This isn’t so much a post about how to roast a chicken, though I will say how I go about it: it’s more of a post about how living in the countryside has brought me closer to farmers and food producers and the impact it’s had upon how I shop and cook. This proximity, and the friendliness and welcome of these hard working families, has made me more interested in the food I buy, cook and feed to my children. It has made me want to see where the meat comes from; to see how the animals live; and to build relationships with the people responsible for them.
This is the first of two posts about the people that I have met since moving to our village, and a bigger step into blogging about something other than baking. I have previously touched upon enjoying the fruits of our new garden (rhubarb, apples, blackberries and plums) and our local hedgerows (namely my foray into Elderflower Cordial production and its use in my Elderflower and Strawberry summer celebration cake) so it is no surprise that I have embraced other local produce.
I knew of St Brides Poultry through friends in the restaurant industry. Their slowly grown and completely free range chickens, guinea fowl and turkeys are sought after by some of the UK’s best chefs and feature on the menu of Michelin star restaurants, including Restaurant Andrew Fairlie in Gleneagles, Perthshire. As it happens, the farm is only a few miles from our new home in Stonehouse, Lanarkshire. Although they mostly supply to restaurants, Aj and Robert give locals a chance to buy their birds once a month, and the opportunity to order turkeys for Christmas each year.
I was very keen to try their chicken, but I also wanted to visit the farm to see the birds and to find out how their farming methods differed from the ghastly mass farming methods as highlighted by the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in recent years.
I got in touch with AJ and asked if I could have a quick visit. She immediately said yes and we arranged a suitable time. I went off with shortbread in hand as a way of thanks for taking the time to show around someone who was a very keen but amateur cook.
Both AJ and Robert gave me a very warm welcome, inviting me in for coffee before heading out to the see the farm itself. They explained their background in sourcing and selling luxury and quality produce for the industry before deciding to set up the farm to focus on rearing slowly grown, one hundred percent free range, and carefully cared for poultry.
I think Robert does a far better job explaining what they are all about in this short video. You can see and hear their passion and commitment.
As for our Sunday roast, well, let’s just say the kids and I all thought it was the best roast chicken we had ever tasted.
I inserted a split clove of garlic and some butter under the skin of each breast, slathered on some more butter and sea salt and whacked it in the oven, upside down (like my Grandma used to do, and, incidentally, how Aj recommends you roast their chickens), at 200C for about 20 minutes, then turned it down to 180C for a further 40 minutes. During cooking I basted it with the butter and juices, and turned it breast up for the last 20 minutes to ensure a good crisp skin and juicy meat throughout. I also allowed the roasted chicken to rest for about 15 minutes, covered in foil, whilst I used the cooking juices and the water from the vegetables to make a gravy.
I served the chicken with some roasted potatoes and celeriac, and some rainbow carrots. I wanted to keep things simple so that we would focus on the taste of the chicken.
After dinner I boiled the carcass and made the most flavoursome and delicious chicken soup. What surprised me most was how gelatinous the chicken stock was, and how much it actually tasted of chicken. Supermarket chickens don’t make stock that taste of anything. AJ explained that because their birds are allowed to grow slowly and mature, slaughtered weeks later than mass produced chickens, they have time to develop not only an amazing taste but some bone marrow.
A chicken from St Brides Poultry will cost you about £10 and is a few pounds more expensive than a supermarket bird, but, my goodness, do you taste the difference. Personally, I think it is worth every penny. I also think that when food tastes this good, you are happy to eat perhaps a slightly smaller portion but savour the taste even more.
Furthermore, it was so very lovely to meet Robert and AJ. Theirs is a risky and very hard way to make a living, but they do it because they have a passion for excellent produce and want to rear the best tasting poultry in the UK. I hope that they continue to grow in the direction that they need to (you can find out more about their new Crowdfunded Campaign).
And for clarity, all of this does not mean that I don’t use a supermarket. I have three growing children to feed, and the supermarket offers the choice and affordability that most people rely on these days. But, building these friendship and making the choice to spent a few extra pounds on quality and ethically reared meat and fresh produce (that is also local) when I can, is so rewarding on many levels. Maybe one day, my bread and cakes will be part of this thriving local food producer economy and community.