A few months ago we announced April’s Heritage Chicken Cooking Competition, hosted by Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, and the winners have been announced! Of 864 entries, four winners conquered the categories of Whole Chicken, Cut Up, De-Boned and Barbecue. Grand prize winner Ann Knowles of Salina, Kan., earned $1,000 for her recipe, Baked Chicken a la Tucson.
Heritage chickens are an all-around sustainable and savory alternative to industrial chicken breeds. Numerous varieties of traditional chicken livestock vanished when factory farms began breeding just a few strains of chickens for most of America’s chicken production, reducing poultry’s interesting genetic diversity to a stark monotony. Now, many of the standard breeds once raised in the United States are in danger of disappearing. Although industrial chickens are bred for maximum productivity and are ready to eat in as little as six weeks, these highly specialized birds did not retain traits such as ability to forage, longevity, tolerance to extreme cold or heat, predator avoidance or broodiness. Because many heritage breeds have maintained these important features, they are ideal for small-scale farming. Plus, eating (or raising) heritage breeds bypasses the wasteful, unsanitary and cruel factory farm system.
But before you switch over to heritage breeds, take time to learn how to cook these birds, which are more flavorful and muscular than conventional chickens and thus require special attention in the kitchen. As a general rule, adhere to lower temperatures and longer cooking times. Frank Reese, owner of Good Shepherd and contest host, mentioned in an article by the Kansas City Star that most people born in the past 50 or 60 years simply do not know how to cook these birds — a major reason he held this recipe contest. The article quoted Reese: “Unless you’re 70 years old, you don’t know how to cook them. I’ve had chefs in New York screw my chickens up royally.” Check out the winning recipe so you won’t botch your first attempt at succulent heritage chicken. Enjoy!
Baked Chicken a la Tucson
Ann Knowles of Salina, Kan.
Makes 4 servings
1 (3- to 4-pound) Good Shepherd heritage chicken (New Hampshire or Plymouth Barred Rock)
Lemons and limes, halved, to fill chicken cavity
2 teaspoons New Mexico chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup orange juice
1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons mustard
Juice of a lime
Rinse and soak chicken in cold salt water to cover for 1 hour; drain.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Place chicken in roasting pan breast side up. Stuff cavity with halved lemons, limes, chili powder, salt and pepper.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the basting sauce. Blend or process in food processor. Apply enough basting sauce to coat the bird. Bake at 325 degrees in covered roasting pan for 2 to 3 hours, basting every hour. The chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 185 degrees, the drumstick wiggles in the socket and the juices run clear.
Cut up the chicken. Squeeze additional lime juice over meat. Serve with hot flour tortillas.
Heritage chickens are available from Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch. You can find more recipes and information on cooking heritage poultry at the Heritage Chef site.
Photos courtesy of Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch