Turkey may win on the holidays, but for everyday eating, it's hard to beat the appearance, aroma and flavor of a beautifully roasted chicken. Let me explain why this is fresh in my mind.
Three years ago, after reading a lot of research, I concluded that buying fresh local food was the only way I could ensure the food I fed my family was healthy to eat. I began transitioning toward being a locavore: a person who eats only locally grown foods, as much as possible. For me, "local" meant "grown in Whatcom County."
Finding produce was mostly a matter of locating resources: the Community Food Co-op stores, Terra Organica, Bellingham Farmers Market and some of the wonderful farm stores in the area. Learning to shop seasonally was also part of the process.
I gradually found sources of eggs, dairy products, honey, hazelnut oil and flour. I live on an island with a small commercial fishing fleet, so finding fresh seafood was fairly easy, too. We experimented to find family flavor favorites and worked out the shopping logistics. By then I had a pretty good network of food sources on which to rely.
Finding grassfed beef was a little more complicated. In order to be affordable, I learned how to buy in bulk directly from a farm. Many small beef farmers don't really advertise, so I talked with a lot of people before finally finding Second Wind Farm near Everson.
Most recently, I started looking for a regular supply of chicken. What I had learned finding other foods made this much easier. I spent a couple of hours talking to farmers at the Farmers Market, browsed some farm websites, and finally chose a chicken CSA from Cedarville Farm.
Farmer Mike Finger described chicken-farming methods that I could feel good about supporting, prices were reasonable and my daughter works nearby, so picking up our chickens would be very easy. Success!
Working with chickens bought directly from a farm is pretty much the same as with chickens from a grocery store. The chickens have been thoroughly cleaned, plucked and frozen, and are delivered in individual plastic freezer bags.
The biggest difference, of course, is that these are not factory-farmed chickens. These chickens are truly pastured, meaning they spend most of their day wandering around outdoors eating bugs and seeds, and generally having a happy chicken life. They also get supplements of certified organic chicken feed to make sure they get the nutrition they need. No antibiotics, no hormones - these are chickens I knew I could put on the family dinner table without worrying about consequences for our long-term health.
Last week we picked up our first delivery and I immediately began planning a roasted chicken dinner. Pasture-raised chickens tend to be leaner than their factory-farmed relatives, so Mike had recommended brining the chickens before cooking them. Brining adds moisture to the meat, which means juiciness and tender texture when it comes out of the oven.
I've found that a two-gallon stockpot is perfect for working with a 3- to 5-pound chicken. First, to thaw the bird, I put the chicken (still in its plastic bag) in the stockpot and cover it with cold water. If any of it floats above the water, I use a bowl and the stockpot lid to weight it down.
Food experts recommend putting the pot in the refrigerator until the bird thaws. Plan to have it there for several days. I confess; I leave it in the sink overnight. It works for me, but patience is not one of my virtues. I recommend that you use the refrigerator method to be safe.
Once the chicken is thawed, I remove it from the plastic bag, rinse it thoroughly under cold water and set it aside on a plate. Next I empty the thaw water from the stockpot and wash it well with hot water and soap.
Now it's time to mix up a gallon of brine, usually enough to cover the whole bird with an inch or so to spare. The simplest brine is just salt and water. Others go all out.
Once all of the ingredients are thoroughly dissolved, slide the chicken into the brine. After that, it just takes time.
The rest of my basic roast chicken recipe is below. Find yourself a local chicken, raised with care and ethics, and fix an everyday meal fit for a holiday.
BRINED ROASTED CHICKEN
1 gallon cool water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup honey (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
1 chicken, approximately 4 pounds (Cedarville Farm, Bellingham)
1/4 cup butter, melted (homemade with cream from Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
1 smoked cayenne pepper, finely minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
5 sprigs rosemary (home garden, Lummi Island)
1 clove garlic (Boxx Berry Farm, Ferndale)
Optional: vegetables for roasting (carrots, onions, etc.)
Mix brine ingredients in 2-gallon pot. Rinse the chicken and submerge in the brine. Use a bowl or other weight, if necessary, to keep the bird completely covered with brine. Turn the bird under the liquid to be sure to release any air trapped in the body cavity.
Let the chicken soak in the brine for 2-6 hours in the refrigerator.
When brining is complete, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Rinse chicken and pat dry. For crispier skin, let dry chicken sit in the refrigerator for about an hour.
Mix butter with smoked cayenne pepper. Rub all over chicken.
Put rosemary into the cavity of the chicken. Smash the garlic and add to the cavity.
Place the chicken in a roasting pan, or baking pan with rims. Line pan with aluminum foil, if desired. Put coarsely chopped vegetables around the chicken, if desired.
Cook in the oven for about an hour and a half, or until the temperature of the thickest part of the thigh is about 165 degrees.
Carve and serve.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.