Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Paean to Sonja Henie

Let me start by saying that nothing I write here is going to do justice to how delicious this chicken tasted or even come close to describing how fantastic the entire experience was.

Sonja Henie on order day...

and on the day before pick up

On one of my previous visits to the farm I had asked Daniel and Susan about their slaughter methods. For those of you who have read The Omnivore's Dilemma, they follow Joel Salatin's method of raising and slaughtering their chickens as described in wonderful detail in the pages of the book. I asked if I could observe sometime and Susan said absolutely. I'm not sure if I'm ready for that yet, but I like that I have the option.

Daniel Hammond ready with his beautiful broilers, meticulously butchered and waiting on ice. We arrived with our large baggie and cooler to transport Sonja home. This bird never even saw the inside of the fridge! It gets no fresher than that.

This is no factory chicken. It's almost sleek, no flab on this bird. The heavy processed corn diet that is making Americans fat and flabby also makes factory chickens fat and flabby. This bird was raised eating and exercising the way nature intended and it is plain to see.

I love that Sonja came pre-trussed! I prepared the bird just like I always do, using Thomas Keller's My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken recipe. Just pat dry, season all over the kosher salt and pop into a preheated 450 degree oven. Sonja weighed in at 5 pounds, 4 ounces so I set the timer for 90 minutes. I've done this recipe so often that I have the times set for a foolproof chicken every time. Three pound bird gets an hour, add 15 minutes for each additional pound.

Cooked to perfection! Such little fat on this bird that there was no smoke (which means no chicken fat smell stinking up the house for days) and the skin cooked to crisp perfection. It cracked where I lifted it with the tongs onto the carving board. I can't even describe how tasty that skin was.

All carved and ready to serve. The veggies were delicious, though not how I originally planned to serve them. The homemade aioli (garlic mayonnaise) tasted just too eggy for my taste buds that I couldn't eat it. I boiled the turnips and tossed them with butter, roasted the beets and tossed them with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar and grilled the potatoes, summer squash and onions to charred perfection. They were all very tasty but this meal was really about the bird.

I'm writing this on Sunday but I wanted to capture the essence of how we felt as we were eating this wonderful chicken. Here is a little soundbite from Saturday's meal...

Rob and Andra~ Oooooh, mmmmm!
Rob~ grunt, mmmm, pap, pap, pap.
Andra~ *eyes rolling into the back of her head*
Rob and Andra~ Mmmmm, smack, pap, slurp, grunt, yummmm!

So what exactly does a pastured, local chicken taste like? If you've only eaten factory chicken before, a pastured bird tastes nothing like you've ever tasted. There was not a trace of gaminess about this bird. The richness of the flavor and the natural juiciness was amazing (no salt water or chemical enhancers needed for this bird) but the texture was the real difference, firm and toothsome, like al dente pasta. Now don't mistake this for toughness because that's not it at all, the beautiful texture of a pastured chicken has made me realize that every other chicken I've eaten before this has been mushy.

I have to admit that when I put my deposit on Sonja, I heard a little ignorant voice in the back of my head telling me that it might be gamy and not worth the $15 price tag. I'm glad I told that voice to STFU because at $2.86 per pound this pastured chicken was not only an amazing value, this was unequivocally the most delicious chicken we have ever tasted.

I urge you to find local farmers in your area and try this for yourself. See where your food comes from and look the people who are growing it in the eye and you will know that you are getting the absolute freshest, healthiest, most delicious food nature has to offer. No factory, no processing, no slick advertising needed.


  1. Sounds wonderful...simplicity at its finest. I think you did that bird proud simply herb bundles, no marinades, no injections, no compound butters, etc.

    Sonja was honored.

  2. Thanks Kyle. Come back and have a read of the final edit. I had to run upstairs to add the photos of the live broilers on the day before pick up day.

  3. How exciting! It feels good to know that the food you're feeding yourself and your family is natural and healthy.

    I found a farm, too, that follows the Polyface Farm practices. In fact, when I pulled up to the farm, I saw the "processing" shed just as I had imagined it at Polyface. The owners were pleased to hear that.


  4. I've been ordering pasture-raised chickens from a local farm for a few months now. The taste is incomparable, to the point where I never order chicken if we eat out because the factory chicken texture disgusts me.

    I loved it when you said that there was no chicken fat smell stinking up the house. The first time I roasted a chicken at home, a friend warned me to open up all the windows because of the smell. I now roast chickens regularly, and never notice a smell in the apartment. Now I know why!