We didn’t know it would lead to this when we first moved here. I mean, I guess we should’ve known. When two people move their children to the country to have a deeper connection with the land and a deeper connection with their food, it’s not a far stretch to imagine us eventually butchering our own animals. I’d heard tales of my grandmother killing a chicken for dinner, insides turning a little bit at the details of it. I still couldn’t picture myself doing it. When we moved here, we knew we would garden, we knew we would have chickens for eggs. But the more I desired to know what was in our food, how it was raised, I personally had to come to terms with the fact that I ate meat, but wouldn’t raise and process it myself. It’s not for everyone and I get it. That is what farmers are for. But just like building a house or writing a book, some feel perfectly fine about outsourcing it and others wanting to do it themselves. Joe and I both felt it was something we wanted to be a part of, and so here we are – chicken farmers.
Like all new adventures, we have had our share of ups and downs. There was the time the chicken tractor (a coop on wheels, so we can move the flock frequently for fresh grass and bugs) broke off the tractor and rolled into the ravine. Luckily, it’s heavily treed, so it didn’t go that far down. I remember just standing in the field, watching it happen like a car crash…Joe running after it, me standing there two hundred feet away with my mouth agape. No chickens injured, though lots of stress-induced feather loss, thankfully. Coyotes, hawks, name the predator and we have dealt with it, have all gotten the best of us at least once. But the benefits – having animals on pasture, rotationally-grazing them, actually pulls carbon out of the air we breathe (good for the environment!), delicious meat, raising food we know lived their best lives before nourishing us – makes any struggle worth it.
Having said that, you don’t need to kill your own chickens. If you have the choice and are able, buy from a local farmer. They work hard to ethically raise food that is good for you and good for the environment. It’s not inexpensive, but if you are willing to buy a coffee-to-go a few times a week, then you have the money to buy a locally-raised chicken.
So having said all of the above, we eat a lot of chicken. We raise them, bring them up to the barn, thank them for the life they are giving us, then, well, you know. I’ll spare you the details (if you want them, I am happy to share on a later post!)
I now have a lot of practice at roasting our birds and how to get the best out of them. What follows is my favorite way to use a whole chicken, with tips and tricks gleaned from several different sources. The more time we live here, being new to so many practices, I feel like the way I learn best is to listen to the people who have done it for several years. I have learned that anytime someone with more experience than you offers up the lessons they learned the hard way, you listen.
Okay, enough talk. What follows is my favorite way to roast a chicken. And in my opinion, a really easy way as well!
Roast Chicken a la Woods Edge Farm
1 – 3-5 lb whole chicken
1 lemon, quartered
3-4 cloves of garlic
a few sprigs of thyme (dried thyme works as well, including from a spice jar)
1/2 yellow onion
4 medium sweet potatoes (optional)
Heat your oven to 425 degrees.
If you love sweet potatoes, start here. Wash and cut into 1/2″ cubes and cover bottom of roasting pan. Roughly chop the onion and toss in with sweet potatoes. (I give my friend, Sarah Tosick 100% credit for this idea. It has become one of my favorite parts of roasting a chicken, so thank you, Sarah!!)
Next, rinse the inside of your chicken and dry with paper towels (these can compost if you compost). If the neck is still attached, it is up to you whether or not to remove it. Either way, do not throw this away. This is valuable for broth, which will be in the next post.
Salt and pepper the inside of your chicken, then stuff with lemon, cloves of garlic and thyme. Now truss that baby up, salt and pepper the outside of the bird, and you are ready to place in the oven.
Note: Some recipes call for butter or olive oil rubbed into the skin. This isn’t necessary when buying a fresh, grass-grazed chicken. The skin is tender enough without the added fat. But, if you are dead set on giving it a good butter bath (like my husband is – and I have it admit, it is really good. But not necessary if you are trying to avoid butter or oil), then feel free to do that as you like.
Roast for 90 minutes, checking doneness around the 60 minute mark and every thirty minutes after that. The smaller your bird, the quicker this goes. Once the chicken reaches 165 degrees, you are ready to pull her out of the oven and let her rest on a cutting board for 10-15 minutes before cutting.
All of the yummy juices from your chicken will drip onto your potatoes and onions underneath and make for a delicious side dish. And if there is any left after supper, an amazing side with your eggs the next morning.
Important note: once you eat your delicious chicken, save the bones and the neck from earlier. The soup and broth post is coming up next!
I hope you love this recipe. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know!