Food & Drink: June 2024

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Battle of the Chickens

On our media junket to San Antonio last year — which we wrote about in the August 2023 issue of this magazine — we were provided a tour of the Alamo. Our group of reporters, photographers and bloggers was accompanied by Emily Baucum, the public relations manager of the Alamo. Emily and I swapped business cards, and we worked out a time where she could spend a couple of days talking to students and visiting classes in the Baylor Department of Journalism, Public Relations & New Media.

We hosted dinner at our house on one of the nights she was in Waco, and also invited Melissa and Stephen Sloan and Ann and Sha Towers. We served roasted chicken with lemons, potatoes and onions; roasted broccoli; and a chopped salad. The meal was a big hit. In fact, Sha told us as he was leaving that it was the best chicken that he had ever eaten.

Abby roasted the chicken using the spatchcock method, which involves removing the backbone and flattening the bird. It also ensures the chicken is cooked evenly. She then used an overnight dry brine to tenderize the meat as well as enhance the flavor and crisp up the skin.

When shopping for the chickens that we had that night, Abby picked out a couple of whole chickens, which cost around $7 each. Just down from those birds were chickens that were described as “organic air-chilled young chicken.” They were about $21 each.

As chickens are being processed, they must be chilled to a certain temperature to ensure that they’re safe to eat. Traditional processing involves quickly dipping the chicken in cold water to bring the temperature of the bird down. The chickens can absorb some of the water, however, which can water down the bird’s natural juices.

Air-cooled chickens are placed in a temperature-controlled environment and then cooled with chilled purified air. Chickens can actually lose a small amount of water during the process, which makes for a crispier roasted chicken. Air chilling takes about three hours. Time is money, as the saying goes, so since air chilling increases how long it takes to process the chicken, the price is increased accordingly.

Is an air-chilled chicken worth three times the price of a regular chicken? Will it taste three times better? It was time for a taste test.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, we bought two chickens, one of each variety. The air-chilled one cost $19.82. The other one was $7.45.

Abby prepared the birds the same way. She removed the backbones — and saved them in a plastic bag in the freezer to use to make chicken stock — and flattened the chickens onto a baking sheet. She tied some kitchen twine into a bow on the leg of the air-chilled chicken so we could tell them apart. She then sprinkled a liberal amount of salt over them and placed the pan, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight.

The next afternoon, Abby brushed about a tablespoon of olive oil over the top of each chicken and then sprinkled on a bit more salt to ensure crispy skin. She roasted them at 400 degrees for about 50 to 60 minutes. Chicken is done when the thickest part of the breast registers 160-165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

On this night, we served the chicken with mashed potatoes; zucchini sauteed with garlic; and homemade beer bread.

So. The big moment was upon us. Abby cut apart each chicken and sliced off some of the breast meat for her. I had a leg from each of the birds. And we tasted. So, was there a difference?

Eh. A bit. The breast of the air-chilled chicken was a bit more tender than the other bird, but there wasn’t much difference in flavor. The air-chilled leg I ate was definitely more flavorful.

I managed to finish both legs, by the way.

Was there enough of a difference to justify the difference in cost? Not for us. Prepared properly, the less expensive chicken will suffice for pretty much any meal we’ll ever make. After all, if it’s good enough for Sha, it’s good enough for us.

If you have any roasted chicken left over, we’ve included a recipe for a sandwich that is kind of like a Mexican torta, but with our twist on it. And since summer is upon us, here is also a lemonade recipe that is neither too sweet nor too tart. It’s perfectly refreshing for whiling away a summer night on the front porch.

The Recipes

Salt-Brined Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided (Make sure you use kosher salt and not table salt)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Prepare the chicken the day before cooking. If you’re using the spatchcock method, remove the backbone of the chicken, and flatten the bird onto a baking sheet fitted with a rack. Use a paper towel to remove any excess liquid from the chicken.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of kosher salt over both sides of the chicken and rub in thoroughly. Place the uncovered pan into the refrigerator. Let chill overnight.

To bake the bird, heat the oven to 400. In a small bowl, mix together 1 teaspoon kosher salt, pepper and lemon zest.

Brush the chicken with olive oil, then sprinkle on the lemon zest mixture. Bake for 45 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 425. Continue baking until the skin is brown and crispy and the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast is 160-165 on an instant-read thermometer.

Let the chicken rest 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Makes about 6 servings.

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Sorta Torta

  • 1 sandwich roll, or bread of your choice (it needs to be pretty hearty to stand up to all the ingredients)
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • Leftover roasted chicken, shredded (however much you want on one sandwich)
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Peruvian Green Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Feta cheese

Split the sandwich roll in half and spread the mayonnaise evenly over both pieces of bread. Toast, mayonnaise side down, in a hot skillet until golden brown. Remove and set aside.

Add the chicken to the hot skillet. Heat until golden and crispy.

To make the sandwich, place the lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and chicken on one piece of the bread. Drizzle with the green sauce and top with a sprinkle of feta. Makes 1 sandwich.

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Peruvian Green Sauce

  • 3 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine all the ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor. Pulse, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until fully mixed.

With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Makes about 1 cup.

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Lemon Shake-Up

  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • Mint leaves, optional
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups ice

Place the lemon, sugar, vanilla and mint (if using) in a quart-sized jar with a lid. Shake well for 30 seconds or until well-mixed.

Muddle together the lemon, sugar and mint, making sure to break up most of the lemon slices. Add the water and ice and shake again to mix well.
Makes 1 drink.

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