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Archive for the ‘Poultry’ Category

Poultry-nomics: Peck & Berry Acres vs. Hutterite supply

06.17.10

I have, by most standards where I live anyway, an unusual meat supply. I’m not trying to be special or exclusive. I’m just trying to be sensible. Wine tasting my butt off for a few years taught me two important lessons that I now apply to meats: ‘Quality/Price’ ratio, and ‘love thy small producer’. So I choose a small local producer I like, buy direct [good QPR required], buy the animals whole, butcher them myself, and win on both the quality AND price fronts. Yes. Yes it does feel good.

I’ve discussed the economics of buying a whole pig here, from a small local producer that not only supports the ethics and approach I try to support, but that I can introduce to my kids as ‘our pig farmer’. They’ve had a lot of local successes in the past couple years, and are becoming one of the more visible niche pork sources in the city. Great. The quality on the plate – the important part – is very solid. The fact that I can cut them into whatever I dream up for the kitchen is another bonus. All these attributes, for less than you’d pay for retail cuts at a supergrocer for a pig raised in an industrial system I’m not interested in supporting with my consumer dollar. That said, I’m also disinterested in spending 400+% more than said industrial pig for one from a popular organic producer at the market. I think there’s a better way. I’ve found that better way, when it comes to pork.

But my poultry supply may need work. My current supply is from a local Hutterite group, about which I know little, to be honest. What I do know is they grow huge chickens, and sell them for cheap.  I normally pay about $1.25/lb. I like to think that it’s largely because I’m in on an order with a number of other folks and we end up buying 50-100+ birds at a time. It very well may be because they industrial farm as good as the next guy, and we simply cut out some middle men. Dunno. That’s the problem. We took a dozen last time, which lasted us a few months. Then we ran out. And I don’t know when the next big order’s being called in – another supply issue, in my mind. So what to do? Coincidentally, a day after we ran out, a good friend emailed me that a friend of theirs [Annette and Willie at Peck N Berry Acres] was getting a bunch slaughtered, and asked if I wanted. So I picked up 3 to try them out, and span the gap until my next bulk order. If their pastured-and-drug-free-chicken diet is similar to their heritage breed turkeys [which I've tried, very rich, dense]: “Fifty percent of their diet is grass, which creates healthier meat, increasing the vitamin content as well as the omega content. The other half of their diet is a wheat/barley mix with a vitamin/mineral/protein supplement. Up to this point, we’ve been able to purchase barley and wheat from within a 10-mile radius of our acreage.” That seems sensible, no? So far so good.

The Economics

$15.50 or so for a 2.5kg [5.5lb] bird. $2.80/lb. I see the $20-30 price tags at the market for birds of similar size – but it’s still roughly double-and-change what my current source costs. If we go through a dozen chickens a year say, at 8 lbs a piece, that’s about 100 lbs of chicken. An additional cost of say $1.50/lbX100lbs, that’s $150/year more than normal. That doesn’t get me too upset -but at 2 dozen chickens a year, that price spread nearly pays for a whole hog – so further justification is required in my mind. Quality verdict? It’s good. Wrongly or rightly, I was expecting a more intense chicken experience, like I’d had with their turkeys. But it was good chicken. If flavor were the only quality measure, I would not make a move in supplier – but as often can be the case, the important difference may be in what’s not in the meat [all other things being equal, I figure opting out of the hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified corn/soy feed, etc is reasonable]. So it looks like I need to do more homework into my current source, and if it’s sketchy at all, Annette and Willie may end up getting by business, despite the price spread. And my inner cheapass applauds them for that achievement.

Use Whatcha Got [just make sure whatcha got is good]

06.15.10

Every year I marvel at how early and quickly spinach bolts, and the last couple days of heat did it. So my spring crop of spinach has ended in a glut. And I had a chicken in the fridge – I’m test-running a new source of local poultry. And there was some spare Sauvignon Blanc from Friday’s wine tasting. Add some cool mushrooms I picked up at the Saturday Market from Mo-Na. My garden offered some wild thyme & spring onions, and my fridge was hiding some reserved chicken fat from a different bird. Dinner was lovely tonight. Irrelevant, really, but this dish in particular got me thinking.

I often hear folks in my generation or younger diss cooking at home from the point of view that it’s more expensive for them to buy the ingredients to cook a recipe than to eat out. They could point to the above dish to support their argument – by the time they buy a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a nice free-range chicken, some super fresh greens, some great mushrooms, some chicken fat, some fresh herbs…big tab, with a potentially failed outcome on the plate. Which got me reflecting on how learning to cook via recipes can be dangerous. It’s like learning music from sheet music. It can codify, and therefore gut the soul and purpose of  something that should be natural, intuitive, and beautiful. Most of the battle of cooking is surrounding oneself with rich food resources. Seems the better you get at sourcing, the better quality food you’re eating, the healthier it is for you, and the more economical you can make it. Begs the question of ‘where do you start’? But my brain hurts.

Christmas Chicken and Custard

12.26.08

Family, friends, food, wine, repeat – what’s not to like about the holiday season?! I figured I should slam up an unfocused post during the holidays. Unfocused because 1] I am successfully in holiday mode and 2] there are a myriad of food prep duties and social occasions speckling my days.

This year’s Christmas dinner menu:

Oven-dried tomato with goat cheese on crostini with Aussie bubbly

Garlic-stuffed roast brined chicken with mashed potato, gravy, and high-bush cranberry sauce – paired with a grand cru Alsace pinot gris. I followed two important principles related to brining and roasting time – which are both based on weight [3.9 kg chicken]. Brined it for a day as per ‘Charcuterie”s instructions, and roasted it for 4 hrs as per J.P. Jayet [poulet de Bresse farmer in France] instructions: 180C, 1 hr/kilo, nothing on the bird except salt. Since it was brined, I didn’t even have to season it. Or the gravy. So odd. Not much room for improvement on this bird or it’s pan juices, so I’ll be sticking hard and fast to these rules from now on.

Braised shoulder of beef on potato with sauteed mushrooms – paired with an excellent Penfold’s Cab/Shiraz.

Creme Brulee [as seen in photo, but with less...brulee]. Another particularly stand-out item. I’m not sure I can top the texture/doneness of the custard.

Cheese board with grapes

It’s a busy season that we look forward to for a long time, and it ends in the blink of an eye after a flourish of festivities. I hope you and your family and friends have a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy holiday season!!

Meat-versification

09.10.08
A recent commitment to myself has been to diversify the meats I cook and serve, as the ready supply of game makes the menu around here a little…game-centric. When was the last time I served duck for example? Last Christmas – afterwhich I barfed my guts out all night with the flu. Which may explain that one. But that’s not the point. The point is, I love duck. I LOVE pork. I love chicken. I LOVE fish. But somehow, they don’t appear quite as often as they should at the table.

So times are changing. Today, I bought a whole leg of pork, a giant bone-in shoulder roast of beef, a whole duck, and a couple dozen chicken thighs. So tonight, I put together a quick chicken fricasee with cream sauce on sour cream and chive mashed yukon gold. A quick raid of the last of the salad greens. My wife loves this kind of food. I love my wife. God bless meat-versification.

4 Garden-Inspired-Courses and a Guest

08.08.08
garden lettuce w belle farms olive oil and riesling vinegar vinaigrette

soup: garden beets, lovage, chard, carrot, red onion, parsley

herbes de provence roast chicken with garden kennebec, norland and yukon gold


quickie moelleux with quickie garden raspberry jam

The Wines:
2007 Chateau de Lancyre Rose, Luberon France [88-91 pts]
2003 Chateau de Carles, Fronsac, France [91-93 pts]

Canette au Vin – more Burgundy…

06.22.08

Important facts:

  • this was my first trip to France where I had a kitchen nearly the whole time
  • I was resolved to cook classics [ex, coq au vin was on my list]
  • the french have so many options for poultry, it will make your head spin

A ‘canette’ is a young duck, so this was a rich dish that was a popular one. Nothing fancy: browned leg of young duck, some solid Monthelie 1er Cru les Duresses [local Pinot Noir, of course], some mushrooms, some shallot, some time in the oven. Cooking ‘local’ in a foreign country that’s so passionate about food is really fun!!

I’ll get to local [as in...where I live...] food again soon, honest. I’ve been reveling in lovely baby salad greens from my new garden, and a salad is bound to make an appearance soon. Late in the growing season, I know, but that’s what happens when you leave the country for a few weeks in May/June. I only got one feed of garden asparagus in before leaving. Tragic, I know.

More Burgundy: Poulet de Bresse

06.18.08

Ever since reading Jacques Pepin’s memoires about cooking chicken in his home-region of Bresse, I’ve wanted to try one of the birds myself. And long before leaving for France, acquiring and cooking a Bresse bird was firmly on my list of things to do while in Burgundy. AOC chicken. I had to try it.

Admittedly, I wasn’t aware that buying such a bird would be so costly. Twenty-odd €. My inner cheap-ass cringed, but my to-do list was resolved, and we bought the bird at the market in Chagny from Ferme des Gautheys.

Luckily, for that volume of dough, the farmer will prepare the bird – removing the head, the organs, feet, trussing, and so on. They also provided us with directions to cook it for 2:15 at 180C. Precisely. No fat was to be added. Only salt and pepper.

The expectations ran high.

Verdict? Their cooking instructions were bang on, firstly. Thankfully. There is certainly a noticeable difference in intensity of flavor. They who are used to their boneless-skinless-breasts may not even recognize the flavors as chicken. It’s richer, denser, and more fragrant than I believe we’re used to here. If you appreciate intensity of flavor in your meats, this bird is for you.

The final thoughts crossing my mind as we ate the Bresse chicken soup a couple days later? [you're damn right we made stock from that bird, at that price] “I see why the fuss – definitely a difference in quality. Worth every penny to try, and have experienced. But man, it falls short on QPR [quality/price ratio]“.

Chicken Provencale Revisited

01.30.08

I actually did it. I actually went back to the store, in -35C temperatures [-47C with windchill], bought another chicken, and tried yesterday’s chicken dish again. This time, the whole bird. Head, feet and all.

The conclusion? It was not a one-off yesterday. I’m in love with this dish right now. The meat is succulent and chicken-tastic. I can’t believe I haven’t executed roast chicken like this before. How shameful. Worth noting that I gave it a good hour and a half to 2 hrs at 375F, and that I have to turn the potatoes as the sheet-pan-side gets really brown [which is good] at the exclusion of the rest of the potato quarter [which is less good].

The bird prepped for the oven…

the oven having just baked this whole wheat boule.

The wine. Watermelon-cherry kool aid with some grip. I dig pink wines.

Tastiest Chicken I’ve Made. Period.

01.28.08


Yes, a lofty and potentially deluded claim. I buy chickens whole and do whatever we feel like with the parts, using the rest for stock. I don’t know if this was a particularly tasty bird. Was it ‘finished’ well at the farm? Was I just really hungry? Not sure. But I’m gonna write this one down to try it again.

Ingredients
- good olive oil
- herbes de provence [from my herb garden in this case]
- french grey salt
- coarse black pepper

Method
Put ingredients in a big bowl. Toss chicken in it. Roast at 375 for an hour to an hour and half, or until the juices are well into running clear. Sounds too easy. I must try this again. It just sounds wrong.

Chicken Stew

01.24.08

I forgive your shock for actually seeing a new post up here. I’ve been negligent. I’ve been consumed by real estate sales, purchases, kitchen design, and work. Life happens. And food and wine continue to happen in between, but sometimes you lack the time to post about it. Such is life.

Tonight’s dinner was a simple chicken stew. Nothing fancy. Mirepoix, lightly seared chicken, mushroom, a touch of my home-made herbes de provence – and some nice New Zealand sauvignon blanc. What a nice pairing. Highly recommend it.

The wine reminded me intensely of Alsace. Which reminded me intensely that in a few short months, I will be in Alsace. Drinking white wine and cooking for my family. Life is good.