Food & Drink

Where Top Southern Chefs Get Their Chicken

Roasted Grassroots Farm Chicken with Salmoriglio

photo: Michael Schalk


Brandon Chonko of Grassroots Farms in Reidsville, Georgia, likes a challenge.

Chicken, for example. Over the past few decades, a group of agricultural giants have figured out how to produce lots of it at rock-bottom prices. That’s why these days, supermarket chicken can taste like cardboard. Even leading brands that tout antibiotic-free, cage-free meat often raise their birds in crowded houses and ensure quick turnover and a lackluster product by slaughtering them after about six weeks.

Chonko, on the other hand, lets his chickens grow to full-flavored maturity on a diet rich in grass and wholesome grains. It’s unusual, and it’s why the rangy, self-taught farmer with a modest thirty-one acre spread and help only from a childhood friend supplies birds and eggs to some of the best chefs in the country. Hugh Acheson and Sean Brock are both fans.

“He’s stubborn and ornery for all the right reasons,” Acheson says. “He is an unquestionable savior of real food, a leader in sustainable animal husbandry, and a leader in the power of small farms to make a difference. His chicken tastes like real chicken should taste.”

“It’s like a Pop Warner team playing against the NFL,” Chonko says of his endeavor. “The only chance you have is winning people over one by one. The chicken corporations have done a good job with their marketing, but we actually have what they want people to think they have.”

Chonko raises pigs, sheep, and turkeys the old-fashioned way, too. It’s hard work, but his wife has been helping him since he was a landscaper with two young children and a backyard chicken coop. Not just anyone would give up a comfortable job in suburbia to chase a dream in a small town perhaps best known for its proximity to a state prison, but she did.

“You don’t realize how hard it is until you try,” Nadia Chonko says. “Like, the turkeys one year. We got hit by a storm, and maybe half of them died. The temperature has to be perfect, and the feed, and this and that. This is the hardest-working man I’ve ever seen in my life.”

When the couple has time for a date night, they drive an hour to The Florence in Savannah. There, Kyle Jacovino serves their chicken with creamy polenta, local vegetables, and a rustic parsley sauce called salmoriglio. “We pay a real cost to do this, and the people that don’t get it really don’t get it,” Chonko says. “But the people that like it really like it.”


Ingredients

    • 1 cup salt

    • 1/4 cup sugar

    • 1 tsp. fennel seeds

    • 1 tsp. coriander seeds

    • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns

    • 1 2-3 lb. chicken

    • 2 1/2 tbsp. salt

    • 1 tbsp. cracked black pepper

    • 1 lemon, zested and sliced

    • 1 orange, zested and sliced

    • 1/4 lb. butter, sliced

    • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary

    • 2 sprigs fresh thyme

    • 3 whole garlic cloves

    • Salmoriglio Sauce (recipe below)

  • Salmoriglio Sauce

    • 2 cups parsley leaves, chopped

    • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    • Zest and juice of 1 lemon

    • Pinch of red pepper flakes

    • 1 clove garlic, chopped

    • 1 tbsp. salt


Preparation

  1. For the chicken:

    Combine salt, sugar, fennel, coriander, and black peppercorns with 2 quarts of water in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and remove it from the heat. Let the brine cool to room temperature, then pour it over the chicken and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat it dry. Then rub it with salt, pepper, and citrus zest. Take half the butter slices and place them under the skin of the bird, on top of the breasts. Stuff the citrus slices, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and remaining butter into the cavity of the chicken. Roast the chicken on a rack for about 1 to 1½ hours, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F. Let it rest for 15 minutes, then quarter. Dress it with Salmoriglio Sauce and serve it with an assortment of family-style vegetables.

  3. For the Salmoriglio Sauce:

    Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk together for about 30 seconds, to help the flavors mix. Reserve for up to one day.

Recipe from chef Kyle Jacovino of The Florence in Savannah, Georgia


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