Though Herbert Hoover is often (and falsely) credited with a campaign promise to give the nation "a chicken in every pot," the phrase never sounded terribly enticing to me. Chicken was usually pretty disappointing in the flavor department.
Truthfully, when I was growing up, there wasn't much chicken around the house. After we moved off the farm, Dad thought the grocery store chickens lacked the appropriate oomph, so we ate lots more turkey than chicken.
Girl embracing chicken at the Red Hook Farm
But when I went to Paris last fall, I had a kind of chicken revelation. It seemed like every chicken dish we ate was made of magic. Every morsel was rich and robust. They tasted somehow twice as chicken-y as the chickens I'd known.
Discovering that, I ordered chicken at every opportunity. I mourned lost meals spent dining on tripe or crêpe when there could've been chicken Yes, indeed. Those were the chickens worthy of campaign promises.
After returning to the states, I considered the chicken. Why were French birds so much tastier? Not even our free-range, organic birds had the flavor of the average French chicken. On the internet, I learned that the answer could be in the breed. One internet source here in the U.S. promised to ship rich, delicious chickens just like the ones in France. I was quite tempted, but the price was dear.
So rather than ordering straight away, I procrastinated. Maybe it's for the best that I did, because last week, we were given a poultry miracle.
Crowing cock, Paris
J's butcher, Jeffrey, gave us a rooster for our pot. A full-on, head-on, feet and spurs and all rooster. It was cleaned and plucked, thank goodness, and recently. One or two tiny feathers still clinging to his flesh told us he was a black-feathered fellow.
Our dinner rooster had been killed and chilled so recently, he had a fresh scent and his skin was dry and taut, with none of the sliminess I expect from standard store-bought chickens. After a 40-minute simmer with garlic, onion, bay leaf, salt and halved tomatillos? Juicy. Rich. Delicious. Best chicken either J or I have had since Paris.
From whence this miracle bird? Well, it turns out that Jeffrey scored some kind of exclusive distributorship for the heritage chickens from Bo Bo Poultry Market a Chinese outfit that raises the birds upstate and brings them down to Brooklyn for killing, plucking and local distribution.
For years, Bo Bo sold exclusively to the Chinese market. Later on, Latino buyers got in on the action. The mainstream buyer just wasn't interested in whole, fresh-killed chickens, and most shops and distributors found it cumbersome and costly to deal with them. But these days, there's steadily building demand for local, heritage birds from chefs, locavores and food lovers, so the market for Jeffrey's tasty chickens might be ready.
Jeffrey's planning to package and sell the birds to restaurants and shops, but if you happen to be a New Yorker, you can get them directly from him. I'm convinced he's one of the friendliest people on the planet. I hope this whole thing works out for him. With chicken soup as tasty as this, a chicken in every pot seems like a mighty fine idea.
I used a recipe based on a Caldo de Pollo recipe from Rosa's New Mexican Table. Muy delicioso.
Mi Sopa de Gallo (Serves 4-6)
For the soup stock
3 quarts water
1 large onion, quartered
1-2 tomatillos, washed and halved
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
2 bay leaves
1 jalapeño, halved
1 Tbsp salt
1 bunch cilantro stems (bound with twine)
1-2 sprigs thyme
1 14oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups cooked rice (optional)
1-2 chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 cup chopped mint leaves
1 lime, cut in wedges (to garnish)
1. Rinse the chicken well and put it in a large stockpot with the water, onion, tomatillos, garlic, bay, jalapeno, salt, cilantro stems and thyme.
2. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and let the pot gently simmer, partially covered, for about 40 minutes. (Check for doneness by cutting into the thigh and peering in at the joint that connects it to the back. It should be free from any pinkness.) Skim the soup surface of any foam that may rise to the top.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and cool the chicken in the broth.
4. When cool enough to handle, move the chicken from the broth to a platter. Strain off the broth and set it aside while you strip the meat away from the bones. Chop any large pieces into manageable bites.
5. Return the meat to the broth, add in the tomatoes and cooked rice, and bring the soup back to a boil. Turn off the heat and season the soup to taste with additional salt and pepper, if desired.
6. To serve, spoon the soup into serving bowls, and garnish with green onions, cilantro, mint and lime wedges.