Keeping chickens can be a satisfying hobby, but take my word for it and do not let your mother “help.” If you decide to jump in, give yourself permission to feel virtuous—after all you are now giving back to the land. You are an urban farmer! Chickens can be very accommodating. They will gobble up all kinds of kitchen waste—the end bits of veggies that you don’t put in your salad, old crusts of bread, leftover rice, or noodles; just don’t give them any leftover chicken... They don’t need to be walked, they don’t bark, they love snails and bugs, and their poop is great fertilizer for your garden. An added benefit is of course all the fresh eggs. Walking out to the coop with a straw basket in hand searching for the hidden eggs can feel a bit like a scavenger hunt as you dig your fingers into a pile of straw, hoping to connect with a warm egg.
Baby chicks are available at most feed stores in the spring; they usually start laying at around 6 months of age, but I didn’t go the traditional route. I went straight to the source, a chicken farm. I had heard that you could get chickens that were already laying eggs. The farm only kept them for a year and then sold them because the chickens’ production slowed down. The idea of rescuing chickens from a chicken farm appealed to me. My rescue chickens would live out the rest of their lives in a clean coop with lots of room to scratch and explore and the occasional field trip, where they would be let out to explore beyond their coop and into our garden. Using aviary wire, we built a fence around an existing old wooden shed and put a couple shelves in the shed with straw-filled boxes for the chickens to lay their eggs in. I got six chickens from the farm and brought them home, named them, and let them loose in their new home. I went down with my straw basket to collect eggs the next morning and I found one egg, but I never got another one. Weeks later , still no eggs, I lost two chickens to coyotes while
home. I went down with my straw basket to collect eggs the next morning and I found one egg, but I never got another one. Weeks later , still no eggs, I lost two chickens to coyotes whilethey were out in the garden during the day. On top of that I discovered that rats were burrowing under the fence, attracted to the grain. Now I was feeding the chickens AND a couple families of rats! My friends thought I was crazy to put that much work into chickens that didn’t lay any eggs and “Claudia’s rescued chickens” became a running joke. Early the next year, I went out of town and my mother offered to house/chicken sit for me. I later realized she had a hidden agenda. Coming home I drove up the driveway past the coop, I thought I saw some unfamiliar chickens. Too tired to stop, I went to the house and discovered Sally, Nora, Emily, and Jane plucked and cooked in plastic bags in my fridge. I was sad but soon had more eggs than I knew what to do with from their replacements.
This week's recipe isn’t a replacement for a chicken that stops laying eggs or for your chicken named Emily. This is just a fabulous, juicy, roasted chicken recipe. The main reason it is so juicy is that it calls for a spatchcocked a chicken. 'Spatchcock' is a specific term used for the way a chicken or game bird is cut. Taking out the backbone and flattening the bird on a cookie sheet, stuffing a mixture of cheese and herbs and lemon between the skin and the flesh, combined with the high temperature make this roast chicken moist on the inside and crispy on the outside.
Fabulous on its own, but also perfect served with a green salad and baguette to soak up the juices left in the pan.
Place the chicken on a cutting board breast side down. Holding on to the tail, slowly cut up one side of the backbone and then down the other side. Also clip off the tips of the wings. (I freeze all my chicken backs and tips for homemade chicken broth).
Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the spatchcocked chicken breast side up on top of the parchment paper, use both hands, palms down one on top of the other, and push down on the breast bone to crack the bone a bit so that the chicken lies flat.
Now gently pull the skin from the top of the breast away from the flesh. Making a pocket on either side of the breast bone, pull out and discard any fatty bits. Repeat on the top of the thighs down through the drumsticks as far as you can go again on either side, taking care not to tear the skin on the thigh, which can be a bit thin. You now have four pockets. Set aside.
Herb Roasted Spatchcock Chicken:
Preheat oven 400°
1 - 3.5/4 lb. whole chicken
3 oz. mascarpone cheese scant (depending on the size of your chicken)
2 teaspoons fresh oregano finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh flat leaf parsley finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 minced cloves garlic
1 lemon sliced into six pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
In medium bowl mix cheese, with minced garlic, herbs, ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper and juice from one of the lemon slices.
Using a spoon, place a scoop of the mixture under the skin in both sides of the breast and both whole legs. Next, use your fingers on the outside of the skin to massage the filling around so that it covers most of the flesh. Continue until you have used up all the cheese mixture. Brush the bird with olive oil and then liberally sprinkle with salt and pepper and squeeze the last lemon slice over the entire bird. Tuck the rest of the lemon slices around the chicken and roast for 60-70 minutes until the bird is crispy and brown all over. Rest for ten minutes and then dig in.
When I tried to spatchock my first turkey a few years ago it was really hard. It took both me and my son who practically sat on the turkey to get it to lie flat. It is much easier with a chicken though, so do not give up! Make sure you have either a boning knife or sharp kitchen shears. BTW I always spatchcock my turkey now. It is never dry and takes much less time to cook.