Cooking with a Whole Chicken

A cooking class wrap-up by Becky Calvert

DSCN3078Market Central’s expansion of our cooking class offerings continued on a recent Saturday afternoon thanks to Erica Hellen of Free Union Grass Farm showing participants how to break down a whole chicken.  Using chickens Erica & her partner Joel raised, the class began with Erica demonstrating the process.  Making quick work of the process with a sturdy pair of kitchen scissors, her curved scimitar knife and her fingers to loosen & pull, in almost no time Erica had turned a whole chicken into legs, wings, thighs, breast, neck & tenders, and a carcass left to use for stock, narrating as she went along.   Holding the chicken by a leg, she advises using gravity to your advantage, making small exploratory cuts first – gently slicing through the skin before applying your blade to the meat of the chicken.  She also advises you consider your own anatomy when breaking down a bird – the ball and socket of our armpits are similar to the ball & socket of how a chicken leg is attached to its torso.  (For a video of Erica in action, you can check out this video on Beyond The Flavor’s website under their Kitchen Skills Section.)

DSCN3080Upon Erica’s wrap up, it was the students turn to try their hand in breaking down a chicken.  With a helping hand and pointers from her as they went along, everyone was able to break down a chicken to take home, discovering along the way that it is a relatively easy task. 

Following the breakdown of chickens, Erica showed us several of her favorite ways to cook and serve the bird, starting with her version of the classic fried chicken.  As she prepped the pot and the chicken, she told us about a recipe she picked up on a trip to Puerto Rico and with some urging from the crowd, she whipped it up while the chicken fried on the stove top.

DSCN3086Erica relayed the story of how they had seen and smelled these chickens while vacationing in Puerto Rico.  While admitting her Spanish is passable, but not entirely fluent, she was able to piece together enough bits of the recipe as told to her by the merchant offering the chicken she & Joel found so enticing.  While claiming she is a farmer first and a cook second, Erica assembled this marinade guestimating her portions with the skills of a true cook.  Advising students that sitting in a marinade too long could make the chicken too mushy, she suggested that soaking in the sauce 4-5 hours before grilling, baking or frying the chicken was optimal.

Erica’s Puerto Rican Chicken

While the spices are to taste, Erica says the ticket to the recipe is garlic and lots of it.

Pour into a food processor equal parts (about ½ cup):
Olive Oil & Fresh Orange Juice

A generous amount of cayenne pepper (about 1 tablespoon)
A nice amount of good curry powder (about 1 teaspoon)
A healthy splash of apple cider vinegar (about 1 ½ tablespoons)
5 crushed bulbs of garlic
Salt & Pepper to taste

Combine until smooth.  Combine in a bowl with chicken and let rest for 4-5 hours.