Thursday, October 22, 2015

And now for something completely different...

Back a generation or two, when many people kept chickens, the older hens were put in the stew pot when they ceased to lay eggs.
Fast forward to today, and the chicken we buy at the grocery store is a special breed of bird that grows very fast and is ready to be butchered at 10 or 12 weeks of age. These birds are tender and delicious and what we all now consider to be "normal."

For the past few years I have raised chickens to put in the freezer. My birds "free range," which means they are raised where they can eat plants and bugs (along with chicken food.) They have room to roam and take dust baths and be in the fresh air and sunshine. They taste like chicken, only better.

A few months ago my friend had her older laying hens butchered, and offered them to me to feed my dogs. I fed some to the dogs, and saved one to cook up for us. I have read, many times, that the flavor of older birds is far superior that of the meat we are used to. Apparently, if the bird is older, the meat can be tough, but is intensely delicious. So, today I took that old hen out of the freezer and popped it into the crock pot with some cold water, an onion, garlic and some seasonings. It cooked low and slow all day, filling the house with the most delicious scent. I tasted it, and I admit, I was a little hesitant. The flavor was very, very good, and the meat was not tough like I thought it would be.

I chilled the broth so I could remove the fat, and cooled the meat while I diced up carrots, onion, garlic and celery. I was going to turn this old bird into chicken and dumplings. The ultimate meal on a chilly, drizzly, fall day. Here is the thing that I found interesting. This bird was a laying hen, not a meat bird, so the meat to bone ratio was less that what I am used to. There was a lot of dark meat, and the bones were large and very hard. The tendons were extremely strong and tough, and the fat a deep yellow, unlike any I have seen on a younger bird.

We all agreed. This was my best ever batch of chicken and dumplings. The broth and meat were simply delicious. Those people who said that older birds taste great? They were right. I was struck to think that few people living now have ever prepared or eaten chicken that was more than 3 months old. This meal hearkened back to a different time, deliciously.

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