Monday, March 10, 2014
If it’s farm chickens you’re after Maine’s agricultural largesse boasts an arsenal of birds flaunting essential pedigree: farm-raised, pastured and organic chickens are plentiful at nearly all of Maine’s many farmers markets and farm stores.
Not all farm birds, however, are created equal.
I’ve had some so-called prized specimens that are as rubbery as taffy. Too much exercise and eating off the land can account for x-ray thin, even muscular birds; while heavily pastured birds lay heavenly eggs, it helps if the birds have some grain to nibble on for added heft.
For best flavor buy birds that are bigger than the standard broiler size (3 ½ to 4 pounds). A hefty 5 to 8 pounder is tastier, displaying that rich, chicken flavor that you want, with full breasts and thunderous thighs to boot. And the leftovers are great in hash, pot pie and old fashioned creamed chicken over biscuits or corn bread.
Here are my picks for the tastiest chickens around at the winter farmer’s markets and some butchers.
Maine-ly Poultry’s are extremely tasty and average 4 to 6 pounds. They’re classified as naturally raised but not organic. They also qualify as free ranging but not pastured. Rosemont Market carries them as well as vendors at Portland, Brunswick, South Portland and Bath markets.
For organic or pastured birds, Serendipity Acres and Sumner Valley are very good and are generally available frozen this time of year Buckwheat Blossom Farm and Apple Creek Farm (Brunswick and Portland markets) are also excellent
My new favorite is the chickens raised by Jan Goranson of Goranson Farms in Dresden. She sells them at the Brunswick market or by request. They’re big, with lots of meat and essential fat and they roast up beautifully. According to Jan’s daughter, “My mother roasts the best chicken.”
She roasts hers on a bed of leeks and fennel at 400 degrees for about an hour or more depending on size. During the last 30 to 40 minutes she adds root vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnip, carrots and rutabagas. Also local Brussel's sprouts are still available and Jan likes to add those to the roaster.
I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit and moistened the vegetables with some butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon over the vegetables and plenty of salt and pepper. If the pan juices dry out during roasting add some stock or white wine. This is a hearty, soulful one-dish meal.
Some commercially raised birds are worth considering, too, and sell for about $1.49 per pound compared to $4 per pound for farm birds. Pat’s Meat Market in Portland has big naturally raised roasters from Allen Farms in Pennsylvania, and Bisson’s (Topsham) and Curtis Meats (Warren) carry naturally raised roasters as big as condors from Maine Poultry Products in Augusta.
Try Jan Goranson’s one-pot roast chicken meal as described above. And if there are leftovers here’s a simple recipe for creamed chicken served over buttery cornbread.
Creamed chicken: Make the usual cream sauce by sautéing ¼ cup chopped onions and 2 tablespoons minced celery in 4 tablespoons butter. Add 4 tablespoons flour and stir for 1 minute. Add 2 cups warmed chicken stock, 1 cup heavy cream, salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Lower to a lively simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Add 4 cups diced cooked chicken. Simmer until heated through.
1 stick butter
1`/2 cup self-rising flour
½ cup self-rising cornmeal
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the butter in an 8-inch round cast-iron skillet and heat in the oven until melted. Remove from the oven (do not let it burn).
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the flour, cornmeal, eggs and buttermilk. Swirl the melted butter in the pan to coat the sides and then add to the cornmeal mixture, stirring until combined. Do not over mix. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the hot cast-iron skillet.
Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Slice the cornbread into 8 pieces and cover with the hot creamed chicken.
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.