Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chicken the Way It's Supposed to Be and Best Lemon Chicken EVER

Albertus Verhoesen (1806-81), Chickens and Park Vase

Ah, this is how we would all like to imagine our food being raised –– beautiful landscapes, fine architecture, happy pecking birds.  The truth is not remotely pretty –– but it doesn't have to be that way.

D'Artagnan chickens eating  5 star diet, Tony Cenicola/The New York Times photo

Last fall, I read a NYTs article that said that D’Artagnan’s Ariane Daguin and some of the top chefs of New York were joining together to embark on a glorious experiment to improve the taste of the humble chicken by raising them differently. “For Ms. Daguin (as for Gallic chefs like Mr. Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud), a distaste for chicken that was “mushy and full of water,” as she put it, was intensified by nostalgic memories of chickens back home that wandered around the yard nibbling on carrot tops, onion skins and old baguettes — and ended up tasting rich and meaty, with an almost chewy texture.” D’Artagnan’s new Green Circle chicken is the result of this effort and they are now available for the general public to enjoy.

Let’s face it, today’s supermarket chicken is a real chemical nightmare full of pesticides and antibiotics, a life lived in an ammoniated atmoshere that is so toxic it makes them blind and burns their lungs as well as being given a diet straight out of a horror film – food that includes animal waste – num. Makes you think twice about cheap chicken, doesn’t it?

Drawing from Opposing Views

Not only that, the chickens are bred so large and fed so much in their 6 weeks of life that they literally can’t move – often dying of heart attacks or thirst because they can’t move to get to the water.

D’Artagnan’s Green Circle Chickens (that are available HERE) are bred from a heritage breed common to Daguin’s home in Gascony. The original group was divided so that each restaurant's scraps were fed to their own chickens so each would have a distinct terroir  from the flavors of their special diet –– there would be a Boulud chicken, a Per Se chicken, etc.  The scraps were dropped off a few times a week.  On top of greens, the chickens also ate stale bread soaked in milk!  The larger flock of non-restaurant supplied chickens are doing pretty well too. They live twice as long as supermarket chickens and are fed beautiful vegetable scraps from farmer’s markets and local farms supplemented by grains and soybeans at an Amish farm in Pennsylvania. Daguin spent $250,000 developing the diet and technique for raising the birds. The result? One heck of a chicken that has eaten well and not spent it’s short life in a putrid atmosphere, sick and suffering horribly. Seems like a win-win to me.

HEINTZ, Joseph the Elder (1564-1609) Still Life of a Roast Chicken

I was lucky enough to try 2 of the birds –– I roasted one and fricasseed the other using my favorite recipes. I concur with the great chefs who swooned when they tasted them last year:

“When I tasted it, I was like, ‘Whoa,’ ” said Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who plans to start incorporating the chickens into his ever-evolving menus. Witnesses say that after his first bite, Mr. Vongerichten was on the verge of tears; Daniel Humm, the chef at Eleven Madison Park, consumed an entire chicken in one sitting.” A group of food critics for the NYTs did a blind test and D’Artagnan’s Green Circle chickens won hands down.

The roast chicken is super easy –– high heat with salt and pepper. The result was sublime -- fragrant juicy meat with a crisp flavorful skin.

For the fricassee I used a recipe that has been on my favorite list since I first tried it in the 80’s – Marcella Hazan’s lemon chicken. I actually looked up the recipe in my ancient More Classic Italian Cooking(1985!) and found that in all these years, the only thing that I had changed was that I left out the flour in the recipe. It’s that simple and that perfect. From time to time I’ve made it with all breast meat, boneless meat and all thigh. The sauce is always amazing.

Fricasseed Lemon Chicken

A 3-4 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
4 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons onion, chopped finely
Salt and pepper to taste
1 c chicken broth (use unsalted since it is much reduced)
1 t flour (optional)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 egg yolks

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces.

Put the butter and chopped onion in the pan and cook at medium until it becomes lightly colored then add the chicken, skin side down. Turn up the heat slightly and brown the chicken pieces.

Remove the breasts from the pan (keep them tented on the side). Add all the broth, adjust heat to cook at a very gentle simmer, and cover the pan with the lid ajar. After 40 minutes, turning the meat periodically, return the breasts and any accumulated juices to the pan and cook for at least 10 minutes more –– until the thighs are tender and breast meat is cooked. If it becomes too dry before the chicken is done, add a bit of water. There should be no liquid left in the pan when the meat is done – just a thick, incredibly flavorful ‘jam’. Remove the pan from the heat.

Put the lemon juice in a bowl and beat in the egg yolks and flour if you are using it. ONLY COMBINE THE LEMON AND YOLK JUST BEFORE YOU ARE READY TO PUT IT IN THE PAN, LEMON WILL ‘COOK’ THE EGG – you want the warm chicken to do that for you – that’s what makes the sauce like velvet. Pour the mixture over the chicken pieces, tossing to coat them well. Transfer the entire contents of the pan to a warm platter, and serve at once. When reheating, do it under low heat so as not to overcook the egg.

Best Roast Chicken based on Thomas Keller recipe

3-4 lb chicken
1 T kosher salt
1-2 t ground pepper
Herb sprigs (thyme, sage, rosemary, marjoram) optional

Heat oven to 450º

Dry the chicken. Salt and pepper the inside of the chicken – add the herbs if you are using them. Truss the bird and generously salt and pepper all sides of the bird. Place in a pan that just fits it and cook for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes (depending on the size of your bird). Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

*Mike Rowe has a video about the chickens on Somebody's Got to Do It playing on CNN on 11/12/14 at 9 pm (it may go on YouTube after that).

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Diane said...

I love Lemon Chicken. Have copied your recipe and it will be soon in the making :-) Thanks for this one Deanna.

Hope all is well Diane

Marjie said...

I need to try your Lemon Chicken Fricassee too! Soon! It sounds wonderful.

I too lament the fact that mass production of foods has left everything less flavorful than in years gone by. The flocks of specialty chickens idea was started in central Virginia some years back, to great success; evidently, they couldn't produce enough. If there were readily available alternatives to the way foods are currently produced, I'm sure we'd see changes.

La Table De Nana said...

I am a fan of Marcella's..
You are fortunate to have d'Artagnan..
My son-in-laws have for the eggs..the other for the eggs and the meat..
Must say..I cannot eat the ones I have met..
Their eggs yes..but not them...

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Great article Deana! I was in deep rural China recently and everyone commented on the difference in the chicken but then we realised that they were just raised and looked just like chickens from a few decades ago with less meat and fat on them.

Barbara said...

I always make Amanda Hesser's Lemon Chicken...the recipe is somewhat similar, but Amanda uses some creme fraiche. Must give your recipe a try.
Re chickens: the marvelous flavor of D'Artagnan chickens is no doubt a burst on your flavor buds after what we're used to eating. I think it's appalling when I read the way most chickens are raised today. But it's a conumdrum, isn't it? Most people can't afford to buy organic food and vegetable-rasied chickens, let alone have access locally for either. But frankly, Deana, it's basic economy for most of us.
Unfortunately, I'm not going to mail order my chicken (which I eat every day in my luncheon salad and often at night as well) and there are no farms nearby selling properly fed chickens (and eggs), so I buy mine conveniently at the local supermarket. It's a damn shame, but there it is.

Beth said...

Your recipe sounds wonderful - and so do those chickens. I'd love to try one if I got the chance; I'm sure it makes a huge difference in flavour!

chow and chatter said...

looks so good and i agree things need to change with the way our food is raised

Painting the hamptons said...

I love the paintings that you've chosen to accompany the food. I can't wait to try this lemon chicken recipe!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I love the photos of the chickens! Oh my, the lemon chicken sounds delicious! Pinning that one to try. For the second year, we are getting an uncaged, happy turkey for our Thanksgiving table. Last year's was so much more delicious than I'd ever tasted.

Frank said...

There is nothing like a perfectly roasted chicken, except perhaps for a lovingly simmered chicken fricassee.

The advent of the industrial chicken has been a tragedy, for the poor animals and us humans alike. I'm old enough to have experienced 'real' chickens back in the day, when chickens—and not just premium birds—had firm flesh and really did taste like chicken. I wish there were a way to make organic chicken affordable for the average person...

lindaraxa said...

Poor chickens..too bad for them they are so delicious. There is a Tyson processing plant outside of our town and inevitably I am caught at a stop light when one of their trucks go by.
I had no idea the life of those chickens was so short.

Anyway, we make roasted chicken pretty much the same way except I coat mine with olive oil or butter but that fricassee I must try. I have her books and have never been let down by anything I have ever tried. Next time I come to NYC I will make it a point to try those chickens. Wonder if they taste like the poulets de Bresse?

Karina A. Fogliani-Ahmed said...

It better be good. At $110 a chicken!!

Deana Sidney said...

Karina, it's 110 for 6 chickens which is terribly reasonable!!!