The air is crisp. The leaves are golden, and chickens, well, most of them are being butchered! It’s fall here in New York and most of the local farmers are selling delicious pastured chickens at your local farmer’s market. Many of the farmers here only raise chickens through the summer because of the harsh New York winters. We’ve started to stock up on chicken because we’d like to have enough to last us the winter.
I’ll refrain (in this blog entry) from ranting about the unsanitary environment that most commercially produced chickens are forced to live in. I’ll also refrain from discussing how this environment affects the quality and safety of the meat. However, I do encourage you to look into how commercially produced chickens are bred and raised if you have never investigated it before.
There are so many labels out there these days. What does pastured mean? Well, for chickens (and beef and lamb) it means that they have been allowed to roam around in the grass munching on plants, bugs, seeds, etc. to their heart’s content. This varied diet imparts valuable nutrients to the meat that we consume. It also contributes to the wonderful flavor of chickens that have been allowed to live in this type of environment. If you have never tried a pastured chicken, I highly recommend it. In addition to its exceptional flavor, it is also much more moist than commercially produced chicken.
I’m not going to sugar-coat the cost of pastured chickens. Pastured, locally raised chicken is much more expensive than commercially produced chicken. We pay anywhere from $2.75 to $3.75 per pound for our chicken. We have to buy the whole chicken too. It is rare to find pastured chicken for sale in pieces (breasts, thighs, etc.).
We typically buy a 4 to 5 pound chicken and are able to get five or six meals out of it. So, if we buy a chicken for $18.75 (5 lbs @ $3.75 per pound), we typically end up spending about $3.75 for the meat portion of our family’s meal. We usually have two roast chicken meals (one regular meal and one night of leftovers), chicken salad for one or two meals, 2 meals worth of chicken soup, and a few cups of chicken broth (not used in the soup) for cooking. We also used leftover chicken in casseroles and pasta dishes.
As I type this, I’m making chicken broth (well, it’s simmering on the stove). I prefer homemade broth to store-bought broth or bouillon cubes. It’s superior in flavor and nutrients. Check the labels on store-bought broth and/or bouillon cubes, most are filled with los of extra preservatives, chemicals and a ridiculous amount of sodium.
Here’s how I usually make my own broth*:
- 1 chicken carcass and drippings
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 2 to 4 carrots, chopped in fourths
- 2 to 4 celery stalks, chopped in fourths
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- any spices desired (I usually add a little bit of salt and pepper and a bay leaf)
- 4 to 5 quarts of water
Put all ingredients in a large pot and let sit for 30 minutes. Then, bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and let simmer for at least 8 hours. I usually refrigerate it overnight and cook it some more the following day so it simmers for a total of 12 to 15 hours. The longer it simmers, the richer the broth. Strain. Pick any meat off the bones and add back into broth or reserve for some other use. Chill. Any fat in the broth will rise to the top once the broth is chilled. Remove fat (you can either discard it or save it (freeze) for frying). That’s all there is to it. I typically freeze the broth in a few 6 to 8 cup increments for soup and a few 2 cup increments for cooking.
I’ve already had a mug full of broth for lunch today. It’s such a soothing meal. It also works wonders if you are feeling a bit under the weather. If you get the chance to buy or try a pastured chicken, do it! I guarantee you’ll prefer its flavor to the flavor of a commercially produced chicken. Do keep in mind, as with other pastured meats, pastured chicken is leaner and will cook faster than commercially produced chicken so adjust cooking times in your favorite recipes accordingly. Happy cooking!
*Recipe adapted from basic chicken broth (p. 198) in The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook by Shannon Hayes
*This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday