I have customers ask questions about cooking whole chicken and sometimes I forget how far I have come down this path. One of our priorities is to get folks excited and knowledgable about real food. I wanted to share some cooking and left over hints since the chickens we raised last season were so much larger than the typical grocery store bird. The Freedom Rangers averaged 7 1/4 lb and we found that roasting them whole was superior to cutting into pieces and oven-frying. Number one rule=give yourself plenty of time to thaw the frozen bird. If thawing in the fridge give yourself 48 hours for a 6lb bird-if thawing in cold water leave in the original packaging and submerge in water for 12 hours-changing water periodically. A bird is thawed when the muscle feels squishy and the leg and wing joints wiggle freely.
There is a nice recipe here for roast chicken with pan gravy (just remember to increase the cooking time since you are making ONE big bird and not two small ones!). I like to vary the flavor by applying a paste of olive oil, salt and herbs under the skin of the breast and thighs. Some of the herbs I have used are sage, or rosemary and lemon zest, or black pepper and chili powder. Brining a whole chicken is also AMAZING, soak the bird in a solution of salt and herbs for a minimum of 8 hours before cooking-to die for!
I filled the house with smoke the first time I cooked one in our new gas range–it was too close to the top of the oven and the fatty spatters were hitting the roof of the oven and smoking like crazy! If this is happening to you-either throw some aluminum foil over the whole thing or pull it out and lower the oven rack :) For the extra-large birds -the 9 lb roosters-I slice open the thigh joint-exposing the hip jt to the heat. I think the breast gets too dry and overcooked while I wait for the hip to cook completely.
Another favorite is beer can chicken, we don’t use wood chips -just a gas grill way down low. I also put the chicken/beer can combo in a shallow pan (foil lined!) to avoid the flame ups caused by fat dripping onto flames. Be sure to use an onion (or the chicken neck) to plug the body cavity and really seal in those juices. My Dad raises his own chickens and he will often half a whole chicken and place the halves on the grill, this is a quicker way of getting supper on the table.
So you have eaten supper and are looking at all that left over chicken, now what? Strip the carcass of meat and save for left overs. The entire carcass goes into a big soup pot, add water and maybe some garlic, coarsely chopped onions and that wilty celery from the bottom drawer. A few tablespoons of vinegar added to the boiling pot will help remove valuable minerals from the chicken bones. Simmer for an hour or so, then pour through a collander-return the liquid portion to the pot. Living in WI-I just put the still steaming pot outside the front door to cool off-you might want to use the refrigerator if you need to cool enough to remove the fat from the top. (this is a whole other post on omega 3′s and traditional foods- but i have stopped removing most of the fat from my grass-fed bird stock). Once the boiled carcass is cool enough to touch- finish stripping the meat. I can usually get another 1 to 1.5 cups of meat from the carcass. I also chop up the liver and heart into itty bitty pieces so my children cannot
ick pick them out! Now it’s chicken soup time-add cabbage, potatoes, carrots, peas-whatever you got -put it in! Some salt, pepper, herbs and there are lunches for the week.