Raindrops on roses & crisp skin on chicken

Chickens wandering around at Dutch Barn Farms in Palatine.

Another one of my favorite things, in an occasional series …

Yesterday’s rant on chicken packaging and wasted money reminded me of the best chicken I ever cooked for camp guests. It wasn’t from Price Chopper, Giant Foodservice Purveyor or even the neighborhood meat shop. It was from 25 miles down the road in Palatine, in Montgomery County’s farm country, at a little place called Dutch Barn Farm.

Fifteen of these beauties were roasted in our convection oven, then ripped apart by bare (sorry, gloved) hands. The crispy skin, redolent of salt, freshly cracked black pepper and thyme, was a snack for the kitchen crew. The rest was turned into a luscious chicken and biscuits entree for about 200, married by a creamy sauce brought together with about 10 pounds of local cheddar cheese.

But the hunt was the best part. We committed ourselves at camp to making one of our smorgasbords entirely local and ended up using 21 sources, including local dairy, vegetable, meat and honey farms and a premium ice cream maker. Nothing came from more than 25 miles away.

So in our search, it was a thrill to meet Judy St. Leger and Mark Kratzschmar, who provided us with the chickens — several of which had been wandering their yard the day earlier. While not technically organic, they’re raised outside of cages — and fences, most of the time — on an entirely natural diet, with no antibiotics, and slaughtered a few feet from their home.

They rang out with freshness, with a pronounced bite to the crispy skin and a clean, deep flavor. Frank Purdue does not make this kind of chicken.

For this, of course, you will pay, and each bird worked out to about $20, which is a substantial premium over what you’d pay in the supermarket. But even if you’re on a budget and cannot afford to eat local, once in a while, the splurge is worth it.

Worth noting: Dutch Barn Farm also raises sheep and and grows hops.

We’ll be serving our all-local smorgasbord again in August, with a new menu and new farm partners. If you have suggestions for where we should be looking, please let us know.

Other favorite things:

Patriot Pickles from Paterson, N.J.

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