By this point, I’ve cooked enough pastured chickens that I think I deserve a celebratory cocktail – both the bird and me.
It’s no small feat to dress up a chicken, work your hands under the skin, massage it with a mélange of flavors, roast it and then serve it with panache to your favorite guests. Actually, I’ve got it easy. Tricia, the manager of the Hardscrabble Chicken Project at Restoration Farm has to tend to the chickens daily, and then move their free-range pen each night. Then, she’s also in charge of the monthly harvest, which I have yet to work up the courage to witness. We should all focus on our strengths and mine is most likely in the kitchen.
The fourth pastured chicken is Number 6 of the flock and weighs 4.42 pounds. I initially had my hands on chicken Number 1, but I’ve heard you shouldn’t take the first one you see. My friend Matthew from the farm dubbed this bird Irene, because she was one of the brood that weathered the recent hurricane.
She’s a grand old dame indeed, so I dress her up for a night on the town. This month’s recipe – from “A Bird in the Oven and Then Some” by Mindy Fox – is for Roast Chicken with Green Olives, Fennel Seeds and Thyme. It’s definitely got a Mediterranean flair, but with ample helpings of Cerignola olives and lemon zest, it reminds me of a Dirty Martini. Well then, a toast to Irene for her pluckiness through stormy weather!
The recipe is mostly an exercise in chopping. The olives, garlic, lemon zest and fennel are mounded on the cutting board and chopped fine. Note to self – Cerignola olives, which are a shockingly bright shade of green, do not pit easily, even with my super-duper pitting tool. I am forced to practically shave the flesh off each individual olive.
All those fruity and floral flavors get pushed under the skin and then it’s into the oven. Most mixology experts say the origin of the martini is unclear, but I know exactly where this bird came from. The house smells heavenly – or should I say intoxicating – with the aroma of olives and fennel. The skin is less bronze than the previous pastured chickens, but this recipe contains no butter, so the end effect is more golden.
I serve the fourth pastured chicken to my friend Audrey – who is a home design specialist in a very hands-off sort of way – and knows a well dressed chicken when she sees it.
The taste is smart and sophisticated, and to be perfectly honest, any olive lover would probably tell you the leftover breast sliced and served cold over greens the next day was even better!
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