BACKYARD CHICKENS 101
If you’re thinking about getting some chickens, read on.
• Have a well-thought-out plan for your birds’ housing and care. Do your research. For classes in chicken keeping, check out feed stores such as the Feed Bin in Santa Fe (feedbinsantafe.com) or organizations specializing in sustainability and back-to-the-land activities, like Old School (abqoldschool.com) and the Gutierrez-Hubbell House
(gutierrezhubbellhouse.org) in Albuquerque, or Home Grown New Mexico
(home grownnewmexico.org) in Santa Fe.
• Make sure to familiarize yourself with any ordinances in your area that could affect your intentions, such as whether chickens, or a rooster, are allowed. (You don’t need a rooster for the ladies to lay eggs.)
• If you are interested in checking out chicken care but are reluctant to commit, contact Renegade Rent-a-Coop in Albuquerque, which will let you try out a coop and some birds. (505) 249-1700; on Facebook
• Feed stores and farmers who bring eggs to area farmers’ markets are good sources for chicks or older chickens. So is the delightful Edgewood Poultry Swap, which takes over the lot of the Edgewood Feed & Mercantile, at 92 Church Street, the last Saturday of each month from spring through fall, 9 a.m.–noon. edgewoodfeed.weebly.com
• Home Grown New Mexico will sponsor its fifth Santa Fe–area Kitchen Garden & Coop Tour on Sunday, July 26, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can learn about various methods for housing birds, breeds to consider, whether to commit to organic feed, and the work involved.
I have six little feathered pets who make my breakfast eggs.
Like a lot of other New Mexicans, I was seduced by the backyard chickens movement of the past decade. Raising chicks from peeping fuzzballs to finely feathered, egg-producing pullets gives me the emotional joy that comes from caring for a pet, plus an edible gift that keeps on giving. Small-scale, humanely tended chickens offer eggs with whites as silky as heavy cream and custard-rich, blazing-yellow yolks. My girls—from breeds including Ameraucana, Silver Lace Wyandotte, Light Sussex, French Coucou, and Copper Marans—offer eggs in a Martha Stewart palette of pink, blue, sage, tan, brown, and chocolate shells.
For truly superior eggs, if you don’t raise your own, you need a good supplier: a grower who field-grazes his flock and raises them with sustainable practices (eschewing growth hormones and antibiotics). They range from solo farmers like genial Ken the Egg Man, who sells his Abiquiú-raised KJ Farm eggs at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, to Beneficial Farms, a cooperative of some 30 small farms. Co-op founder Steve Warshawer says Beneficial is committed to reestablishing viable small-flock egg production from heritage breeds throughout the southern Rockies. Steve and his wife, Colleen, raise their chickens in the Glorieta area, where their biodynamic Mesa Top Farm is completely off the grid. As a supplement to the chickens’ free-range hunting and pecking, much of their diet comes from regional seeds and grains, among them leftover millings from the Northern New Mexico Organic Wheat Project.
KJ Farm eggs are available at the year-round Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. The Beneficial group sells at farmers’ markets statewide, at La Montañita Co-ops in the Albuquerque area, Santa Fe, and Gallup, the Los Alamos Cooperative Market, Whole Foods, and elsewhere. La Montañita in Santa Fe also currently offers eggs from La Cienega–based Rancho Pajaro Blanco and striking pastel eggs from the flocks of Araucana ladies at Blue Eggs Ranch, in the high desert near Stanley. Delta G Ranch in Tijeras supplies its colorful eggs to Los Alamos Cooperative Market. Down at the Silver City Food Co-op, Lee Ann Miller supplies brown and blue eggs.
It’s a bit more challenging to find New Mexico–raised chicken, but well worth the search. Llanobilly Ranch, in the high country near Vadito, sells its eggs and meat chickens at the Taos Farmers Market (llanobilly.com). Socorro-based Pollo Real, certified back in 1996 as the first organic pasture-grazed poultry farm in the nation, offers whole chickens and chicken parts at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market (polloreal.com). I especially love their plump French Label Rouge chickens for roasting.
New Mexico chicken and eggs will cost you more than the factory-raised stuff. Compared with other protein sources, though, the cost is still, well, chicken feed.
THERE’S NOTHING PALTRY ABOUT POULTRY
America’s national bird is an eagle, but the bird that has truly underpinned American culture is the chicken. Before chickens came over on the Mayflower, Don Juan de Oñate’s 1598 wagon caravan of permanent New Mexican settlers brought plenty of chickens. Women in our state and beyond have long kept a few chickens for “egg money.” The New Buffalo Commune residents understood the same principle when they famously went back to the land in Arroyo Hondo in the era of the Summer of Love, cultivating chickens and distributing eggs to nearby towns.
With the coming of spring, we think of renewal, rebirth, resurrection. The egg and chicken are symbols of new life. For Easter (April 5 this year), we suggest you put together a basket of eggs that require no dyeing, and relish seasonal meals featuring local eggs and high-quality chicken.
ROAST CHICKEN, GRANDE Y GORDITA
A roast chicken, burnished and fragrant from a hot oven, is among the dishes every cook should master. I found the original version of this recipe in a Spanish-language cookbook some years ago. I chuckled at the reference to the bird as “big and fat” in the recipe’s title. Over time, the recipe evolved, but I have kept the name, which sounds more charming in Spanish than in English. I prefer to season the chicken a full day ahead of when I plan to roast it. However, even an hour of soaking up the salt will help the flavor, as will starting with premier poultry: certified organic or sustainably field-grazed. For a spring-like presentation, serve it over watercress or a salad of other tangy greens. I recommend that you save the carcass to make broth for other dishes.
- 4 to 41⁄2-pound whole chicken, giblets and neck removed
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground dried New Mexican red chile
- 1⁄4 teaspoon ground canela (Mexican cinnamon) or other cinnamon
- 1 tangerine or 1 small orange, quartered (peel on)
- 1⁄2 medium onion, chunked
- 1 whole head garlic, sliced through the center horizontally
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1⁄2 cup orange or tangerine juice
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
At least 1 hour and up to the night before you plan to roast the chicken, pat it dry and slip your fingers under chicken’s skin to loosen it. Try to avoid tearing skin as you pull it away from flesh to make a pocket for seasoning. Rub chicken well with salt inside, under skin and over skin. Combine chile and canela and rub under skin. Cover chicken and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 425° F. Oil rack of a small roasting pan.
Remove chicken from refrigerator. Stuff cavity with tangerine, onion, and garlic. Rub butter thickly all over chicken skin. Tie legs with kitchen string and tuck wings under body. Place chicken breast side up on rack in pan, pour stock in bottom of pan, and roast for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° F. Baste chicken with pan juices and continue roasting (without basting) for approximately 45 more minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted deep into an inner thigh reaches 165° F.
Drain juice from chicken’s cavity into roasting pan and spoon out tangerine, onion, and garlic pieces. Discard tangerine. Pour all pan juices plus onion and garlic into a blender. Add lime juice. Puree mixture, then strain into a gravy boat or small bowl. Adjust seasoning. Serve chicken on a platter accompanied by pan juices. Adapted from The Border Cookbook: Spirited Recipes from the American Southwest and Northern Mexico, © 1994 by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press)
POACHED EGGS WITH QUELITES
Pair poached eggs with a springtime New Mexican favorite, quelites, a term in Spanish for tender greens and used here locally to refer to lamb’s-quarters, a foraged green with a distinctive spiky leaf on gangly stems. (Never forage anything you can’t positively identify.) You see quelites popping up at farmers’ markets throughout the spring, but plenty of cooks simply substitute spinach these days. Many native New Mexicans think of quelites with pinto beans as a classic meatless Lenten dish. Serve some creamy whole pintos on the side or mix them into the cooked quelites mixture.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or bacon drippings
- 1/3 cup minced onion
- 1 teaspoon crushed dried New Mexican chile, with some seeds included
- 2 pounds fresh lamb’s-quarter leaves or spinach leaves, still damp from cleaning, or 1 pound thawed frozen spinach
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 4 large or extra-large eggs
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Warm oil over medium heat in a high-sided skillet or Dutch oven. Stir in onion and sauté several minutes, until translucent. Stir in chile and cook for 30 seconds. Add lamb’s-quarters or spinach. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for about 5 minutes, until greens are well wilted but still deep green. Add salt and cook uncovered for several minutes more, reducing any accumulated liquid. Cover to keep warm.
Poach eggs. Fill a broad saucepan with about 2 inches of water, pour in vinegar, and bring to a boil. Break each egg into a cup or ramekin. Reduce heat to a bare simmer, then slip eggs into water. Simmer eggs gently for about 30 seconds, then turn off heat and cover for 2 minutes. Peek to assess doneness, and if you wish, cover again and let stand for up to another minute. When done, remove with a slotted spoon and place on sections of paper towels to drain. Trim off any ragged edges. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Putting it together:
Immediately spoon quelites onto plates or shallow bowls. Use paper towel to support each egg and nudge each over a portion of quelites. Serve right away. Adapted from Tasting New Mexico, ©2012 by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Museum of New Mexico Press)
GREEN CHILE CHICKEN PIE
Many cafés throughout the state lace this American classic generously with local green chile. Most commercial establishments make single-portion versions of the pie by topping a small dish of filling with a piece of frozen puff pastry. This recipe provides a generous pie plate’s worth of creamy chicken and vegetables sandwiched between top and bottom crusts, with chicken broth boosting the dough’s flavor. Serve wedges with a tangle of mixed spring lettuces on the side.
Serves 6 as a main dish
- 1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled
- 2 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1⁄4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled (such as Spectrum Naturals Organic)
- 6 to 8 tablespoons chicken broth (preferably low-sodium)
- 1⁄4 cup (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 cups chicken broth (preferably low-sodium)
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
- 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt or more to taste
- 1 3⁄4 pounds bone-in chicken parts, such as breasts, thighs, or a combination
- 1⁄2 pound red waxy potatoes, peeled if you wish, and diced
- 1 1⁄2 cups diced carrots
- 1 cup pearl onions, peeled, trimmed, and halved through the stem end
- 3⁄4 cup chopped roasted New Mexican green chile
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1⁄4 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1⁄2 cup half-and-half
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
Prepare dough for crust, first cutting butter into quarters lengthwise and then into small squares. Pulse flour and salt together in a food processor. Scatter pieces of butter over mixture and quickly pulse several times just to submerge them in flour. Add shortening in small spoonfuls, scatter them over flour-butter mixture, and pulse again quickly several more times until they disappear into flour too. Dump dough into a large bowl, sprinkle 4 tablespoons of stock over it, and lightly combine with your fingers. Add more stock, 1 tablespoon at a time, rubbing dough in your fingers until it holds together when pressed with your fingers. Divide dough in half and lightly pat each half into a fat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare filling, first melting butter in a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until very soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Pour in broth, add thyme, pepper, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, and chicken. Bring broth just to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover pot. Cook covered for about 15 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked through. Remove chicken with tongs and set aside until cool enough to handle. Add to broth the potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, and green chile. Cover again and continue cooking over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
Roll out pie dough into 2 thin crusts an inch or 2 larger than a 9-inch pie plate. Arrange bottom crust in pie pan and refrigerate it and the other crust for at least 15 more minutes.
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Meanwhile, slice chicken into small cubes. In a small bowl, mix together flour with dry mustard and stir in half-and-half. Pour mixture into vegetables and simmer uncovered briefly until thickened. Stir in chicken and more salt if needed.
Pour hot filling into chilled bottom crust, mounding it up in the center. Arrange other crust over filling and crimp edges neatly. Cut several steam vents in top crust and brush with egg white. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° F and continue baking for about 30 additional minutes, until crust is golden brown and flaky. Let pie sit for about 15 minutes before slicing into wedges. Serve hot. Adapted from American Home Cooking, © 1999 by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (HarperCollins Publishers)
CRUNCHY FRENCH TOAST
Back in the days of elegant railroad dining, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe line served a version of this dish. It’s a winner on Easter morning, served with crisp bacon or sage-scented breakfast sausage and fresh-squeezed juice.
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk or almond milk
- 1⁄2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
- Eight 3⁄4- to 1-inch-thick slices challah (about 1 loaf) or good white bread
- 2 heaping cups cornflakes, crumbled to about half their original size
- Unsalted butter for pan-frying
- 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar, optional
- Softened unsalted butter and real maple syrup or dulce de leche, warmed
Preheat the oven to 325° F. Butter a baking sheet.
Whisk eggs, milk, cream, vanilla, and salt in a shallow dish or bowl. Dunk bread slices into egg mixture and soak them a few minutes on each side, turning as needed to coat evenly. Pour cornflakes on a plate or in another shallow dish. Press each slice of bread lightly into cornflakes, coating both sides.
Warm about 2 tablespoons butter on a griddle or in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Briefly cook French toast in batches until golden brown and lightly crisp, turning once. If you wish, lightly sprinkle slices with sugar. Transfer slices to baking sheet and keep them warm in oven. Continue cooking remaining slices, adding butter as needed.
When all French toast is ready, serve hot, topped with softened butter and maple syrup or dulce de leche. Adapted from A Real American Breakfast, © 2002 by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (HarperCollins Publishers)
When it comes to New Mexican egg-based desserts, natillas could be called flan’s lesser-known cousin, a bit less showy but just as satisfying. Puffs of meringue peek out of natillas, velvety icebergs in a smooth sea of vanilla pudding. I love to spoon it into a piping-hot sopaipilla.
Serves 6 to 8
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 quart half-and-half
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 3⁄4 cup sugar (divided use)
- 2 tablespoons aniseed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
- Dash of salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Spoon cornstarch into a heavy saucepan. Whisk in half-and-half, egg yolks, 1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, aniseed, and salt. Place saucepan over medium-low heat. Switch from whisk to a large spoon and stir mixture more or less continually until it thickens enough to coat back of spoon, 15 to 20 minutes. Do not let custard boil. Stir in vanilla and remove from heat.
Strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve. Let custard sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until no more steam rises. Cover and refrigerate custard for at least 2 hours to set up further.
Shortly before serving, beat egg whites and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Fold beaten egg whites into custard, leaving whites a bit peaky in spots. Serve right away. Adapted from The Border Cookbook: Spirited Recipes from the American Southwest and Northern Mexico, © 1994 by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press)
Cheryl Alters Jamison is New Mexico Magazine’s contributing culinary editor. See more of Douglas Merriam’s photography at douglasmerriam.com.