Pasture-Raised Ranger Chicken
What is a ranger chicken?
Ranger chickens are a hybrid meat chicken originally developed to meet the rigorous animal welfare and environmental sustainability standards of France’s Label Rouge, a national labeling program for food products. Ranger chickens differ from the standard industrial meat chicken hybrid (the Cornish cross that is in every supermarket and restaurant in the U.S) in their slower growth and more natural form. The ranger chickens are particularly well-suited to pastured production as they can move around well and make effective use of forage. The Cornish cross, on the other hand, has been intensively selected to grow very rapidly, reaching market weight at 5-6 weeks of age and to develop excessive breast meat, giving them disproportionate forms and rendering them less suitable for pastured production.
Why ranger chicken?
Because ranger chickens grow at a more natural rate and have a more natural form, they are far less susceptible to the organ and musculoskeletal problems suffered by their Cornish cross cousins due to too rapid growth and unwieldy bodies. Cornish crosses grow so rapidly, their body systems can’t keep up! Their legs often break under the weight of their bodies, and they would generally expire of organ failure in short order if not harvested for meat.
The slower growing, foraging rangers also produce meat with a firmer texture, a richer flavor, and less fatty tissue. People who find grocery store chicken to be bland and uninteresting tend to savor the ranger chicken!
The ranger chicken is the more humane choice for producers and consumers alike who wish to engage in mindful (but delicious!) eating. Our ranger chickens enjoy outdoor living on pesticide-free pasture supplemented with non-GMO, soy and corn free feed grown locally in the Willamette Valley. Our goal is to educate as many folks as we can on the realities of chicken production in hopes we can increase the demand for ethically bred and raised meat birds.
Tips for cooking your ranger chicken (credit: Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville, NJ)
Because of the ranger chicken’s healthy, outdoor lifestyle, they develop more muscle and cartilage and have less fat. Thus, extra care needs be taken during preparation and cooking to avoid a dry bird. The following tips will ensure the best outcome for your dish:
Roast the chicken breast side down: The white meat of the breast tends to be the driest. Roasting the chicken breast side down will cause the juices from the darker meat to trickle down and help keep the breast moist.
Roast at a lower temperature, for longer: 325 degrees, for about 3 hours. The skin still gets crispy and browned, but the chicken stays moist. *Oven temps vary from stove to stove, and chicken size varies. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temp of 165. Insert a cooking thermometer put into the meatiest part of the thigh to measure internal temperature*.
Seal in moisture and add humidity: Oil the chicken with olive oil to help seal in the juices. Add stock or water to the bottom of the pan or roast the bird on a bed of root vegetables. The chicken gets moisture from the vegetables as they roast, plus you’ll have a delicious side dish of chicken-roasted veggies!
Brining also works wonders! Soak the chicken in a wet brine of stock, herbs, and spices for 12 hours to 2 days before cooking (in the refrigerator of course), or use a dry brine of salt, sugar, and spices for a few hours. Remove brine and pat skin dry before roasting
Let the bird rest. Your chicken should sit for at least 20 minutes after roasting and before slicing so the juices reabsorb into the meat. This is a rule of thumb for all roasts, but critical for a ranger chicken.
Don’t forget to use the leftover chicken for the richest, most savory homemade stock you will ever taste! Place the carcass in a large stock pot with water, herbs, and spices and simmer for several hours, periodically skimming the scum from the liquid. Strain and cool. Remove the solidified fat after cooling and store in the fridge for 2-3 days or the freezer for 3 months.
A simple farmhouse recipe:
Rinse the bird and pat dry. Stuff the chicken cavity with 2-3 lemon quarters, 2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, sage and thyme, and 2-3 garlic cloves. Rub the outside of the bird with olive oil and dust with salt and white pepper.
Place the bird breast side down in a shallow roasting pan (shallow sides allow more air circulation around the chicken) on a bed of root vegetable sch as potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and parsnips. Coat the vegetables with a little olive oil and salt/pepper before placing them in the pan.
Roast uncovered until the internal temp is 165 degrees. Let bird rest for 20 minutes before slicing.