A Chicken Story and A Summer Salad

A simple shredded roast chicken on a bed of Summer's finest from new potatoes and snow peas to mesclun and charred corn with tons of fresh herbs. 

A simple shredded roast chicken on a bed of Summer's finest from new potatoes and snow peas to mesclun and charred corn with tons of fresh herbs. 

It is natural that as the Summer haze sets in, there is less and less inclination to spend in the kitchen. Yet, the desire for tasting the splendor of the season does not abate. So, we all find ways to get around it - from barbeques to salads, outdoor fun and rooftop joys to easy dinners, cooking big and making the most of leftovers. Summer offers the best chance for making magic with mere leftovers.

Recently, I have taken a partiality to whole roast chicken.

Somewhere on Instagram, you may have seen that I was reading a book that went exploring the history of the bird and how it became the most commonly consumed meat in the world. It made a fascinating read and I would highly recommend it if you have interest in the entymylogy of 'chicken' itself or simply like to read about cultures. The latter, really is the crux of the book; Tracing the bird provides a lot of insight into the way people lived centuries ago and offers a glimpse of human nature as well.

Since then, I have become more cognizant of the bird and the meat. I have not been much of a fan of its meat, even in India, where we supped on normal, non-industrial, but farmed chicken. Its flavor had limited appeal to me, in comparison, to mutton or the, much preferred shell fish. Chicken curry or biriyani, I could take or leave, but other meats, I would lick to the last morsel.

Sweet corn charred on stove and rubbed with pesto and salt.

Sweet corn charred on stove and rubbed with pesto and salt.

So, I think the book is the reason for my recent obsession with the bird. It made me more aware. And, here is the nub.

Literally, every chicken you eat, whether organic or conventional, Amish or pasture raised, they are all the same bloody breed as the industrial chicken!

Unless, you scout and breed your own heritage chicken, 80% of the chicken consumed in the world today is of a single breed that was hatched in the laboratories around the US at the behest of Tyson to maximise yield (chicken breast weight) with minimum feed amount! So, Yes, Chipotle, you lie when you say you are not serving GMO food! 

The fall out is in the flavor. These chickens are wired to plump up massively in the breast area relative to other parts, retain more water, and, get fatter on lesser feed and in shorter time. Of course, the type of feed makes a difference in flavor and lack of force feeding, certainly makes for a nicer life. One imagines happier settings do impart themselves in the flavor. Yet, apparently, and this makes logical sense, today's commercially retailed chicken will always remain far inferior in flavor to the varieties available 50 years ago. Some of the heritage, genetically unmolested ones, are still available in certain rural areas in and outside the US, where flavor is valued higher than the price tag.

The chicken jus is a wonderful vinaigrette in this Summer Chicken Salad.

The chicken jus is a wonderful vinaigrette in this Summer Chicken Salad.

When I first landed in the US, my distaste for the bird's meat was only enhanced as the watery, stringy meat that you find here was not worth the effort or price. It was meat for the sake of protein rather than food. Recently, having discovered a butcher who sells only pasture raised meat, I have been more amenable to buying more chicken. They do taste a lot better than industrial chicken but not nearly as good as pork, lamb or beef from the same butcher.

Since reading this book, I have fallen into a quest of testing that breed-flavor theory. I am trying to source chickens from different non-industrial farms and see if any do better. To keep things in control, the flavoring is the same on all of them and very simple, and the process the same, a whole roast chicken.

It is ongoing, but the farm chicken certainly does well. I am enjoying the fruits of the experiment in abundance. The chicken giveth in spades and every bit of edible or can be made into something edible. A farm, pasture raised chicken typically weighs about 3.5 lbs and you can get a fair bit of meat from it, even though not as much as its larger industrial cousins. What I like is that the leg and thigh section is about the same size as the breast in these birds; I prefer this darker and juicier meat. The first meal from the roast is always the hind with a side of vegetables. 

Then, I peel every bit of the meat off the carcass and use it over a week in several dishes, from salads to tarts to sandwiches to curries to rice toss, oh, endless...! The carcass itself becomes ideal for stock with a bunch of vegetable scraps. The jus, becomes gravy or vinaigrette based on what I am making. All savored, nothing lost.

I don't compost but I do stock! ;)

It is certainly a very giving bird! And, in the middle of Summer, it keeps giving when the pairings are endless, and each as luscious as the prior and the next in a continuous carousel of colors and flavors while the horse (the chicken) stays the same!


Roast Chicken Salad with Summer's New Vegetables

There is much to be said for brining a bird for a crispier skin. For a turkey which in my book has the least flavor, this method is certainly advised if only to impart any flavor to an otherwise colorless meat. For the chicken, though, we find, generosity with butter/fat serves a better and quicker way of crisping the skin and flavoring the meat.

For this method, simply rub butter (flavored of not) under the skin all over the bird. You can certainly, slide in any herbs or seasoning you wish but the simplest is a mix of salt and pepper. Finish the top with the spices you like. Roast at 450 F for as long as it takes to get done, which is about 20 minutes per pound. Err on the lower side and test about 15 minutes before that time calculation with a thermometer. When the thickest part of the bird, reads 185F or so, remove from oven, cover and rest for atleast 15 minutes.

To make things easier and the skin crisp on all the sides, I used a roasting rack. This also allows you to lift the bird easily and use the collected jus as you wish.

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For two,

1/2 cup of shredded roast chicken

1/4 cup jus from the roast chicken

3 medium new potatoes, diced into 1 inch cubes

1/3 snow peas, shelled

1 shallot or a small onion, minced

mesclun or other greens

1 corn

For the pumpkin pesto

1 cup basil leaves (with stem, if you cut from a plant)

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1 clove of garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper as needed

Over direct fire char the corn on all sides. Immediately butter it and sprinkle salt. Set aside.

While the corn cooks, reduce the jus to half the volume and reserve.

Meanwhile, in a pan, saute the onion in oil and when soft, add the peas. 

Season with salt and pepper and stir gently until the peas start to just wrinkle. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. 

Steam the potatoes until soft. Add a little oil to the peas pan and return to stove. Saute the potatoes with salt until browned on outside.

To arrange the salad leaves at the base of the platter. Pile half the peas around, then the potatoes and the shredded chicken.

Spread pesto on the corn, cut in quarters and place around the platter.

Finish with the remaining peas and pour the reduced jus over for dressing.

Serve immediately.