I am always humbled by the experience raising our own chickens, watching the transformation that meat must undergo. It is a labor of love for us, and we are grateful to have the opportunity and land to support this highly engaged, satisfying work. And this satisfaction is multiplied when we share with friends and family. With so much going into this meat, we wanted to share our techniques for basic storage and preparation so the meat is at its best for the dinner table.
[this post originally appeared on this blog in July 2015. We’ve updated it with better descriptions, cleaner organization, and added a few nice new photos for this year]
Eating Farm Fresh Chicken while it’s Fresh
It is always exciting to enjoy the meat as fresh as possible, and we encourage everyone to do this with farm fresh meat. Unfortunately, the experience can be quite rare in America with storage practices in grocery stores and animals even being shipped overseas for processing. The taste of fresh meat will never be as unique, the texture never as supple, and the experience for the diner will never meet its match. With the story of the meat in your head and on your fork, you know you’ve made the right decision. You will feel it in your soul. This is how meat is meant to be enjoyed, it is what we humans have evolved to eat.
Freezing Farm Fresh Chicken
Luckily, the flavor and texture of quality chicken is not as diminished with time and freezing as other farm fresh products. And it’s not like you can throw 25 chickens in your fridge and eat them fast enough. Spreading the local meat raised in the summer throughout the year by freezing is how we’ve been doing it for the past several years. Stocking up on meat not only gives you a constant supply of nutritious, high quality, local protein, it also brings much comfort to your budget as you can plan for the bulk purchase and begin to rely less on spontaneous decisions in the supermarket. Do yourself a favor and invest in a chest freezer and fill it with a year’s supply of local meat. If you aren’t completely satisfied after that year, give me a call. I’ll pick up whatever’s left!
Thawing Frozen Meat
There are some safety concerns with meat, local or otherwise, that we are all very aware of. Temperature control is very important for eliminating risks of bacteria and disease on our food. So before reading on, please be aware that our methods are not necessarily condoned by the USDA or FDA or KGB or anything like that. But we always cook our chicken thoroughly and have never experienced even the slightest of illness from our chicken. Here’s the two ways we thaw a frozen whole chicken, or any frozen meat for that matter.
MEAT THAWING Method 1 (2-3 days):
Place chicken in fridge 2-3 days before cooking. Make sure to place it in a bowl to catch any frost on the packaging as it thaws.
Meat Thawing Method 2 (quick method, a matter of hours):
- Place chicken in a stock pot or other food safe vessel large enough to hold the chicken and plenty of water.
- Fill the pot with warm water from your faucet.
- Make sure the chicken is fully submerged, weighing it down if necessary.
- Wait 20-30 minutes
- Drain water and refill with warm water.
- Repeat steps 3 & 4 until chicken is thawed, usually within 2 hours for average sized bird.
- Please treat this chicken just as you would treat any chicken and ensure it is fully cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165° F.
2. Prep (optional): Cutting up a whole chicken into the familiar cuts
If you want to do more with your chicken than simply cooking it whole, we made a video demonstrating how to cut up (or quarter) a chicken. Check it out to see how to get those familiar cuts for all kinds of recipes
3. Cooking local, pasture raised chicken
Here are some essential tips to ensure you get the best flavor, texture, and enjoyment out of this special meat.
Important: Regardless of how you plan to enjoy your chicken, you have to make sure chicken is fully cooked. We always use a digital probe thermometer to check for doneness, and you should, too. The USDA instructs cooks that all poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F in order for it to be safe for consumption. (Don’t worry about overcooking and getting dry meat–pastured chicken is moist and wonderful at this temperature!)
To help seal in moisture and season the meat and skin wonderfully:
- Rub the entire outside of the chicken or individual cuts of chicken with oil, lard, or butter.
- Generously sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Block the cavity & don’t bother with stuffing. Throw aromatic herbs, fruits, or vegetables into the cavity as you see fit. We like things like apples, onions, garlic, parsley, and celeriac. Then seal the opening closed with aluminum foil. This will prevent the chicken from overcooking from the inside and infuse the dinner with amazing aroma.
- Don’t bother basting or covering the entire chicken with foil. These methods are attempts to improve cheap meat, which you are not using. With a good chicken, the skin will do the work for you.
- MOST IMPORTANT: Use a probe thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat. This enables you to accurately recognize that it has entered the safe zone of at least 165° F internally. It also prevents you from overcooking your precious meat into a dry, chewy mistake. When you hit 165° F, take that chicken out!
- We find the chicken tastes best over natural charcoal, but propane doesn’t do any harm.
Use medium heat and allow the meat to cook at an average speed. Unlike beef, you want to have a fully cooked cut of meat, so a medium heat will allow the inside to fully cook without drying out the outside.
- Don’t worry about burns or sear marks. They taste so good.
- Before adding the chicken to any slow cooked application (e.g., tomato sauce, soups, gumbo, etc.), generously salt & pepper it and sear it to a nice rich brown on all sides in a pan over medium high heat. You don’t need to cook it thoroughly, but you want that nice maillard reaction all over. This will improve the taste and texture like crazy, so do it.
- Try a farm fresh chicken slow cooked in a tomato sauce, one of our favorite meals of all time:
And don’t forget, we have preorders for chicken every spring: