CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO | Chris Browder and one of his pastured chickens.
If there is one thing my neighbor’s cat and I agree on, it’s that a poultry dinner is a fine thing. We also share the opinion that locally-sourced poultry is best.
In the 1960s and 70s, Long Island produced six million ducks a year — more than any other region of the United States. Lately, a confident flock of wild turkeys brings vehicles to a standstill as they saunter across Route 114. And delicious North Fork chickens have been available at the Greenport and Shelter Island Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning.
Chris and Holly Browder of Browders’ Birds are regulars at the farmers’ markets, and they will continue to sell birds through October from their farm in Southold on Youngs Avenue on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Holly Browder says the cool weather this spring resulted in larger chickens in the early part of the season. Once the weather heated up, the chickens did not eat as much and they started to sell the 3- to 4-pound chickens that are the easiest to cook.
Holly says the 8- to 10-week old Cornish Cross variety that they sell is “the standard meat bird,” the one most sought-after whether you roast it, fry it or slap it on the grill.
Browders’ Birds practices “pastured poultry,” which involves keeping the chickens in a mobile enclosure surrounded by a protective fence. The enclosure moves over the pasture, the birds move freely in and out of the enclosure and the chickens get all the benefits of being free-range without the downside of predators from above making a dinner of them. Because making a dinner of them is my job.
My favorite way to cook a chicken is adapted from “The Zuni Café Cookbook,” and it always results in a delicious crispy skin and juicy meat. Twenty-four to 36 hours before I want to eat the chicken, I rub it with a handful of seasoned salt and fresh herbs. I then refrigerate it, covered only enough to keep the ketchup on the top shelf of my refrigerator from dripping down onto it. Forty-five minutes before dinner, I disconnect the smoke detectors, place the chicken on a hot iron skillet in a preheated oven and await my perfectly-roasted bird.
1 whole chicken, 3.5 to 4.5 pounds
3 to 4 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
8 sprigs of herbs, such as tarragon (the lemony flavor is wonderful with chicken) or thyme, rinsed and dried, each sprig about the size of a cocktail toothpick.
Remove the neck and giblets from the bird if they are still in place, and using a paper towel, pull off and discard any excess fat from the flap of skin around the cavity. Leave the skin on the chicken. Rinse the bird in cold water and dry it with paper towels inside and out.
Mix the salt and ground pepper together in a small bowl. Put one teaspoon of the salt mixture in the cavity of the bird. Using your hands, rub the rest of the salt mixture into the skin of the chicken. Use most of the salt on the skin over the fleshy parts of the chicken: the breast, thighs and legs.
Slip a finger under the skin on the breast of the chicken and insert two sprigs of the herbs between the meat and the skin. Repeat this on the other breast. Work your way under the skin on the thigh. Insert two sprigs of herbs between the thigh and leg meat and the skin.
Repeat on the other thigh and leg.
Cover the chicken very loosely with wax paper and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. During this time, the skin of the chicken should become quite dry.
Thirty minutes before cooking the chicken, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and remove the chicken from the refrigerator.
Heat a 9- or 10-inch heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over a medium flame for one minute and place the chicken on the dry hot skillet breast side up.
Transfer the skillet carefully to a middle rack in the hot oven.
Roast for 35 minutes, then turn the chicken breast side down for five more minutes of roasting. If it needs another five minutes, turn it breast side up again. The chicken is done when the leg joints are loose, the internal temperature is 165 degrees and the juices run clear.