar in a 1-gallon pot, cover with filtered cold water and bring to a simmer. Skim any scum that rises to the top, cover and simmer several hours, skimming occasionally. Let cool slightly and remove carcass. Remove the chicken meat remaining on the carcass and chop. Add chopped chicken meat, onion, celery, pepper and corn, potatoes or leftover rice to the broth. You may add the chopped giblets if you have not used them in the gravy for the roast chicken. Simmer about 10 minutes to soften vegetables and blend flavors. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2002.