When you cook with whole chickens, it doesn’t take long to figure out that pasture-raised stewing hens, as opposed to meat birds (even those raised on pasture), have the most flavour. Their life is much longer than the 8-10 weeks of life of a chicken raised for meat (a hybrid called white rock), which means more time on pasture eating bugs and greens- giving them a delicious, full flavour. Their meat is a tougher than a meat bird (every heard the saying “tough old bird”?), so it requires a bit of stewing to soften up. That’s why most of us call them “stewing hens”! FYI: chickens are naturally insectivores and seed eaters- so while they will eat green plant material, the bulk of their diet is from insects and supplementary grains that farmers give them.
Step 1: source 2 or more stewing hens raised outdoors on organic feed. Most small organic farms have hens and sell off their older birds every year, so that’s a good place to start looking.
Step 2: Get the meat off the hen and make chicken stock. I ussually do two birds at a time, as they are typically quite small. To get the meat off the bird(s) put it in a pot of water and begin as you would to make chicken stock (add a bay leaf, onion, carrot, parsnip, celeriac, a tbsp. of vinegar to release the nutrients from the bones, no salt or spices). Then, once it all boils, turn it down to a simmer. Let it simmer for two hours then take the meat off the bird, and throw the bones and whatever else is left back in to simmer all day (or night).
Step 3: With the meat and the chicken stock you can now make this delicious recipe. This recipe is from an awesome cook-book featuring recipes of local farmers around Edmonton; “We Eat Together”
Serves 6 to 8
oil for frying
1 onion, diced
1 knuckle of fresh ginger, minced
2 or so garlic cloves, minced
Spices (can substitute curry powder and cinnamon stick if don’t have them all – also, I always add way more spice than suggested)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground tumeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 regular can of coconut milk
2 cups chicken stock
a few small apples, cored and diced
2 cups or so cooked and shredded chicken
salt and pepper
In a large fry pan, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally until tender but not browned, for about 10 minutes.
Stir in ginger root, garlic, spices (except cinnamon stick), and cook for a couple of minutes more. Transfer mixture to a food processor and blend into a paste (add a little water if needed). Transfer paste to a soup pot, turn to high heat and add coconut milk, cinnamon stick and chicken stock. Bring to a rolling boil. Turn down to low, add apple and shredded chicken and simmer until you are ready to eat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!