Sunday, May 5, 2013

Supper of the blue chicken

It was Friday, April 19. Traffic in Seattle seemed to be horrible in sympathy for the shut down streets of Boston.

Friends were meeting me at a Costco parking lot to give me an unwanted rooster to butcher.

I waited in my car, listening to endless radio chatter about what a sweetie pie this Dzhokhar Tzarnaev was supposed to be. Part of me was indignant. Fine, he was popular, but let's give this a rest, folks. If he really did plant a bomb next to an eight year old, we might want to revise our assessment here.

Another part was internalizing it. When I received the rooster, I was surprised to feel deeply conflicted in a way I had not felt before. "Oh, no." I thought "He's adorable. So cute. Every mother hen's dream for her little rooster. This can't be right." And indeed, the rooster was white and fluffy and proud and very handsome. Well - roosters are almost all handsome. Ask any rooster, he'll agree.

One theory why so many species of birds have attractive males is their beauty reflects good health. Hens prefer mates in tip top condition. They choose ones with perfect, glossy plumage and lots of it.

At any rate, one of the hard things about eating roosters is it seems wrong to destroy such a lovely creature - like vandalism almost. But that's objectifying a rooster and looking away from the real reason it should be hard. Taking a life, even for food, even humanely, shouldn't be easy or fun.

A rooster's looks don't always help him to a happy life and often get him in trouble. The more conspicuous, the more other roosters want to fight with them. The more predators try to eat them. This white rooster would be like a beacon to every hawk in North Burien. 

Before I butchered this little rooster, I had to take a long pause and sort this all out. I had to get distanced from the news, from the senselessness of it all, and my self pity at having to do this. Poor me? Poor bird, more like. Make this as dignified as you can, Sarah.

After a pause, I did. I held him until he relaxed, and then let him go. Then I began to pluck the roo. That's when I got my other surprise.

         Some chicken breeds are blue. 

Not their feathers, their skin. Their muscles. Blue. Really dark, gunmetal blue skin over lavender meat. With violet bones. 

I don't know why this shocked me so much but it did. I was worried my kid would freak about eating a blue chicken. But he thought it was cool and told me I was being silly. Still hedging, I put the rooster in the freezer for a couple of weeks while I figured out how to cook him.

It turns out yes, all silkies, regardless of feather color, are blue underneath. They are prized in Chinese medicine as an ingredient in a healing soup. Most accounts said they taste like chicken (no surprise) but are tough and stringy.

I don't like chicken soup. More specifically I can't even bring myself to eat it. I don't like how all the flavor leaves the chicken and goes into the water. I don't like the smell of boiled skin. The first time I cleaned a wound on one of my hens, her wet, plucked skin smelled like chicken soup.

So although I wanted to respect the culinary tradition, I decided I'd rather respect the chicken by cooking him in a way I would enjoy. And to celebrate the beauty of roosters, I decided to make a colorful meal.

I roasted the bird, and served him with homemade saffron egg noodles, rainbow chard and a dessert tart of meringue and strawberries. Only the tart was as colorful as we had hoped. The chicken, the chard and the noodles all lost their crayon-like vibrancy with cooking.

But Oh Dear Lord was that chicken delicious. I've been cooking and eating meat for the past year, and this is the first time I think I got it right. This chicken was tender as springtime and intensely flavorful.

I did well.


Slow Roasted Free Range Silkie

1 silkie or other small, stringy chicken
2 quarts water or whey + 1/2 cup water divided (I used whey from draining Greek yogurt)
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 sprig each - rosemary, sage
1 tsp butter

At least 24 hours in advance, prepare the brine by stirring the salt and the sugar into the whey or water.

Place the chicken in the brine - it should be covered. Weigh it down so the chicken is fully submerged.

5 hours before dinner, drain the chicken and discard the brine.

Preheat oven to 225

Dry the chicken well and rub skin with butter. For a free range chicken, use a lot of butter.

Place the herbs in the bird's cavity, and truss the legs and wings tight to the body.

Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan or dutch oven with a tight fitting lid.

Pour 1/4 cup water into the pan. Cover tightly and roast for 4 hours or till temperature reads 160 by the leg bone..

Remove lid and pour in 1/4 cup water if pan is dry.

Turn oven to 450. Roast for 15 minutes or until skin is crisp.

Remove pan from oven. Place chicken on a platter to rest, and set pan on stove. Don't clean that pan yet!

Saffron pasta ribbons

2 Cups flour
4 large egg yolks
1/2 t + 1t salt, divided
Boiling water
pinch saffron threads
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Snipped fresh rosemary to taste

Place saffron in a heat resistant bowl and pour 1/4 cup boiling water over. Let cool to room temperature.

Place flour and salt in food processor and pulse to combine.

Add egg yolks and water. Mix. It should form lots of small, granular lumps of stiff, tacky dough. When squeezed, dough should form a lump.

If it crumbles, add more water by the tablespoon, mixing well between additions, until it stays together when squeezed.

If the dough is even remotely sticky, add flour the same way - 1 T at a time, mixing between additions until it is non-sticky.

Briefly knead dough.

Using a pasta roller, and working in batches, roll out dough on setting 1. Fold and roll until it becomes very smooth and supple. The dough should be completely non-sticky.

Adjust setting to 2, and roll dough again. Continue to setting 5 or 6.

Then use the wide noodle setting to cut dough into strips.

Let noodles dry briefly (I hang them on plastic coat hangers).

Bring to boil a large pot of water. Add 1 t salt. Add noodles, a handful at a time, stirring constantly to prevent sticking.

After the last noodles go in, cook for five minutes.


Place noodles, still damp, in the pan the chicken cooked in. Pour on olive oil and snipped rosemary.

Toss pasta so it picks up cooking flavors from the chicken.

Place in bowl and set chicken pieces over.

Meringue Tart with strawberries

4 egg whites
1 cup fine white sugar + extra to sprinkle
1 t vanilla

Set oven to 275. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place a plate on the paper and trace a circle.

Place egg whites in a very clean mixing bowl, and beat with a very clean whisk at the highest mixer setting.

When whites form a foam, add vanilla and mix.

When foam begins to thicken, start adding sugar 1 T at a time.

Between each tablespoon, mix until the sugar is completely gone.

The foam will thicken, turn white, and expand.

Beat until the foam holds its shape when you stop the mixer and pull out the beater.

Scoop out the foam and form a circle on the paper.

I piped a bit of foam around the edge to form a rim

Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Then turn off oven and open oven door.

Remove the meringue after it has cooled, such as an hour later.

Transfer fully cooled meringue to serving plate.

Just before serving, fill with sliced strawberries, sprinkle with sugar and garnish as you choose.

This dish is very pretty but we found it too sweet.

Noah ate the chicken to the bones. 

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