While chicken often tops the list of dinner ingredients in the U.S., (“Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” or “A chicken in every pot!”) it doesn’t take much to figure out those meals today are often based on ubiquitous, tasteless boneless chicken breasts instead of the flavorful cage-free chickens Herbert Hoover supposedly wanted for us. The American obsession with huge chicken breasts (hmph) is a sad one and continues for many reasons–one being it’s easy to not remember where meat comes from if you only have a slab of it and no fat, bones, joints, tendons, guts, or skin. I’ve had more than one adult student who, faced with putting a whole chicken (already cut up, by the way) in a skillet to brown for a tasty fricassée, admitted they had never before handled a chicken with bones. I, on the other hand, almost never buy boneless breasts, though I’ll admit I adore boneless thighs for everything from sandwiches to chili. There are several reasons–the main one being the taste factor–but here’s the critical other one. Because we demand outrageous and overwhelming numbers of inexpensive low-fat, protein rich boneless breasts (just try to buy bone-in breasts in today’s market) compared to other parts, chickens today are often–though not always– raised in incredibly poor and horrific conditions by inhumanely treated workers. How’d that come to be???
Chickens were once a scrappy yardbird, pecking around homes providing an inconsistent supply of eggs. The whole bird arrived at the dinner table only on special occasions—or once she stopped laying eggs. Until 1923, chicken was a whole chicken. … By 1959 the broiler industry had reached such a scale that it warranted federal regulation. When inspections started picking out substandard carcasses, processors started cutting them up and selling them as chicken parts. Boneless, skinless breasts started showing up in recipes thereafter. The rest is history written on grocery lists that call for two chicken breasts and five chicken thighs, but there is no footnote to remind shoppers their recipe actually requires the use of three whole chickens.Sophia Hampton, Whole Animal Butcher, in BON APPETIT, May 9, 2019. Scroll down to read more and for link to article.
Chicken with Butternut Squash–You can surround a whole chicken with just about any root vegetables.
It’s not that I don’t like boneless breasts for meals like Chicken Piccata, Chicken Florentine, the occasional salad, or even summertime Grilled Chicken Sandwiches, I do. There’s also these babies:
But I’d rather bone my own chicken for no other reasons than I don’t want a ginormous 6-8 ounce breast and I don’t need 25 grams of protein very often. While protein has reigned supreme in our diets for quite a while due to fad weight-loss programs and lack of general cooking skills or distaste for cooking, we might now be eating more animal protein than is reasonable. Think about the skill level and time required to cook a boneless breast in a skillet versus making a pot of chicken-vegetable soup. Hard to imagine as we’re so focused on animal protein, but there’s some protein in almost everything we eat. For instance, there are 4.5 grams fiber in a cup of white rice, 6 in an egg, 7 in an ounce of peanuts, 8 in a cup of milk, 12 in a cup of Greek yogurt, and a whopping 15.6 in a cup of economical black beans. Even if we skip out on meat altogether, we have no shortage of protein in our diets. On average, humans need about 56 grams of protein a day. If you eat more protein than you need, it isn’t stored for the next day, it just turns to fat and can cause other health problems. Add to that, our love of and addiction to animal protein is hurting our world in many ways.
TOO MANY OF US DON’T COOK MUCH AND DON’T LIKE WHAT WE DO COOK. I’m not a big tv cooking show person (with the exception of a few on PBS, anything by Chef Jacques Pépin or old Julia Child shows, as well as the occasional Ina, of course), but I’m amazed by how many people do watch often and have for years. Do they cook more because of it? I don’t see much evidence of it, but I’m ever hopeful. They do seem to have more of a cooking vocabulary than previously. Or, in other words, they can talk a good meal, but they aren’t spending many more hours in the kitchen. I’m thinking skip the tv and use the time to cook to increase your health.
Here’s a sad bit of news:
Only 10% of consumers now love to cook, while 45% hate it and 45% are lukewarm about it. That means that the percentage of Americans who really love to cook has dropped by about one-third in a fairly short period of time. (2 decades)
(Harvard Business Review, October, 2017: Eddie Yoon)
Anyone who has watched the sizes of the pre-cooked foods sections grow in the grocery stores over the last 10 years knows this if they only think about it. Not only can you buy any sort of frozen meal you’d like (what’s in those packages?!), the deli, and/or prepared foods aisle, is as big as or bigger than the produce section. Because I like to cook and also have the time to do it, I don’t buy those products often — but I didn’t even when I worked full-time and was raising a family.
I’m uncertain about what this all boils down to except this: cooking whole foods at home, including whole chickens, is essential for the health, wealth, and happiness of the entire world. While I love to blog for many reasons, my raison d‘être (reason for being) is to encourage readers to cook in their own kitchens and, naturally, then spend “more time at the table.” I often see that people don’t like to cook because they lack kitchen skills or even the ability to come up with a list of healthy menus for the week. Hello, Home Ec, where are you?! If this sounds like you, and you’d like to improve your skills and health, why not start with one of the most basic recipes? A roast chicken and vegetables–something you’ve seen a time or two before on More Time.
Below: Chicken and Vegetables
Roasting a whole chicken with vegetables is a simple one-pan meal. It may not be fast — and it could be even quicker if you use your convection function — but it’s luscious and so homey the bird alone is the thing most sold in market delis. (You might be surprised at some of the ingredients used in those rotisserie chickens.) Next and best: there are leftovers: chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, tacos, enchiladas, pasta, or just a snack of a few bites of chicken.
You can make chicken stock from the carcass, from the bones, that is! Cool and freeze it until you need it or make a pot of soup that day! You can also save a cup or two in the freezer for the day when your tummy won’t cooperate with ANYTHING. If you skip the salt and pepper, your poor sick-as-a-dog pooch can also eat it. They can’t eat store-bought broth. I’m convinced my homemade chicken broth–with a little well-cooked rice–saved our Tucker’s life when he could eat nothing else after a difficult tummy surgery. Here’s how TO DO IT:
Want to make chicken stock in the slow cooker?
WINE: A bottle of wine and some bread are all that are needed to entertain a couple of friends. Go with the red OR white wine you like best — roast chicken is so forgiving — with the exception of a great big red like Cabernet Sauvignon, which will overwhelm the bird and the vegetables. Even a rosé goes well with this dish, though I’d pass on anything on the sweet side.
There are no problems finding recipes for roast chicken like the one in this post, and here are a few famous ones to read through:
- Zuni Cafe Chicken
- Julia’s Favorite Roast Chicken
- Dorie Greenspan’s Garlic Chicken in a Pot
- Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken
- Mark Bittman’s Roast Chicken
Folks often have a few questions about cooking a whole chicken, but here are some answers to a couple of frequent ones:
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO ROAST A CHICKEN? HOW DO I KNOW IF IT’S DONE?
Excellent questions without perfect answers. Here’s how I see it. Generally, whole chickens roast for about 15-20 minutes per pound, depending on the temperature of the oven. In other words, a 4-pound bird might take 80-85 minutes at 425 degrees F. If you can, get a chicken around 3 pounds; smaller is tastier, Alyce promises. Your timing will depend on several variables: the size of your chicken, if you’ve trussed it or covered it with foil, whether or not it is totally thawed, the weight of your roasting pan, whether or not you turn the pan around half-way through cooking time, the accuracy of both your oven temperature settings and that of the instant-read thermometer, and whether or not your oven is totally preheated. The air circulation in your oven is also a determining factor, as is the use of a rack in the roasting pan. (I like a bird roasted right down in the pan with vegetables and drippings; others prefer a rack for a crispier bottom skin.) If you are at altitude, as am I, your bird may take a little longer than at sea level. Just a tad confusing, right? That’s why I get paid the big bucks. (Not.)
Best idea: Use an instant read thermometer inserted into the fleshy part of the thigh. The bird is done if it’s between 175 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit in the thigh, and juices run clear instead of pink. The FDA temperature for cooked poultry is 165 degrees F, but my roasted chickens are not done at that temperature; they need at least another 10 degrees to avoid underdone legs and thighs, particularly joints. Should the breast be done and juicy (as it may be at 165 degrees F), but the legs and thighs or joints still pink, you can carve off the legs and thighs and roast only them for a few more minutes, covering the breast and vegetables while you wait. Trust the thermometer for total food safety. Note: some young birds’ bone marrow will leach out into the cooked flesh for a dark red or rosy hue near the bones, but the meat is probably still plenty done.
About instant read thermometers…keep a couple on hand if you can. They’re inexpensive and they do give out. You can check a thermometer’s accuracy by placing it in a glass of ice water to see if it registers at 32 degrees. Some can be recalibrated if they’re a bit off. Read up on it here.
Ok, you’re ready to try it, right? Read through and see what you think. You might need to do it on a Saturday or Sunday. You’ll have plenty of time if you plan it out and can read, watch a movie, talk to a friend, or do a load of wash or two while the chicken and vegetables (switch them out if these aren’t your faves) cook:
lemon and garlic chicken with parmesan vegetables
- Roasting Pan
- Instant Read Thermometer
- Olive oil
- 4- pound whole organic chicken-giblets removed
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- Large sprig fresh thyme or sage
- 4 cloves garlic-divided—2 left whole and unpeeled, 2 peeled and sliced
- 2 medium yellow onions- quartered and peeled, with root end left intact
- 4 golden beets-unpeeled, but trimmed and cut in half
- 2 leeks-white and light-green parts only, well-washed and trimmed, each cut into 2 or 3-inch pieces
- 1 medium fennel bulb-cut in half length-wise and half again
- 1 medium sweet potato- peeled and cut into 8 pieces
- 4 medium carrots-scrubbed and trimmed but unpeeled, cut on the bias into 2-3-inch pieces
- Pinch crushed red pepper
- 1/3- cup 1-ounce grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, set rack at center, and lightly oil bottom of roasting pan. Grate the lemon, reserve zest, and cut in half. (You’ll use half now and half at serving time.) Place chicken at center of pan, brush all over with 2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle well with salt and pepper* inside and out, and stuff the cavity with ½ of the lemon, 2 of the cloves of garlic, the fresh herbs and a ¼ of one onion. Tie legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wings underneath the body.
- Add all of the remaining vegetables (onions –carrots, including the other 2 cloves of sliced garlic) to a large bowl, drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with one teaspoon of salt, half teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, crushed red pepper, and reserved lemon zest. Toss gently together and then scatter around the chicken in the roasting pan.
- Roast for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, turn vegetables over, drizzle chicken with a bit more oil or pan juices if dry. If the chicken is already browning well, tent with foil. Return to oven for another half hour – or more as needed. Insert an instant read thermometer into the fleshy part of the thigh. If it registers between 175 and 180 degrees F, and the juices run clear instead of pink, the bird is done. If not, continue cooking another 10-15 minutes, and test again.
- Remove pan from oven and using a thin-bladed spatula, scoop vegetables to a serving bowl and cover to keep warm. Let the chicken rest, tented with foil, for 15 minutes before carving. Just before serving, squeeze the reserved 1/2 lemon over the vegetables, and toss gently with cheese. Taste a piece of one vegetable and adjust seasonings. Serve hot or warm, though cold leftovers are also great. Leftovers are good for 3-4 days tightly wrapped in the refrigerator.
- SERVING WITH PAN JUICES: If there are pan juices left, tilt the pan and spoon off as much shiny fat as you can. You can then spoon the juices over the chicken.
WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT WHY TO STOP BUYING SO MANY BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS?
Today’s industrial broilers live short, cramped, painful lives. They’re engineered to grow at such staggering rates that by day 9 the chick’s baby legs can barely hold up their disproportionately large breasts. They are kept in the same rectangular sheds that Cecile Steele invented to hold her 500 chicks, although 30,000 is now standard. Some poultry processing plants are still maintained through prison labor and other vulnerable hands. There are approximately 250,000 poultry workers in the country, most of whom are Latinx, women, or undocumented. It is a low-paying job and has a workplace-related injury rate twice the national average. Workers are exposed to chemical-laden feces, violent machinery, and speeding production lines. One bird every two seconds. Twenty thousand birds a day. There are reports of employees wearing diapers to work because they are often not granted bathroom breaks. Frank Dwayne Ellington, a black inmate in Alabama state prison, showed up for a day of work in October and got pulled into the same machine meant to decapitate dead birds. He died on the spot. From 2015 to 2018, there were eight human deaths on the processing line along with countless chickens.
Cook for your family, your friends, or –best–just for yourself. You deserve it. Be your happiest, healthiest self in 2020 and, by the way, HAPPY EPIPHANY!! I can take my tree down tomorrow.