Food Column: The chicks have arrived
I always wait for that call with anticipation…”Your chicks are here!”
As I drove to the local feed mill to pick up my new additions, I realized how happy I was to once again have little ones to tend. It’s been more than three years since I’ve had chicks on the homestead. I’ve missed hearing their little peeps and cheeps coming from the small corner pen in the barn; I’ve missed watching a tiny one grow and develop into an adult.
One of the more amusing aspects of having baby chicks is just watching them. Even at this young age they display behavior that amazes me. At only one day old they were already adept at plucking bugs out of the air, and this spring they have honed that talent to perfection. Despite the erratic flying patterns of mosquitoes, these chicks have developed stellar, mid-air snatching abilities and any bug that flies within their reach is a goner.
These particular birds will be raised for meat. While right now they are covered in an adorable yellow fuzz, in a few weeks this will be replaced with white feathers. Their breed is stated as Cornish Cross, and genetically they have the ability to turn feed into meat at a very efficient rate.
When you raise chickens strictly for meat you have several options on what kind of bird you would prefer to serve. For instance a fryer or broiler chicken is usually “dispatched” at the age of seven to eight weeks, weighing in at three to five pounds. These birds make excellent fried chicken; are superb grilled or can be used in dishes that require young, tender chicken.
If I want roasters, I’ll have to wait until the birds are three to five months old when they will be five to seven pounds in weight. These birds are great cooked slowly in the oven on a cold winter day or made into such dishes as lemon chicken.
Stewing hens are rarely raised for meat but are female chickens that have stopped producing eggs. These birds are usually pretty old and as their name suggest the best way to cook them is by a slow and moist method. They are great in soups and chicken pot pie.
Capons are castrated male chickens and while I have never personally performed this procedure, these birds are usually raised to the six to eight pound mark. Capons produce white tender meat and as a rule are used in recipes where a roaster would be appropriate, only they serve more people.
Roosters that grow beyond a year old produce meat that is tough and stringy. This requires long cooking times where the meat can be shredded and used in tacos or other dishes where smaller pieces of chicken are appropriate.
One day last week a buddy of mine stopped by as I was watching my new additions. He wondered why I would go through all the trouble of raising chickens for meat when it is just as easy to go to the store and purchase one ready to go. I couldn’t help but look at him askance but then I realized he had probably never tasted a home grown bird before. Let me just say there is a big difference.
This week I’ve included a recipe that a friend gave me a couple of weeks ago. It is a perfect dish after a hot summer day and goes well heaped crackers, on lettuce or in between buns.
I’m looking forward to watching my little ones grow big and strong this summer. It won’t be long and they will be foraging in their big outdoor pen; my own mobile mosquito snatchers, turning bugs into meat. And in my opinion, that’s a pretty good system.
Honey Chicken Salad
1 large chicken breast
3/4 cup red grape halves
2 ribs celery, diced small
1/3 cup honey-roasted almonds, chopped
For the dressing:
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1-1/2 tsp. honey
1-1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt & pepper
Poach chicken breast in boiling water until cooked all the way through, about 6-7 minutes. Remove to a plate and let cool slightly, then shred by hand. Mix with red grapes, celery, and almonds.
Stir together Greek yogurt, honey, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Add to chicken mixture and mix well, then season with more salt and pepper if needed. Serve between toasted bread slices, on a salad, in pita bread, or scooped with crackers and fruit.