Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Free Range Chicken

A chicken in every pot, right? Americans love their chicken these days. I admit, I used to be one of them. Then I learned a little more about how chickens are raised these days. CAFOs -- concentrated animal feeding operations -- are how most Americans get their meat -- be it pork, beef, chicken or turkey. You can read a little more about the myriad of ways these are bad for the surrounding generally poor, rural populations from the ammonia emmissions that are a threat to public health to the noxious smell, fecal coloform levels in streams, run-off, dust, etc., etc. Then think about eating these birds who never see the light of day, who are packed 25,000 under one roof, and whose feed is contaminated with arsenic, ammonia and other chemicals. And don't get me started on antibiotics and bio nutrients.

If you still want to eat chicken, you may want to support one of our local growers of PASTURED chickens instead. These are chickens that are raised eating grass and bugs and other things real, natural chickens eat. And they taste a little different, too. During the summer months you can purchase fresh or frozen chickens for about $2.90 a pound from Steve Misera at the Strip District Farmers at the Firehouse Market market the 4th Saturday of each month. Spend a bit more a pound to have them cut into parts. West Liberty Farms is another fine producer of grass-raised chickens. They were at the Strip Districts' Farmer's Market last week for a slightly higher charge. Joe Rush, mentioned in an earlier blog, sells pastured chickens also. He delivers these (among other things) all over Pittsburgh every other week.

I recently bought 4 fresh chickens from Steve Misera. The neat thing about buying them fresh, is you can part them in a way that is convenient for you and then freeze them so that they are ready when you need them instead of having to roast a whole chicken every time. My good friend Angela was kind enought to show me how to dissect the chickens.

I will do my best to describe our method. Here's what we used: a very sharp "chef's" knife -- I think it is 7" long, a sharp pairing knife, and something I didn't have, but which is crucial to the process -- kitchen scissors, or, in Angela's case, carpet shears. We also had several plastic cutting boards and glass casseroles to put in the parts as they were parted. Ziploc bags were at the ready, too.

Create a trash pile and a stock pile (oh, that phrase really makes sense in this case!) that you will use to make stock/ broth. First, cut off the neck and the excess skin. Neck to stock, skin to trash. Then, cut out the back bone by using scissors or a chef's knife to cut both sides of it. Then, turn the chicken over and hold it up by it's leg (the thigh part). Let the weight of it separate the thigh from the body and find the joint and cut that. Do the same for the other leg. The wings hold on a little stronger, but the same can be done for them. Then you can split the breast right down the middle. After that, you can skin and de-bone the breasts and store them away. Or leave them with skin and bone. Whatever you prefer. I would not recommend deboning the thighs and wings. Way too much of a pain.

So, I saved the wings separately and used a recipe from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette's food section. I tried the Asian Mahogany Wings. The recipe was quite easy to make and the sauce was very, very tasty. I wish the skin had gotten more crispy - perhaps I basted too much. I would definitely make them again, though, and you should, too. But not with CAFO chickens.

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