Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Heritage breeds for everyone's table

Following on yesterday's story in the NY Times about high-end culinary chefs comes a more homespun story from the Kansas City Star. 

She's a local writer who speaks from her heart and her enjoyment of good food. Why should flavorful food be the province of the wealthy and elite? These are chickens and small flocks can provide this rich blessing of delicious life to all.

Here's Renee:

Imagine going to the butcher shop and ordering a Jersey Giant, Barred Rock or a New Hampshire — that is so much more exciting rather than just saying “chicken.”
Barred Rocks in a Kansas flock

We see chicken as the easiest, quickest and healthiest source for any meal. It appears to be widely available, but over three dozen breeds of chicken are on the brink of extinction, according to the Livestock Conservancy.

This is hard to believe, but it is true.

About 50 years ago chickens were seasonal as well as regional. They were vibrant birds which had longevity in most climates.

Through the years, it became “more desirable” for chickens to have a larger breast to thigh and leg ratio and thus the human selection began.
While we were focused on making our birds resemble Barbie, with smaller legs and larger breast meat, we have managed to create chickens that are housed and have become relatively an unhealthy breed.

If a bird doesn’t have the immune system to live through the winter, how to we think it will help us through those times?

The heritage breeds of chickens still allow us to nurture our bodies throughout the year. It is a culinary experience, as the heritage breeds are much more complex in flavor and texture, providing a deep rich mouth feel.

Once you try one you will realize chickens have never been a blank slate for flavor.
Not only are these birds a culinary delight, they are absolutely beautiful. Gorgeous enough I have photos of them in my home.

Their feathers range from jet black to peacock blue and rich copper. Healthy feathers and comb on the outside mean a healthy bird on the inside.

There are strict qualifications in order for a bird to be deemed heritage. It’s almost like they have to win a pageant before labeling. They work really hard at it.
Frank Reese is known for his heritage breed turkeys, too.

They have to be naturally mated, grown slowly to reach market weight at proper maturation, have a long productive outdoor lifespan and they must be from a parent or grandparent stock whose genetic line can be traced back by the American Poultry Association as heritage.

Here are five reasons to choose a heritage bird:
• They taste better.
• The chickens are the epitome of free range; they have to be outside in order to meet standards.
• By choosing the heritage breeds, you will be helping to re-introduce the birds into our food system and keep them from going extinct.
• They are local. Most of the birds are raised right here in the Midwest. They are actually seen as a hot commodity in New York restaurants.
• They make a rich stock, which will actually help you during a cold or flu, at least that’s what my mom says.

With anything extraordinary, it takes time to cultivate and nurture for a superior product. These birds are no different. They take longer to prepare and they cook very differently. Never fear! Look at it as revitalizing your grandmother’s recipe. It is nothing that hasn’t been done before; we’ve just forgotten how to do it.

Basic Heritage Roasted Chicken
Makes 4 servings
For the Brine:
1/2 cup salt
1 cup sugar
2 lemons cut in half
1 cup mixed fresh herbs torn (thyme, sage, parsley are great)
5 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
1/4 onion thinly sliced
1 gallon water
For cooking
1 heritage chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 lemon cut in half
1/2 cup fresh herbs torn
2 cloves garlic crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Mix together all the brine ingredients and add the heritage chicken. Brine for 8 hours.
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove the chicken from the brine. Sprinkle the inside of the bird with salt and pepper. Stuff the bird with the lemon, herbs and garlic. Tie the legs together.
Bring a large shallow pot of water to a boil. Place a strainer or sieve over the boiling pot of water. Place the bird breast side down in the strainer; making sure the boiling water is not touching the bird. It merely needs to steam. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil. Steam for 3 minutes, flip and steam the other side for 3 minutes.

Steaming seals the skin, which will lock in moisture.

Carefully remove the bird from the steam pot. Place on a baking pan with a rack breast side up. Place in oven for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Flip over and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Cover the chicken with foil, turn the oven down to 325 degrees and bake for 60 minutes flipping back to breast side up after 30 minutes. Roast until internal temperature reaches 175 degrees at the hip joint.
To make crispy skin, uncover the chicken for the last 5 minutes of roasting.

Heritage birds can be purchased at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch and Synergistic Acres.

Renee Kelly is the owner of Renee Kelly’s Harvest in Johnson County. Her passion lies in changing the food system, one plate at a time. Her inspiration is Mother Nature and the many growers in the Kansas City area.

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