The days are getting noticeably longer and even a bit drier yet March remains a dicey month; it’s risky to make plans that are “weather permitting.” But starting up the Uuni the other day has rekindled the joy of cooking with fire so I’m declaring grill season open.
Prep the Bird
Rinse and dry the chicken. Grab the shears and cut out the backbone then flip the bird over and remove the keel bone. Season generously with salt and pepper and set aside for a least an hour. I use my two go-to pans for this, setting the bird in one and then covering it with the other.
Light a Full Chimney of Charcoal
Shred the Sprouts
Accompanying the chicken tonight will be shredded Brussels sprouts sautéed in a little butter and olive oil and then tossed with some balsamic vinegar.
I love shredding sprouts. I set the narrow slicer disk in the food processor, fill the feed tube with sprouts, then “brrrrzap” just like that, shredded sprouts. Cover the sprouts and chill in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
Bird on the Grill
I’m a huge fan of indirect heat on the grill. I wrap a generous portion of wood chips (mesquite, tonight) in tinfoil leaving just a bit open, then lay that atop the coals all nestled to one side of the grill. Chicken goes on to the left of the fire, the cover goes on, then it’s not disturbed for at least 30 minutes. I keep an eye on the thermometer and check to make sure smoke is coming out of the vent (which are set to full-open), but I do my best to resist the urge to open the cover and see what’s going on.
Cook the Veggies
In addition to the shredded sprouts, I sautéed two carrots and two parsnips with cumin and ginger.
Bird off the Grill
35 minutes later this is the result. The above bird came from the Sheridan Fruit Company, not the local Fred Meyer. Grocery store chickens are almost universally Cornish Cross birds. Sheridan, however, stocks Mary’s Chickens from California. But the issue is less about breed and more about how the birds are raised. Cornish Cross chickens are designed to grow insanely huge in 6 weeks. One way to ensure the birds get big fast is to keep them from expending calories running around. Thus birds are often raised caged in huge vertical factory farms with all the inherent problems associated with high-density farming.
Yes, Mary’s Chickens cost more, but not that much more. Chicken farming can be profitable and humane (while the chickens are alive, at least) if there is access to good quality pasture. The key is letting the chickens forage for the majority of their calories and only supplementing with packaged feed as needed. The only way you can do that is to have reliable water that results in reliable pasture growth. This is what killed my plans on our farm in southern Oregon, we didn’t have enough water to produce pasture capable of feeding a flock large enough to be sustainably profitable for egg and meat production.
And, lastly, chickens that get to run and flap and perch and aren’t cooled after slaughter in a disgusting bath of chlorinated water taste much better. The best, most delicious chicken one can ever eat will always be one of the slow-growing heritage breeds that spent its life running around in the open air with plenty of space eating nothing but bugs and seeds and drinking clean water, but that bird will probably cost $20 to $60.