I was a vegetarian for about thirteen years. During my pregnancy with Bojey, I craved meat so badly that I permanently became an omnivore again (so far, at least). In the time since she was born, I've really learned a lot about cooking (I knew nothing before), and I've made many major changes in the way I prepare food. One of my favorite things to do now is to roast a whole chicken. I haven't bought pre-cut parts of a chicken in a year and a half, and I never intend to again.
I almost never made it past the first try. I was so repulsed by how much this naked, fleshy bird looked like my naked, fleshy newborn that I could hardly stand to cook it. Nightmarish memories of processing a never-ending line of rotisserie chickens at a supermarket deli as a teenager came rushing back to me. But when I finally tasted that first bite when the chicken was finished, I was hooked. I encourage everyone to try cooking their chickens whole, and here's why:
1. Eating chicken from a whole roasted chicken tastes infinitely better than eating pre-cut bits and pieces of chicken. This has to be the number one reason. I'm not even sure I can explain why, but it's far juicier and far more flavorful. There really is no comparison. To me it's like store-bought sliced bread versus freshly baked bread. You know which one you would choose.
2. It's cheaper. I only buy organic meat, so it's expensive, but it's much cheaper than buying pre-cut chicken. I just checked the price online at our awesome organic grocery store, Ecollegey, and it's 20% cheaper than buying a whole cut up chicken, and it's about 55% cheaper than buying boneless chicken breast (which is what I used to buy and what I suspect lots of other beginning cooks buy).
3. When you're done with the chicken, you make chicken stock and you'll never, ever need to buy chicken stock again. I roasted a chicken for dinner this afternoon, and as I type this, the carcass (yeah, it sounds disgusting) is simmering in a large pot on the stove with some veggies to make chicken stock. This is yet another reason why a whole chicken is economical as well. Organic chicken stock is relatively expensive, but since I started making my own stock, I've never had to buy it, and I probably never will. I make so much stock that I have more than I need, and I add it to things like rice and couscous all the time to increase the flavor and nutritional value.
4. You and your children are ever so slightly more connected to your food source. One of the things that has always bothered me about the modern way of eating meat is that it is very easy to pretend you aren't really even eating an animal, and to me this is problematic on a number of levels. The neatly wrapped small pink pieces of meat in the grocery store in no way resemble the animals from which they came. When you buy a whole chicken, you're looking at an almost-complete animal (minus head, feet, and feathers). And yes, it can be a little startling if you've never done it before. But it also somehow feels more respectful of the animal, and it's great for kids to see what the animal really looks like underneath its feathers. Today, while watching me take the rest of the meat off of the bones, Ninna asked me why the eyeballs were gone and where the kneecaps were (do chickens even have kneecaps?). It was so clear to me that she understood that she was eating an animal, and what that meant. If I'm going to feed my children meat, I don't want them to take that for granted. I want them to understand what that means, both in small terms and bigger terms.
5. It forces you to be creative in your cooking. One chicken feeds me and the chicks for three dinners. This means we're eating chicken three days in a row. I don't like to feed us the same dinner every day, so I make 2-3 different chicken meals, using whatever else we have around (unless I plan for something specific, like chicken enchiladas.)
6. It's so easy! Really--it's incredibly, incredibly easy. There are lots of great roasted chicken recipes out there, but the general gist is that you apply some herbs and a little oil, and you stick it in the oven. Honestly, I think it's one of the least labor-intensive things I cook.
And there you have it. I thought cooking a whole chicken seemed like a huge task until I did it. To me, one of the greatest scams of the last, say, seventy years, is that we've all been convinced that cooking real food from scratch is not something most people can do, and that we need corporations to handle it for us (to chop our chicken, to bake our bread, to make our soup, and so on). One great way to start to take back control of your own kitchen is to roast a chicken. No, it's not the same as killing the chicken and plucking its feathers yourself, but it's a step in the right direction. It feels like such a real, substantial cooking experience, and you'll be happy you did it.
This post has been linked to Steady Mom's 30 Minute Blog Challenge.