Chicken is one of the most popular animals to raise because of the rapid rate of maturity and the low amount of feed required to get them ready for slaughter. Most broiler chickens are bred for fast growth and quick turnaround, meaning they are ready for the butcher in as little as five weeks. That makes life a little easier for the farmer, but it’s possible the consumer is getting short changed when it comes to taste. But the Red Ranger chicken breed—which is a bit of a slow grower—takes about twelve weeks to reach maturity. Red Rangers are stronger foragers, and because they live outside on pasture and are given more time to graze, they have a more developed, rich flavor. I recently tried one raised by Grass Roots, and I don’t know that I have ever tasted a more delicious chicken.

So what do you do with a small, whole bird? Roast it! Doing so makes the perfect family dinner. Or, really, it works for any small group meal. The serving size is ideal, and it doesn’t take long to cook, meaning a family on the go can still eat a wholesome, home-cooked meal on a weeknight without a whole lot of effort. Chicken is extremely versatile, as well, taking to many different techniques and flavors. There are so many different dish possibilities, so you can transform the family dinner table from week to week.

The most popular cut of the bird on restaurant menus is the chicken breast. The breast is easy enough to cook, it looks nice on a plate, and many patrons really love the white meat. But breasts can dry out fairly quickly, especially when they are taken off of the bone, as they frequently are in many professional kitchens.

My personal favorite cut of chicken is easily the thigh. The thigh is one of the most active muscles on the bird, which means it carries a ton of flavor. One of the most noticeable characteristics of the Red Ranger is that the thighs are much bigger in proportion to the breasts, which makes the Ranger my favorite bird to cook and to eat.

Red Ranger above a conventional chicken. Note the larger legs and thigh.

Because thighs can take a bit longer to cook, they get a bad rap. The thigh is usually reason that the breast dries out while roasting a whole bird, because the breast will most always finish cooking before the thighs. But, there lots of ways to overcome this problem. Quartering the bird is the first fix I would suggest.

How to Quarter a Chicken

  1. Place the bird on a cutting board breasts up.
  2. With a sharp boning knife, cut the loose skin between the breast and leg.
  3. Gently push the legs back towards the cutting board until you feel the thigh joint pop.
  4. Now flip the bird breast down onto the cutting board. Using the knife tip, begin the cut where the thigh meets the torso and remove the leg.
  5. Repeat for the other leg.
  6. Then, using a pair of poultry or kitchen shears, cut along the spine up through the rib cage, to the wing joint.
  7. Separate the wing and breast from the back bone and repeat for the other side. Don’t throw out the backbone! It can be used for a quick and easy chicken stock.
  8. Take the boning knife and separate the two breasts down the middle, cutting through the breast plate. You have now successfully separated the white and dark meat!

Proceed to cooking the quarters in the same manner as a whole bird, but keep in mind that the smaller cuts of poultry will not take quite as long to cook. If the cook time gets away from you and the bird is just a little dry, there is always gravy! Want to know the secrets to great gravy? I will gladly share them with you. Next time…