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How To Cook An Old Stewing Hen

Oxymoron? Everyone knows that old stewing hens are tough, only good for making stock. In fact, if you look through cookbooks, trying to find out what to do with a stewing hen, that is all you will probably find. But there was a time when old hens were the common thing to cook, and they can be made tender and delicious.
I have been told that people actually cook stewing hens and toss out the meat. 

Please tell me it ain’t so. 

That is a complete waste of the bones!In the past, although some roosters might have been raised for roasters, most chicken served came from retired hens

EDIT: Now that we have raised our own heritage breed birds, I’ve learned that there is a big difference between retired factory hens and free range (or even paddocked) older chickens. My two year old roosters cook up tender and delicious in about three hours. The meat is rich and delicious, but there is not much of it.
Anyway, I bought two big stewing hens last week and I finally had a chance to cook them today. Do you want to see?  Of course you do.

Aren’t they monsters? 

That’s my HUGE roaster, the one that fits monster turkeys. The weird thing about these chickens, though, was not how massive they were, but how stubby their legs were. I wonder if there was something wrong with the hens, because the legs were cut off so short.

(EDIT: Now that I have chickens, I will assume that these chickens had Bumblefoot, which is a local infection that causes swelling in the feet, or something similar.)

 Lots of poultry seasoning, dried garlic and onion powder, plus a fair amount of black pepper and a liberal squirt of lemon juice

Oh, and the neck and organs are tucked in the bottom of the pan. 

And this is … not chicken. This was our lunch. Stale bread dipped in egg/milk and fried (the Frenchie in this house forbids me to call it “French” toast), plus homemade beans. 
Do you know what? Homemade baked beans are delicious with almost anything!

Ah hah, chicken! 

After roasting at 300F for about an hour, I could lift these things by their stubby legs and shake them around. 

Not a bit of give to them. 

This is when I should mention that now, after an hour of slow roasting, there’s some nice juice forming in the bottom of the pan. Now I’m going to start basting the birds. I just use a ladle to scoop up some juice and pour it over the birds.

Two hours. There’s more and more juice. I’m basting about every thirty minutes.

At three hours, I did something weird:
I turned the birds over on their sides. Gotta get that full body tan, girls. ANOTHER hour! (Don’t pay attention to the time stamp – my camera now thinks it’s 2006) Still basting. Now that the girls are on their sides, it’s easier to reach the juice – and there’s a lot of it.
Can you SEE the broth forming? Oh, it smells so good.
For some reason, I did not take a picture of the birds flipped over on their bellies. Like I said, full body tans.

Now look at these golden girls. Beautiful, aren’t they? Tough as old shoe leather, though, and they’ve been cooking all day!

At this point, I put the lid on the roaster and put it back in the oven – at 200F now – for a couple of hours.

Cooking stewing hens is something best done on a wood stove. You can do it in a crockpot, but the skin won’t brown like this.

And now … even though my camera is terrible … what you’re looking at is fork tender, incredibly rich-tasting chicken breast. Slightly dry, yes, but the flavor wanted to kick a hole through the top of my head! At the bottom of the roaster is a whole bunch of chicken broth that looks as though I added gravy browner.  

Which I didn’t.

Tomorrow, we’re going to enjoy some chicken sandwiches for lunch. Then I’ll rip all the meat of the golden girls’ bones and see what we have.

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