Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CHlCKEN POOP/LEG MAN

These are my newest articles for the September issue of Dominical Days

CHICKEN POOP

I’m going to share a secret with you. You can get chicken here in Costa Rica that has flavor. Yes, you can buy chicken that is not laced with hormones and chemicals, too. You just have to know where to go, and I’m here to tell you.

There are two companies that have a stranglehold on the poultry business in Costa Rica and I’m sure you, like me, have at one time or another found yourself behind one of their trucks touting the freshness of their poor tortured chickens. Those chickens may have, at some time in their miserable lives been fresh, but by the time they reach you, they are all cottony flavorless breast meat and scrawny legs and thighs.

Chickens that are mass produced to meet the demand of a busy market are forcefed and hormone primed so that the can be rushed to you in just over three weeks. This is so unnatural as to be horrifying.

A happy, grainfed chicken should take somewhere between six and eight weeks to reach a size suitable for cooking and also to develop a flavor and firmness brought on by not being penned. This is not nearly fast enough for a busy chicken “production plant” that is more concerned with stocking freezers than producing good-tasting healthy chickens.

Fortunately for those of us who are passionate about serving quality ingredients to our families and friends I have found a source for organically raised free range chickens. I am now pre-ordering and buying beautiful healthy delicious chickens through Ademar and Mauren who are at both the Uvita and San Isidro Ferias, and so can you.

And if you don’t think I’m serious about this, I visited the two of them at their finca so I could personally witness what the chickens ate and how they lived. These birds get the Chef Dave stamp of approval for health and flavor.

LEG MAN

I am a leg man. Give me a chicken and I immediately begin to scheme on a way to serve the legs; umm, love that thigh. I used to have a girlfriend who would only eat the white meat of the chicken and it drove me crazy so I devised a cooking method that even she liked.

The best way to cook a chicken leg, to my thinking, is to braise it. Yes, crisp the skin, flip it over, splash in some wine and stock and pop it in the oven for about 45 minutes until it is meltingly tender. I have won over numerous “white meat only” people with this recipe. When served over mashed potatoes, risotto, or a good rice, this is tender and delicious.

Braised Chicken Legs

Preheat oven to 400

4 Full Chicken Legs (thigh and drumstick);

½ Cup Dry White or Red Wine;

1/2 Cup Chicken Stock or broth;

3 Cloves Garlic, chopped;

1 Cup Chopped Tomatoes (or better yet, home roasted tomatoes)

Salt and pepper the chicken legs, dust them with flour and crisp them in a bit of cooking oil, skin side down in a sauté pan you can put in the oven. Take them out when the skin is crisp and pour out the oil. Return the pan to the flame and add the garlic. Pour in the wine and allow to reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes and the chicken legs, letting them settle into the liquid. Put the pan in the oven and cook for 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and remove the legs from the pan. Pour the liquid into something that can be easily skimmed and remove the fat from the top. To serve, return the chicken and the sauce to the pan and put them back in the oven for ten minutes.

6 comments:

Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me


This words below are from our website describing La Cusinga.  The story, however is much deeper and much richer than these introductory words can describe.  La Cusinga represents a noble and successful effort to preserve this section of unspoiled coast and to keep it alive as a model of what true ecology can accomplish.  The dreams and visions of John Tresemer, the owner of La Cusinga and the Finca Tres Hermanas that surrounds it, have been realized here in what is a true example for all who would preserve and protect what remains of this, or any natural wonder. 

La Cusinga 
La Cusinga Lodge is a coastal rainforest eco lodge dedicated to marine and terrestrial conservation and environmental education. Its location on the southern Pacific coast provides guests with sweeping ocean views and a relaxing beach vacation. In addition La Cusinga is part of a private nature reserve that supplies the visitor with an unparalleled look at Costa Rican wildlife and rainforest. The reserve consists primarily of 250 hectares of virgin rainforest that borders thousands of more acres of privately protected forest. On Costa Rica’s still wild south-western Pacific coast, La Cusinga Lodge borders Ballena Marine National Park which was developed to protect the humpback whales that frequent the coast. La Cusinga Lodge was established in order to share the unique site with Costa Ricans as well as international visitors. Besides getting exposure to rural Costa Rican culture and beautiful vistas, visitors have access to highly prolific areas of primary tropical rainforest and unspoiled coast, all conveniently accessible. 

i returned to La Cusinga this past January, 2009, with a dream in mind.  I wanted to create a cuisine for our guests that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here.  I knew from having previously lived in Costa Rica for over two years that there were organic farmers and that sustainable agriculture was being practiced, but at that time it had been limited in its scope as well as its distribution.  

My first steps upon returning were toward the local Feria to seek out and communicate my ideas with the growers and vendors who could provide me with a local, organic and sustainable product.  The fertile valleys of San Isidro that lie over the coastal mountains and to the Northeast of our Pacific location are rich and productive but are only now exploring the potential that they hold.  

I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would recreate (or perhaps, create) a new cuisine of Coastal Costa Rica.  I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the  relationships that I believe will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level
.
Organic farming is a new and not heavily supported concept in our part of Costa Rica.  It is a brave step for farmers to make, as local communities of both growers and consumers have never placed, or not known to place, an importance on farming organically and sustainably.  I feel a responsibility as a Chef here to be at the forefront of those encouraging and supporting these pioneers  

I came to La Cusinga almost three years ago not knowing what to expect.  My first time through here was characterized by a lack of understanding and appreciation on my part as well as an inability to recognize or connect with the local "flavor" that would make for a coherent package for out guests.  I now feel as if I have made a "connect" with the property and the vision.  I am not completely satisfied and hopefully, never will be, until we are able to produce, right here at La Cusinga, the greater share of the produce we serve.  However, the groundwork has been laid with local farmers and the availability and quality of organic produce is impressive.

Now at La Cusinga I serve a variety of organic lettuces and braising greens.  My salads include wedges or slices of rich red tomatoes as well as sweet !00 and yellow pear cherry tomatoes.  I roast organic beets and marinate them in balsamic vinegar to be served alongside the lettuces and topped with a locally made organic goat cheese.

My soups are made from roasted and steamed local organic vegetables and tiny organic yellow creamer potatoes have found their way onto my plates, nestled against filets of locally caught fish.
I am now using a local organic cocoa powder that still contains the nuggets of cocoa butter unlike the fined cocoa powder in the markets.

And better still, I am able to use palmito (hearts of palm), ginger, cilantro and its sawtooth leafed cousin culantro coyote, mangoes, hot and sweet chiles, mandarina limes and yucca root from our own Finca Tres Hermanas to serve in my dining room at La Cusinga.   The connection from jungle and farm to table is evolving.  May it continue to grow.