Food News

Chicken-Rearing & Taco Night with Cathy Erway

April  5, 2012

We're celebrating the artisans, writers, makers, and more who make up the diverse and inspiring world of food.

Today: Cathy Erway of Not Eating Out in New York shares a busy Friday with Supply Chain, from Fairway to the chicken coop to the kitchen.

Photo by Tim Ireland

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Cathy Erway is the author of The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove, which chronicled her two years of cooking from scratch. She blogs at Not Eating Out in New York and hosts the weekly podcast Let's Eat In, interviewing subjects on all things home-cooked. She currently works at Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, where she keeps egg-laying hens on a rooftop garden (if you love Canal House Cooks Lunch, don't miss Lunch at Sixpoint!), and writes for The L Magazine, Edible Brooklyn, and the Huffington Post.

- Cathy

I start my day at 7:00 AM, helping myself to a bowl of granola from the mason jar above my fridge. I'd made the granola -- it has almonds and dried cranberries -- more than a month ago and was surprised that it wasn't yet stale. I splashed it down with some soy milk, which I usually keep on hand because it doesn't go bad as quickly as regular milk, and I like the taste. The granola tastes a little bit like ginger this time, which I can't remember if I'd added to the recipe. Probably did.

Like on most days, I head out to Prospect Park with my dogs to let them run around during its off-leash hour. This is my favorite part of every day, especially now that it's spring. All the trees have fragrant white flowers, and the grass is sweet-smelling and lush.

I keep an eye on the dogs as they chase one another around, and collect a bag full of fresh grass and young clovers to feed my other beasts -- my rooftop hens. They love eating grass, but their coop is on a rooftop and I have to grab it from elsewhere. This spring grass and sweet clover straight from the park will be a great treat for them.

I head out to Sixpoint Brewery, where I work, in Red Hook. Actually, my first stop is at Baked bakery on Van Brunt Street. I get a coffee and a croissant, which I can't resist. I've been a little addicted to eating buttery, crispy croissants lately and the ones at Baked are pretty good.

Next, I have to make a run through Fairway to pick up ingredients for a staff dinner I'm cooking this evening. All the out-of-town sales reps are in town for a meeting and an event we're having this weekend, so I thought I'd make a taco party out of the occasion. Last night I slow-roasted an enormous hunk of pork shoulder rubbed with spices and braised with beer. I also cooked a huge pot of black beans into a thick, bean-studded sludge. Along with that, I thought I'd marinate some chicken to sear for tacos, so I grab some packs of boneless thighs. I also buy avocados, cilantro, corn tortillas, sour cream, queso fresco, and a couple bags of chips.

At the brewery, I heap some chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, salt, pepper, and olive oil on the chicken thighs in a bowl and smear it all around with my hands for a bit. The cold, boneless chicken lubricated with oil is a nice way to get a free hand massage, I think.

I'd refrigerated the pork shoulder in all its braising liquids and now have the task of shredding the meat apart to make "pulled pork." It had roasted for several hours so it barely needs to be touched to fall apart. It's ideal to do this chore after the pork chills for a night, as otherwise (which I've learned) it takes forever to cool and you'll be burning your hands. After I could feel no more big pieces, I let the pork reheat in its juices in one pot, and warmed up the beans in another.

The hens love their special treat of sweet clover and grass. I watch them huddle around the pile I dumped into their coop and urgently peck at it for several minutes. The girls' eggs have been really brightly orange and delicious lately because of all these beta-carotenes they've been eating so far this spring. I can tell that they crave this food, too, by the way they don't eat as much of their grain feed these days. It makes sense that their cravings would align with what nature brings -- a lush blanket of new grass in the spring.

After doing some desk work, I prepare garnishes for taco night. I'd made a batch of salsa verde with ramps the day before, and figured that along with guacamole was enough for sauces. I slice some radishes using a huge, antique wooden mandoline I found at a junk shop. I'd seen sliced radishes, jalapenos, and fresh cilantro set out for garnishing tacos at all the taquerias I'd been to in San Francisco, so I figured I'd keep with that tradition. The last of the fresh jalapenos (from making the salsa verde) get sliced thinly and placed in a bowl with vinegar and a pinch of salt to quick-pickle.

Dinnertime is approaching, and a bunch of the staff have trickled into the kitchen/meeting room at the brewery. After browning the reddish-tinted, marinated chicken on both sides on a hot pan, Sarah helps me chop it up. "This chicken is so tender," she comments. I tell her it's because I used thighs. The smells from that and the pot of pulled pork get everyone intrigued as to what was going on. After seeing the corn tortillas being flipped on the griddle top, they get it: it's taco night.

Everything is set out on the butcher-block-turned-buffet-table: just-warmed tortillas, chopped chicken, pulled pork, black beans, fresh cilantro, pickled jalapenos, sliced radishes, salsa verde, guacamole, crumbled queso fresco, and sour cream. There's a fun and frenzied half hour or so as everyone puts together their tacos or goes back for more. I make one taco with chicken and cilantro, and another with black beans, guacamole and radishes -- at least initially. I go back for seconds and thirds, too. It's a long meeting, and many of us stick around afterward, digging into the chips and drinking beers. The cleanup is easy for me as the only things that aren't polished off are about half the beans and some pulled pork. These will keep well as leftovers, I think, already brainstorming meals for next week.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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mcs3000 April 6, 2012
Huge fan of Cathy's writing - great to see this post.
Shalini April 6, 2012
That sure sounds like a deliciously fulfilling day! Thanks for letting us take a peek at it.
duclosbe1 April 5, 2012
How I wish I had been at that taco feast! Thank you for sharing a day in your very interesting, very admirable life.