Clabber Fed Chickens, Maine, Mitra Luick, New Sharon, Maine, ME, Clabber, Whey, Curdled Milk, Cow Helen, Erik Desjarlais, Evangeline, Perfect Roast Chicken, What is the perfect chicken to use for roast chicken


The sweet, pure smell of simplicity is in the air, and I, for one, am overwhelmed with joy. Italy, the motherland of simple, is publicly denouncing molecular gastronomic technique. We are back to Carlo Petrini and friends arming themselves with penne pasta at the Spanish Steps in Rome. In 1986 it was in defiance of McDonalds. These days it is in defiance of McBulli. The term “foam” is going away. Making things into a sphere is no longer chic, and putting three perfect components on a plate, without artistic conceit, is back. I am six years old again, whiffing the first of the brandywine tomatoes ripening in our back yard in New Hampshire.

Now that, my friends, is pure. A spring-dug parsnip is pure. A new Katahdin potato, the size of a dime, pulled from the earth, rinsed and eaten right there. That is pure. The crunch, the juice, the crispness. The first time I built a vegetable garden as an adult, I had a food epiphany when I ate a new Katahdin potato that I grew.

Roasting a chicken properly was also a pivotal turning point in my life. This was back in the late 90’s. I was just turning 22 and had a lot of ideas.  I had confused myself with some weird fusion things, overwhelmed with curing foie gras, and amazed with making a near perfect Sauce Perigord 1. With the con-fusion behind me, the 6 pounds of foie gras I had screwed up was consumed. A glistening veal stock reduction under my belt, I was given a bird from a farm in New Hampshire. A beautiful specimen, unlike any I had seen. The feet and head were still intact, and there were feather remnants. I knew I had something special, and I wasn’t going to fuck it up. I reached way back to reading the Three Pillars of Zen when I was 15, and I decided right there to not think, and just do. 

Unadorned, the chicken went into a hot oven, and the result was earth shattering, at least in my mind. Just salt, pepper, a perfect chicken, and an oven.

What emerged from the oven catapulted me into recognizing the need and love for simple. I discovered Richard Olney, M.F.K., Alice Waters, and Lulu Peyraud.

At 25, I made the pilgrimage to Bandol, France and visited Lulu at Domaine Tempier. I named my first restaurant Bandol as an homage to Domaine Tempier. I was hooked on purity and simplicity.

At 33 and into Evangeline’s third year, the apex of purity is our roast chicken. These are no ordinary chickens. Mitra Luick, from New Sharon, Maine, feeds her chickens clabber (curdled milk) and whey from the family cow named Helen. I met Mitra and her family when I was called upon to harvest one of her hogs for her family’s winter storage. A mutual friend introduced us, and after the hog stick, we became close friends. A few months after the hog stick, she told me about her clabber fed birds. These birds get the extra calcium from the clabbered cream and can support more weight. More flesh, more fat, more flavor. The clabber makes the chicken happy and delicious, and a happy bird means happy chef. And happy guests. Organically raised, tended to like babies, but not certified organic. But who needs the certification? These are the finest birds I have ever seen.

We receive these birds a dozen or so at a time. She has them in a rotation based on what we need, and they come to the restaurant just after being harvested. There is no ice water plunge, they are air chilled. Even the most eco-friendly, organic, nature fed, cruelty free, free range, foodiot chicken farms plunge the freshly killed birds into an ice water bath. Our abattoir harvests, plucks and chills. No water to dilute the flesh. Pure air. This creates a crisp skin, and a self -basting interior. The juices percolate under the skin as it roasts. When I open the oven door, the entire restaurant fills with the sweet scent of bird. Pure bird. Birds which are plunged in water, will create steam in the oven. With steam, the skin cannot crisp. Your chicken will poach itself from the inside, and frankly, that is not a roast chicken.

The next time you go to toast a crumpet to eat with your morning coffee and marmalade, soak the crumpet in ice water first. You will not like the outcome. You will Twitter about how you hate ice water soaked crumpets. You should hate water soaked chicken too.

It may be difficult to get one of Mitra’s clabber fed birds sent to you at home, but if you really want, you can email me and I will set it up. Or just come to Evangeline.

Whether I am 33, 43 or 80, simple is simple. We, as a culture, always come back to the simple. I certainly hope that in 50 years I will be able to roast and eat Mitra’s clabber fed chickens. I’m sure American food will ebb and flow through trends and fads, but I will rest easy knowing that no foam, gum, agar agar, sphere or essence will get in the way of my roast chicken.

1 Sauce Perigord.

This was a monumental sauce. I passed it about 25 times through a chinois, and it was purely sublime. Reduced veal stock, Cognac and fresh Perigord truffles. It was my first time working with black truffles, and I made the sauce, not knowing it was a classic. The chef asked me if I knew what I had made, and I said “something good?” He said, “Yes, Erik. Something good.”