Article by Leslie Gilman
Around this time last year, my son and I were enjoying our weekly sojourn to the Saturday market, feet shuffling in a sea of red fallen leaves and lost in our own reverie of roasting coffee and apple pyramids, when a voice called out to me. A man with a cap pulled low over his brow stood in a sea of blue coolers, each labeled with a different type of dead, frozen wild animal. He asked if I’d be interested in trying some. I looked up and smiled, “Oh, thanks anyhow – but I’m a vegetarian.” “Oh, well alright. And your son,” he asked, gesturing to the happily kicking toddler strapped to my back, “Is he a vegetarian too?” I stopped. Well, no – he wasn’t. Should he be? I had been conflicted about the issue since he was born. A self-educated food conspiracist with an entire bookshelf dedicated to unveiling the evils of modern food technology, for years I had grappled with Turkey versus Tofurky, finally siding with the veggies. But I always wondered if I were mistaken. First, the books were so contradictory in their claims – as soon as I got my head around the idea that any processed food was “bad”, the gals in Skinny Bitch were doing cartwheels over soy cheese (it melts!). And now, the venerable Michael Pollan was making me feel like eating locally and naturally raised meat was okay, even if I hadn’t taken the plunge myself. So while I was cautiously pouring my son little cups of organic whole Jersey milk (milked just this morning!), I couldn’t quite put away the volumes of literature I had read touting vegetarianism, veganism, even raw food-ism, wondering if I were doing the right thing.
The man I was speaking to introduced himself as Alan Rosseau of Pine Mountain Ranch. Meeting my skeptical eyes with confidence, he told me about how essential animal fats are to both a growing child and a breastfeeding mother. It wasn’t really a hard sell: even as a vegetarian, I had serious doubts that something as divine as bacon could really be bad. And I already poured heavy cream on most everything. Alan introduced me to the works of Nina Planck, the farmer’s market pioneer, mother of three children and author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why, who praised the wonders of butter with such fervor that I had to stop reading and lather some on bread before continuing. After Nina’s book, I introduced myself to a few others and decided that I had been a goon all of these years to eat anything but really fresh, local foods, smothered in delicious fat. And before I knew it, I was walking home with a whole chicken tucked under my arm.
My Husband the Carnivore howled with glee when he opened the front door one day and walked into a house with a chicken roasting in the oven. And while that chicken was pretty amazing, it certainly had more to do with the quality of the bird than my culinary prowess. I was still a bit hesitant about preparing the bird and dealt with it like it was an alien that had just landed on my countertop. I’ve relaxed a bit since then and have come to see meat as a rare treat that I buy for my family on a special occasion or when cold weather tells me that our family needs a little more oomph in our bellies than our normal fare of soups, pastas and risottos can provide. I buy high quality meat and pay more for it, so I prepare it slowly, consciously, carefully, and I make every last morsel work for me. Since then, whenever I’m feeling particularly celebratory and want to prepare something special, I march myself down to Pine Mountain Ranch and buy me another bird. And while doing so, I have discovered some wonderful secrets about cooking them:
- When you get home from the market, take it out of the bag and into a baking dish, and salt and pepper it thoroughly (inside and out – yep, gotta get over that whole “cavity” concept), and allow it to defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours or so before cooking it.
- Before you cook it, salt and pepper it again, tie its wingtips under, and bake at 400° for an hour-ish, turning the bird over every 20 minutes. (To test for doneness, stick a meat thermometer in a meaty area – it should reach 165°)
- Let it sit for 15 minutes or so when you take it out of the oven, before slicing into it.
- After you and your loved ones eat what you can the first night, pick off every last morsel and put it in the refrigerator. Now put the remaining bony carcass in a huge pot, cover with water, add celery, onions, carrots, peppercorn, parsley, salt and pepper, etc and cook until the broth is a rich golden color and strain. (A few hours)
- The next day – use that broth and the left over chicken to make the World’s BEST Chicken Soup. Saute onions and garlic, then add celery and carrots – potatoes if you wish – and then dump the broth in, along with your favorite herbs and spices. When everything is heated through and the flavors have melded together nicely, add the cooked chicken and some cooked noodles.
DISCLAIMER: I think that this two day feast of roasted chicken followed by homemade chicken noodle soup is the stuff dreams are made of – but then again, I’m a recovering vegetarian. Feel free to add your own knowledge of bird cookin’ in the comments area below.