Archive for Wednesday, November 12, 1997


November 12, 1997


Free-range chicken proves hazardous ... and tasty

During the five years we've lived in the country, I've learned to be on the lookout for the deer that frequently bound in front of my car. The best-traveled deer crossings are even marked with signs.

However, until I sat down to write this column, I don't think anyone had issued a warning about roadway chicken hazards.

That's right. In my rural neighborhood we have chickens, and lots of them -- red ones, white ones and even a smattering of those black-and-white ones that look rather like they've traded their feathers for tweed.

The question on my mind these days is not why a chicken crosses the road but why the entire flock heads out into the road and stops there.

This is the free-range chicken phenomenon come home to roost. Some of these roaming birds belong to farmers who have embraced the notion that it's cruel to coop chickens and unhealthy to eat the meat that results. Other roadway flocks are yard art for suburbanites who don't have hen houses and couldn't confine their poultry even if they wanted to.

As a result, I've found myself several times lately swerving my car to avoid hitting the bewildered chickens that wander aimlessly in the road near my house. On Saturday a big white one flapped its wings, floated out in front of my car and very nearly redefined the concept of chicken on the grill.

Perhaps a subliminal lust for revenge was at work when I was planning our weekend meals. Or maybe it was the knowledge that chicken goes well with rosemary that prompted me to open the freezer door and reach for the package of boneless chicken breasts.

It's true that I've been in a self-congratulatory mood since I had the presence of mind a few weeks ago to dig up a nice little rosemary bush that had spent the summer in an herb bed outside. I always mean to bring my rosemary inside when cold weather arrives, but often forget until it's too late.

Although some gardening guides claim rosemary will overwinter outdoors, it's a tender perennial in warmer climates and cannot survive the harsh cold here in Zone 5 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture map.

That's OK. I like having a pot of rosemary in the house and frequently stop to brush the plant's evergreen needles to fill the air with their warm fragrance, which has shades of eucalyptus and fir.

Even more divine is the aroma that wafts from the oven when a dish with fresh rosemary is baking. You need not grow your own to cook with fresh rosemary, as most supermarkets now stock sprigs of fresh herbs in their produce departments.

I spiced the following dish for the rosemary lover who wants aroma, not just flavor. The quantities of both the rosemary and garlic can be reduced.

Rosemary chicken and potatoes

6 boneless chicken breasts

3 cloves garlic, minced

6 medium potatoes, unpeeled and quartered

6 sprigs rosemary

2 lemons, quartered

Salt and ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat, add the minced garlic and cook for one minute, taking care not to scorch the garlic. Add the chicken breasts and cook on both sides until browned.

Lay the chicken breasts in the bottom of a small roasting pan and top each one with a sprig of rosemary. Dip each piece of potato in the remaining oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange the potato pieces on top of the chicken.

Squeeze the lemon quarters, drizzling juice over the chicken and potato pieces, and then add the pieces of lemon to the roasting pan.

Cover and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake another 15 minutes or until the potatoes begin to brown.

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