The Local Food Report: the chickens are in

Remember this picture?

I took it in January, and it was the beginning of a dream. A big dream—my friend Drew's dream—one that he came up with in his last semester at the Stockbridge Ag program in Amherst. He read a few books, watched a few documentaries, and made a decision. He was going to try to bring chickens back to his family's farm. Not just any chickens, but chickens raised right—on grass, outside, clucking and pecking and running around.

When I first talked to him, in January, there were still a lot of obstacles. He had to choose breeds and save up enough money to buy an electric fence and get a permit and order the hens and the feed they would need for the first few weeks. He had to make sure that he could use the Mobile Poultry Processing Unit and set up dates and make sure that his birds were ready when the time came. He had to build a customer base and get the word out and decide on a price.

He did all that, and fast. He picked two breeds: Red Bro, which is an heirloom bird, bred through generations to have plump, tasty meat, and the Cornish Rock Hen, a more modern breed created through gene splicing. He settled on June 23rd and 24th, July 14th and 15th, August 4th and 5th, and August 25th and 26th. And last week, he slaughtered over a hundred Truro-raised birds—the first birds at Hillside Farm in over 30 years.

We got two Red Bros raised on organic feed and pasture, and we ate both of them—I repeat, we have now eaten two chickens—in one week.

They were amazing—juicy and tender and tasty and absolutely fresh. We ate them roasted, stuffed with asparagus and peas and spring onions and garlic and rubbed down with rosemary and butter. We put a handful of baby carrots in the pan around the bird to soak up the juices as they cooked, and a cup of peas, too. We let it roast slowly, on low heat, and then cranked the oven up at the end to crisp the skin. We feasted and made chicken salad and chicken stock and then started all over and feasted again.

It was exciting, not just to eat a bird raised five miles down the road, but to eat a bird raised by a peer, and a friend. It was the kind of feeling that makes you happy to be alive, in this place, right now. I have a feeling that all summer we'll be doing it again, and again, and that on each slaughter date to come, we'll also freeze a bird.

There are other local poultry operations on the Cape—Miss Scarlett's and Paskamansett Farms and Ocean Song Farms and First Light Organic Farm even raises birds every now and again—and they're all excellent. Wherever you live, and whichever farmer you support, I think it's high time for a chicken roast with a fresh, Cape Cod bird.


Roasting a chicken is one of the easiest ways to make a whole-meal feast. I made this stuffing up based on what we had in the fridge leftover from the markets last week, but it will change as the season progresses. Whatever you use, be sure to put some veggies around the chicken in the pan—they are a true treat.

one 4-5 pound chicken
4 sprigs rosemary
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
1 slice stale bread or a handful of crackers, crumbled
1 and 1/2 cups English peas, divided
1/2 pound asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, peeled
4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 pound baby carrots, whole, with tops trimmed to leave 1/2-inch of greens

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees F.

Rinse the chicken, pat dry with a dishcloth, and arrange in a roasting dish. Working from the skin flap over the back of the bird, use your fingers to separate the skin from the meat. Slip the rosemary sprigs and butter under the skin, spreading out the herbs and rubbing the butter into the meat. Rub the outside skin of the bird generously all over with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss together the crumbled bread, 1/2 cup of the peas, the asparagus, the garlic, and the scallions. Season lightly with salt and pepper and stuff as much of the mixture as you can into the cavity of the bird. Set any extra aside.

Tent the roasting pan with tinfoil and put the chicken in to bake. After two hours, pull the bird out of the oven and turn the heat up to 375 degrees F. Arrange the remaining stuffing, remaining peas, and baby carrots around the bird in the roasting pan. Rub the skin of the bird with more butter if it's dry, cover everything back up loosely with tinfoil, and return the roasting pan to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes; then take off the tinfoil and turn the oven to broil. In about 15 minutes, the bird's interior temperature should reach 160 degrees F and the skin will be golden brown and crispy; it's done.

Turn off the oven, take the roasting pan out, and let the bird rest for 15 minutes. Carve and serve with pan roasted veggies and stuffing, and maybe a nice green salad alongside.

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.