The adventure of local food can be a lovely rediscovery of seasonal eating, fresh veggies, tasty meats and friend and family. It can also be an opportunity to re-discover (or discover) the art of cooking.
By Wian and Lydia: click here for profile
We raise pastured poultry and soon realized that there is a big difference between cooking free-range chicken vs. conventional fryers. They are both chickens – yes – but they are worlds apart. In many cases their lives are completely different. They differ in many ways including: diet, level of exercise, exposure to the outdoors, age etc.
Free-range chickens are much more like wild fowl. Free-range meat is lean because the birds are able to exercise their muscles. They are also grown out for longer periods of time allowing for extra muscle build up. While this makes the meat very tasty it must be cooked right. Free-range chickens need a slower cooking time to yield the best results. Slow and low is the rule for these birds. We like to cook our birds for 3 hours at 350ºF.
We have also just discovered the wonders of a convection oven, which make the meat sublime.
For conventional chickens this type of cooking often makes them seem soggy or overdone. Conventional chickens have a shorter cooking time. If you cook your free- range birds the way you cook your conventional birds the meat will likely be dry and you will probably be disappointed.
Although we haven’t tried it yet we have heard that one of the best way to cook a free-range bird is by using a rotisserie. Yum!
Remember that cooking time may vary depending on the size of the bird. We have had birds range from 4-8 pounds. If you are not sure if your bird is done you can follow internal temperature guidelines (165ºF). Remember, if you are following a recipe book they often assume you are using small conventional fryer size birds so you will have to cook your free-range chicken longer.
The extra time is worth the wait!
Lydia and Wian are members of the Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative. A grassroots organization working to create a sustainable local food system in Manitoba. Click here to get involved. Click here to buy food.