For savvy cooks, one of the best reasons to go to a farmers market is the opportunity to pick up a tough old rooster or stewing hen. They range from slightly chewy to rawhide-tough, but their flavor is remarkable. They're usually used for making soup or broth, but with some patience and creativity you can serve your chicken as a regular meal.
Slow-cooking or braising an old chicken is the most reliable way to tenderize it for the table. Coarsely chop some carrots, onions and celery, and mound them in the bottom of your roasting pan or slow cooker. Set the chicken on top, and pour in a combination of water, wine or chicken broth until it comes about one-third of the way up the chicken. Add salt, pepper, garlic, bay leaves or any other seasoning that appeals to you. Slow-cook the chicken until it's fork-tender, usually about three or four hours.
Although the legs and wings of these old birds usually require slow-cooking to be edible, the breasts are a different story. They can be treated like London broil or flank steak, chewy but tasty pieces of meat from a steer. Slow-roast the breasts with a flavorful glaze, basting them regularly with their own juices to keep the breasts from drying out. When they're done, slice them thinly across the grain of the meat and serve them with a flavorful sauce. The thin slicing will make them tender enough to be enjoyable.
You can also cut the breasts crosswise into 1/4-inch rounds. Place the rounds between sheets of plastic wrap, and pound them gently but firmly with a meat mallet until they are approximately twice the diameter they were when you started. This forces the muscle fibers apart, tenderizing the breasts. The cutlets can be grilled, or breaded for baking or frying.
Another option is to cut the breasts and the large outer muscles of the thigh -- not the tangled, gristly inner muscles -- into thin strips, and marinate them. An acidic marinade will help break down the muscle fibers and tenderize thin pieces of meat. Traditional tenderizing ingredients include wine, wine vinegar and citrus juice, but buttermilk, plain yogurt or tomato juice will also work. Pineapple and papaya have enzymes that help tenderize the meat, and can be included in marinades when their flavors are appropriate. Marinate the chicken for two to three hours, then drain it and grill, saute or stir-fry it.