Things didn’t end well for Nutmeg. Nutmeg did her job well while she was here. She provided my family sustenance in the form of double-yolked eggs, which ultimately led to her demise, for a few short months and a week’s worth of dinner after she left this world. Chris, God bless him, processed her and I cooked her. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I had a hard time coming to terms with this chicken’s fate.
I’ve slaughtered chickens before. It was a nice arrangement, really: for $10 a bird, a woman raised the chickens with the agreement that everyone who bought-in would participate on slaughtering day. Everyone had a role in processing. I was eager to learn each step and jumped from station to station. Except the killing station (because I’m me). Chris and I are considering doing something similar here in Maine. Why? Because if last week’s ordeal with my chickens has taught me anything, it’s that I need to be more involved with the food I eat.
These types of posts can seem a little preachy and this is not a pulpit, so I will leave the lectures to the experts, the Pollans and Bittmans of the world who have talked frequently and written the books about the dilemma of meat-eaters.
From my personal experience, though, I can tell you that I was distraught at the thought of eating a chicken I raised. I was freaked out seeing her as anything other than a cagey hen with her black-outlined auburn feathers and fluffy tushe. Why? Because like the majority of Americans, I get my chicken in the grocery store, processed and ready to go. Sometimes they don’t have skin. Sometimes they don’t have bones, much less feathers or heads or anything that makes them resemble an animal. This feels wrong to me. It feels disrespectful. It feels like buying local, organic isn’t the only way to eat meat responsibly.
Keeping righteousness, respect, and responsibility in mind, I wanted to use a recipe that was sure to hit a home run. I settled on nostalgia–on comfort food: chicken and rice a.k.a. a bog in Eastern-North Carolina lingo. Growing up, my folks would make this dish once a week. In the photo, it looks more like a chicken and rice soup, but the longer it sits, the more the rice soaks up the broth until it’s smack-dab in the middle of the rice scale, somewhere between congee and al dente. Also, like most things, the longer it sits, the more flavorful it gets. I’d recommend letting it sit overnight before serving.
The Old Fashioned Chicken and Rice Cast:
- A plump, or not so plump, whole chicken
- Fragrant rice
- Perfectly spicy Black Pepper
I used Vivian Howard’s recipe from Deep Run Roots, hers not dissimilar to recipes you find in vintage southern cookbooks (like the one pictured below from Old Carolina Tobacco Country Cookbook). Both have 5 simple ingredients: chicken, water, salt, rice and lots of black pepper.
Vivian recommends cooking with an old laying hen “past her egg-dropping days”. Though Nutmeg was young, she did require hours of stewing. As in 4 hours. If you use a young/grocery-bought hen, it will likely take a little over an hour. You can garnish with herbs if you’d like but I think it’s simplicity is what makes it so delightful. And there’s no shying away from that rich, chicken flavor with so few ingredients.
- 1 whole chicken (see headnote)
- Enough water to cover bird
- 2 Tbsp. salt
- 2-3 tsp. black pepper
- 2 cups of rice, unrinsed
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, optional
- Place the chicken, breast side up, in an 8 quart heavy bottom dutch oven or pot. Cover the chicken, just enough, with cool water. Add salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until the chicken is falling apart, 1-4 hours depending on the type of chicken you're using.
- Once falling apart, turn off the heat and let sit the chicken and broth rest for 30 minutes.
- Remove chicken from pot. Once cooled enough to handle, tear meat into medium sized pieces. Discard skin and bones. Add meat back to the broth.
- Add unrinsed rice to pot. Bring broth back up to a simmer. Cook rice for about 15 minutes or until it's cooked through. It should still hold its shape. Turn off heat.
- Add more freshly ground pepper and add lemon juice if using.
- I recommend letting the chicken and rice sit at least 2 hours in the fridge (best if it can sit overnight), or until the rice has absorbed much of the liquid. Or you can serve immediately.