On most days, we eat vegetarian. We have fish once a week at the most, chicken once or twice a month, and beef or other meat on very rare occasions. The few times we do eat meat or poultry, I am ready to dig into my pockets for prime quality, raised organically and locally, because food that is shipped hundreds or thousands of miles across the country is not sustainable even if it is organic.
When I moved to this rural area of northeast Pennsylvania 15 years ago, I could have only dreamed of getting my hands on a locally raised organic chicken. A lot has changed since then, thankfully. As I wrote in a blog post last summer, the Lehigh Valley now has an exciting food scene for locavores. Through my online blog column at Fig Bethlehem I have met the owners and written about several of the new food ventures that emerged in recent years. I am awed by their courage and to support them, I buy whatever I can from local producers.
From my countryside shopping tour on Saturday morning I came home with a dozen green, white and brown eggs, two soft goat cheeses, and a chicken from Kreeky Tree Farm, plus cherries and yellow plums from County Line Orchard, which is a must-stop every summer weekend. I also picked up a bunch of scallions from a roadside stand operated by honor system. Yes, that type of thing still exists here and there, although I have seen several owners give up because folks were not honorable and did not pay for what they took, or worse, stole the cash box.
A free-range organic chicken raised in the best of all worlds does not need much to taste succulent and delicious. I slow-roasted the chicken in the oven with lots of fresh herbs from my garden, dried lavender from The Lavender Farmette, and the last of last year’s garlic. Everything for this dish except for the olive oil, butter and salt for came from local sources.
I cannot think of a better way to celebrate July 4th than with fabulous local foods coming from this beautiful land.
Herb-Rub Roasted Chicken
The amounts of herbs in this recipe are up to taste but go easy on the more pungent herbs like rosemary and sage, and use lavender very sparingly. I did not have basil from the garden yet, otherwise I would have added that as well.
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch oregano
1 bunch garlic chives (you can substitute regular chives)
3 to 4 small rosemary sprigs
2 to 3 small sage sprigs
1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried culinary lavender
1 bunch thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 whole ready-to-roast chicken, about 4 pounds
2 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cut into small cubes1. Wash and dry the herbs and strip the leaves off their stems. Chop the leaves and discard the stems. Mix the leaves in a bowl with the olive oil.
2. Place the garlic and the salt in a mortar and pound to a paste. Gradually add the herbs and pound as finely as possible, mixing after each addition. If you have a very large mortar and pestle, you can add the herbs all at once but mine is small so working in batches and only adding more as the previous batch is incorporated works best.
3. Wash and dry the chicken with paper towels. Place the chicken breast side up in a roasting pan and rub all around and inside the cavity with the herb mix. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and adjust the oven rack to the lower third. Roast the chicken, covered, for 1 hour. After 1 hour remove the cover and distribute the butter over the chicken. Continue to roast the chicken for 1 more hour, basting every 15 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the internal temperature measures 165 degrees F. Readjust the rack to the top third of the oven and turn on the broiler. Broil until the skin is lightly browned. Stand by as this takes only a few minutes and you do not want to char the herbs.
5. Remove the pan from the oven and cover. Let rest for 15 minutes, then carve the chicken and serve.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Photos by Ted Rosen