Vancouver Urban Rooster with Birch Butter Meal

My first Vancouver host ran a clever Air BnB where, in addition to the rooms inside his house, he had three refurbished camper trailers lined up in the back third of his yard. To add to the urban camping feel, the middle third of his yard was divided between a two story chicken coop. A frog pond (the frogs ate the flies collected by the chicken poop), and a fresh herb garden. The front third was a communal space where he encouraged us to meet and share meals and drinks. To make it even better, his house was only five blocks from a subway station!

When I messaged him to ask whether I could use some of his fresh eggs to cook for him as part of my book, he saw my offer and raised it – he had two roosters who fought constantly, and it was time to butcher one. Would I like to cook it?


In the middle of town, five blocks from the subway, we made the most truly local meal of my travels. The rooster was born in his backyard and slaughtered by us that morning. The eggs for the shakshouka came from his chickens. We basted it in birch syrup, a uniquely Canadian product I’d picked up at the Granville Island Public Market.

The flavor was amazing. If you’ve only had factory farm chickens from a grocery store it’s easy to believe that chicken is just a neutral canvas for whatever spices you’re in the mood for. A chicken that eats bugs and seeds, whose muscles get exercise from running around, has a rich and distinctive flavor that genuinely surprised some of the folks who shared our meal. It’s not gamey, but it is strong and distinctive. I didn’t want to eat chicken again for the next couple weeks because I knew it would be a disappointment.

The whole meal consisted of:

  • our beautiful birch flavored rooster
  • a baguette spread with garlic butter and slapped on the grill while the rooster rested
  • 10 minute salsa shakshuka (which was great with the garlic bread!)
  • sauteed green beans and onions
  • birch baked acorn squash for dessert

Birch syrup tastes a little like maple syrup and and liquid smoke had a baby. It’s a strong, distinctive flavor that’s well worth the investment if you’re ever lucky enough to find a bottle.

Keep scrolling past the rooster for both the vegeterian shakshuka and squash recipes!

Spachcocked Rooster with Birch Butter Ingredients

  • 1 freshly slaughtered rooster, bone in and spatchcocked (or an organic chicken from your grocer)
  • 30 ml birch syrup (about 3 tbsp + ¼ tsp)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-3 shakes of worcestershire sauce (sub coconut aminos for Paleo and Paleo-AIP)
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 6 bay leaves

Rooster Grilling Directions

  • My host’s Peruvian roommate showed me how his family butchers a chicken. Instead of cutting a line along both sides of the backbone and removing it, he cut out the entire breast, which we cooked separately. It was a heck of a lot easier process than American style spatchcocking!. I really liked this method, because it felt like we got more usable meat from unexpected places (the back) and were left with more fully cooked and wonderfully flavored parts for the broth we made from the carcass.
  • Flatten the chicken and use some kitchen twine to tie the ankles togeteher. We also trimmed the wing tips so they wouldn’t burn while the rest of the rooster cooked.
  • Now that your rooster is ready, mix the birch syrup, softened butter, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and worcestershire sauce into a paste.
  • Gently spread ¾ of it under the rooster’s loosened skin. Tuck a bay leaf under each breast, in each leg, and in each thigh.
  • Heat a charcoal grill. When the coals are nice and red, spread them around the perimeter of the grill, leaving the middle mostly bare. If you happen to have any flavorful wood around (maple, apple, etc) then throw a handful of chips over the coals.  You want an indirect heat, not a raging inferno piled in the middle.
  • Place the flattened chicken in the middle of the grill and the breast piece a couple inches away.
  • Grill until done (about 40 minutes), turning every 15 minutes or so. Keep the lid down and the top vent open to get a maximum smoky flavor (especially if you’re using any wood chips.)
  • When a meat thermometer says the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 F, smother it with half of the remaining butter mix. Put the last of the butter mix into a little cup as a dipping sauce.
  • After dinner, pick any remaining meat off the carcass for a later use. Dump what’s left of the carcass into a crockpot with 2 bay leaves, 1 medium skin-on yellow onion, cut in half, and 1-2 carrots, broken into pieces. If you don’t have any of that, the bones alone will do. Fill the crockpot with water, put the lid on, and set it to low. Let it bubble overnight. In the morning you’ll have a free pot of some of the tastiest broth you’ll ever drink. Strain out the solids and either use it for soup or freeze it for future recipes calling for broth.

Vegetetarian Birch Butter Acorn Squash

My expensive little bottle of birch syrup only held 50 ml. I thought about using it all on the chicken, but it has such a strong flavor I was afraid it would overwhelm the rooster.

The birch syrup was a little too bitter for a sweet dessert like baked acorn squash, so I cut it with a little honey. That worked out beautifully! The birch flavor still came through as the strongest note while the honey left it sweet enough to call a dessert.

Vegetarian Birch butter acorn squash ingredients

  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp birch syrup (about 20 ml)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • ¾ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 acorn squash

Squash directions

  • Cut your acorn squash in half and scoop out all the guts.
  • Mix the birch syrup, honey, cinnamon, and salt (you can do this in the middle of the squash in order to save a bowl!) Then divide it between both halves of the squash.
  • Cube your butter and put half in each hollowed squash.
  • Place both halves on a baking sheet and cook at 400F for 40 minutes, or until the flesh is completely soft and doesn’t ressit when you push a fork through.

10 Minute Salsa Shakshuka

I loved the beautiful look of shock and awe on my host’s face when he saw me poach eggs in a jar of salsa! His chickens are in their prime producing years, so a lot of times he has more eggs than he knows what to do with.

The beauty of Shakshuka is that it’s cheap, easy, and tasty. As an Air BnB host he was thrilled to learn a recipe using shelf stable ingredients that he could whip up as a cheap, impressive hot breakfast. A dozen eggs, two jars of salsa, and a loaf of bread and suddenly you have a high protein, hot vegetarian breakfast.

Don’t let the purists tell you that it’s not “real” shakshuka unless you’re staring with raw tomatoes, peppers, and onions. If you’ve got the time and inclination to spend half an hour or longer on bruch, go for it! But if you’re a busy person who wants to get a tasty hot breakfast on the table in 10 minutes, there’s no shame in the salsa game!

10 minute salsa shakshuka ingredients

  • 1 16 oz jar mild salsa
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 4 eggs

10 minute salsa shakshuka directions

  • This is really more a technique than a recipe. You want at least 2 inches of salsa at the bottom of your skillet and enough space on top that your eggs will have at least an inch between them.
  • If you’re only making four eggs, as we were, pour your salsa in the skillet until it reaches the minimum depth. Got a big jar of salsa? Save the rest for a later use!
  • Want to serve a crowd? Just grab a bigger skillet and pour in more salsa until you reach your minimum depth (probably two jars).
  • Either way, bring your salsa up to a boil then turn the heat down to medium-low.
  • Gently crack the eggs into the skillet, making sure to leave at least 1 inch of space between each of them.
  • Let the eggs poach until the whites are completely cooked and the middles are thick but not hard, about 4-6 minutes. If your pan has a lid, I suggest you use it. You’ll end up with a softer, moister egg, but the yolk will look cloudy rather than bright yellow. If you don’t have a lid, don’t worry. Just eyeball the eggs until they reach your preferred level of doneness.

    Salsa Shakshuka makes an incredible cheap, hot breakfast! Try it over a hearty slice of whole grain toast or as a topping for leftover rice.