Tuesday, April 9, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Roasted Chicken

These hens are my 40 layers, all supervised by a 12 lb Sulmthaler rooster named Dante by Susan  Bennerstrom. We all thought that it was a hen when she named it; we didn't know what to expect from the 11 chicks we hatched from 20 eggs we bought from Arizona. Dante was gray as a youth, and since we couldn't believe we only had 3 hens out of 11 chicks, we assumed the grey ones were hens too. Turns out there are Black Sulmthalers and Grey Sulmthalers, and we did surely have 8 males and only 3 females. Not a great start to the Sulmthaler Club: In Search of the Perfect Roasted Chicken.
I first heard of these Austrian birds from an Austrian farm couple who came to the US to help introduce Mangalitsa pigs to this country. Ron Zimmerman from the Herb Farm brought them to Woodinville to teach a butcher class using a total of 5 Mangalitsas imported from Hungary by Heath Putnam and raised by Ron. PigStock 2006! This master butcher, Christophe Wisner and his wife Isabel, showed a group of us over 3 days how to "seam" butcher a hog, using only a knife and no saw. It was an amazing workshop. Anyway, after the class the Wisners came up to Lummi Island to stay with me at the Willows Inn and visit Nettles Farm, as I had a Mangalitsa and I was anxious to hear their advice on how I was raising it. It was then that they casually mentioned that they also raised Sulmthaler chickens, a rare bird that they feared might go extinct, since it took nearly a year to mature, but dressed out at 6 lbs. From that moment I could imagine the incredible eating experience such a bird must offer. Imagine, a year old and 6 lbs! Since the best birds I had had up until then were only 14 weeks old, and older means more flavor, my fantasies soared.
It was years later when my friend Ed Gulyas texted that he had found some Sulmthaler eggs for sale, but they were $25 each. We took a collection among our chicken loving friends, and everyone put up $100 to each receive, at the end of what might be 2 years, 2 wonderful, magnificent roasters. As I speak, there are 3 breeding pairs in separate chicken tractors, and 24 (make that 22- a renegade raven killed and ate 2 when I dared to let them out of their shelter) adolescents of varying age roaming one of the fields. It will be a year May 10 from the first hatch. We have eaten 4 rooster culls, at 9 months, and though they were only 4 lbs, they were tender and delicious, so I do believe we are onto something. And Dante? He is very happy, for not only does he have a harem of 40, but he is not destined for the pot. Suse made me promise.


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