By Beverly Barbour
It is hard to pick a chicken (or a duck)
"Of course, Dear Heart, it is always an honor to be in your column." This was the warm response from my dear sister-in-law, Mary Helland, who lives and cooks (extraordinarily well) on a few acres near Devils Lake , N.D.
I had asked her permission to quote from a recent e-mail that is just too much fun not to share with you. It is in regard to her many splendered, multi-hued chickens plus some wild ducks who come for breakfast each morning.
"My hobby, as Don (husband) calls my feathered friends, has increased this summer. Two ducks have nested on the north side of the house (about 15 eggs in the nests). One morning one of the ducks went missing. I captured the other duck while Don scooped up the nest with a shovel. We moved the mother-to-be and her eggs into Jake's dog house. It does have a window to the west and a fenced in yard. Upscale housing.
"She sat on those eggs for such a long them that Don finally said, 'We should just toss the eggs.' Being an optimist my reply was, 'Lets just wait one more week.' The mother duck must have overheard because two days later she hatched out 16 babies.
"The mother travels with two drakes--one black and the other looks like a mallard. They hang out at Lake Marie (a slough in the field just east of Dani's). From the time they could travel, this group has lived at the lake, coming home only in the morning to feast on cracked corn. The little ones have always been shy, but this last week they have been coming up the hill to meet me when they hear me. (Of course, I talk to them.) So tell me why all 16 are still alive when the muscovy hen had six babies (one would have been snow white) and she lost four in the grass or to a hawk, I don't know which.
"We presently have three roosters. Not a good thing. The largest red one, we call Big Daddy. He takes care of the new hatch by scratching and calling them to eat. They like hanging with him I guess. When he is not baby sitting he chases the hens--along with the other two guys. The roosters fight and chase one another--not good. (Only the fastest smaller one still has all of his tail feathers.) Who goes to the table? Not Big Daddy--he is a good guy. Not the black and white speckled one--when in bloom his tail feathers are fantastic. Not the smaller rooster who is part banty--he is so cocky and cute.
"I did find a piece of sheepskin and perhaps I will just make hobbles for them. The hens would like that, too. They wouldn't have to keep an eye cocked for an attack from the back. We do get four farm fresh eggs each day.
"An additional tidbit. Henney Penney (a little black banty that we have had 5 years or more) is truly fiesty. There is a raspberry bush nearby and she must know the benefits of fruit and fiber because she will jump straight up--about six or seven-inches--and grab ripe berries. She then lets them drop so that the babies can eat them. What a good Mom. Can't eat her, either."
It must be hard to part with a chicken whom you have grown to know and love but we all do love to eat them. Here is a bit of incentive to do so.
**Correction: The pesto recipe in the Aug. 24 column is missing an ingredient. It should have a 1/4 cup pine nuts added.
Chicken with Mustard & Tarragon
No charcoal grill? You can broil the chicken in the oven. Adjust the distance from the heating element so the chicken cooks through without burning. Turn the bird half way through and serve with oven-roasted potatoes. Makes 4 servings.
1 fresh chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds
Remove the chicken's backbone. Crack the breast bone with the knife so the bird lies flat in a "butterflied" fashion. Rinse and dry well. Combine mustard, garlic and tarragon in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Spread mustard mixture evenly over both sides of the chicken (a rubber scrapper works well for this). Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. When coals are ready, arrange half of them on either side of the grill with a drip pan in the center. Put the chicken skin-side down on the grill rack over the drip pan. Cover, leaving the vents open, and cook until the skin is beautifully browned and crisp. Turn the chicken, cover the grill, and cook until the underside is nicely colored and the juices run clear. Total cooking time should be about 25 minutes. Keep warm and let it rest 15 minutes before cutting into serving pieces.
Roasted Chicken with Thyme & Vegetables
One of the easiest and most satisfying ways with a chicken is simply to roast it with a few herbs. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
3/4 pound small new potatoes, halved or quartered if larger
Preheat oven to 450 F with racks set in middle and lower thirds. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss potatoes, carrots, shallots, garlic and a few sprigs of thyme with 2 tablespoons oil. Season heavily with salt and pepper. In a skillet, toss onions with remaining tablespoon oil. Place chicken, breast side up, on top of onions. Season chicken with salt and pepper and stuff with a few sprigs of thyme. Scatter remaining thyme over chicken and onions. Tie legs together; tuck wing tips under body. Roast chicken on middle rack and vegetables on lower rack, occasionally brushing chicken with pan juices and occasionally tossing the vegetables, Test for doneness at about 50 minutes to 1 hour. When pierced the juices should run clear; 165 degrees on a thermometer inserted in thigh. Let chicken rest 10 to 15 minutes before carving.
If you want chickens to strut their stuff at the table--don't give them a name.