If there is one thing my neighbor’s cat and I agree on, it’s that a poultry dinner is a fine thing. We also share the opinion that locally-sourced poultry is best.
In the 1960s and 70s, Long Island produced six million ducks a year — more than any other region of the United States. Lately, a confident flock of wild turkeys and their babies brings vehicles to a standstill as they saunter along Midway Road. And now, delicious North Fork chickens are available at the Greenport and Shelter Island Farmers Market every Saturday morning.
Chris and Holly Browder of Browders’ Birds in Southold, are regulars at the Shelter Island Farmers Market, and also at the Greenport and Westhampton Beach markets. Holly Browder says the cool weather this spring resulted in larger chickens in the early part of the season. Now that the weather has heated up, the chickens are not eating as much and we can look forward the 3- to 4-pound chickens that are the easiest to cook.
Holly says the eight to ten week old Cornish Cross variety that they sell is “the standard meat bird,” and is the most sought-after, whether you roast it, fry it, or slap in on the grill.
Browders’ Birds practices “pastured poultry,” which involves keeping the chickens in a mobile enclosure, which is in turn surrounded by a protective fence. The enclosure moves over the pasture, the birds move freely in and out of the enclosure, and the chickens get all the benefits of being free-range without the downside of predators from above making a dinner of them. Because making a dinner of them is my job.
My favorite way to cook a chicken is adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook, and it always results in a delicious crispy skin and juicy meat.
Twenty-four to thirty-six hours before I want to eat the chicken, I rub it with a handful of seasoned salt and fresh herbs. I then refrigerate it, covered only enough to keep the ketchup on the top shelf of my refrigerator from dripping down onto it. Then, 45 minutes before dinner, I disconnect the smoke detectors, place the chicken on a hot iron skillet in a preheated oven and await my perfectly-roasted bird.
1 whole chicken, 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 pounds
3 to 4 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 teaspoon. ground pepper
8 sprigs of herbs, such as tarragon (the lemony flavor is wonderful with chicken) or thyme, rinsed and dried, each sprig about the size of a cocktail toothpick.
1. Remove the neck and giblets from the bird if they are still in place, and using a paper towel, pull off and discard any excess fat from the flap of skin around the cavity. Leave the skin on the chicken. Rinse the bird in cold water and dry it with paper towels inside and out.
2. Mix the salt and ground pepper together in a small bowl. Put 1 teaspoon. of the salt mixture in the cavity of the bird. Using your hands, rub the rest of the salt mixture into the skin of the chicken. Use most of the salt on the skin over the fleshy parts of the chicken: the breast, thighs, and legs.
3. Slip a finger under the skin on the breast of the chicken and insert two sprigs of the herbs between the meat and the skin. Repeat this on the other breast. Work your way under the skin on the thigh. Insert two sprigs of herbs between the thigh and leg meat and the skin. Repeat on the other breast, thigh and leg.
4. Cover the chicken very loosely with wax paper, and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. During this time, the skin of the chicken should become quite dry.
5. Half an hour before cooking the chicken, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and remove the chicken from the refrigerator.
6. Heat a 9- or 10-inch heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over a medium flame for one minute and place the chicken in the dry, hot skillet breast side up.
7. Transfer the skillet carefully to a middle rack in the hot oven.
8. Roast for 35 minutes, and then turn the chicken breast side down for five more minutes of roasting. If it needs another five minutes, turn it breast side up again. The chicken is done when the leg joints are loose, the internal temperature is 165 degrees and the juices run clear.