Are All Chickens Equal? The Lowdown on Pastured Poultry
While growing up on a mixed farm I was able learn about raising meat Chickens. At the beginning of the year, you would begin to see the “chick” catalog’s at the local feed store and if you bought chicks the year before, you then received a catalog in the mail. You peruse through it much like a Sear’s Catalog before Christmas and you make your list. Decisions to be made are: What type of chicken do you want? How long do they take to grow? How much do they cost? And for me, what breed are they?
The breed of most Chicken (99.99%) raised today are Cornish. Some call them “White Rock” and others call them by the bullish name of “Meat Kings”. These birds are yellow as chicks, then after a week they start to sprout white feathers. In a matter of 8-12 weeks they are ready for your freezer. These are what you buy at the grocery store as well as many farm gates.
I have raised these birds before and they are packed with meat; predominately lots of white meat. But even still I never really liked eating it unless it had that Shake n Bake coating. I just thought that it was dry & flavourless all the time.
However, when you receive that chick catalog, you are presented with a CHOICE. Some company’s, like Frey’s Hatchery in St. Jacobs, have done something very beneficial for the consumer: they offer a slow growing meat bird. It’s called a Dual-purpose. This bird takes a nice 16 -18 week to grow & mature. If the dual purpose chicken is allowed to forage, it develop’s a beautiful taste profile. Other Chicken that fall into this category are any Heritage meat breeds like Barred Rock or New Hampshire. They are harder to get a hold of, but it’s nothing a google search can’t help with.
So why do we settle for a large, fast growing, big breasted but flavourless chicken, when we could have a smaller, flavourful and nutritious chicken?
Perhaps it’s cost (you get more bang for your buck with a large bird). Maybe it’s prestige of having that “LARGE” chicken in the roasting pan. Maybe because it’s the way our mom’s have always done it? Maybe we just didn’t know any better? One of the problems with raising a slower growing chicken is that many farmers would have to feed it more, keep it longer, work more and get paid later. It doesn’t make sense.
Mark Schatzker has done some good research and writing on flavour and taste. Chicken is one of those meats where IT CAN taste better, way better. Click on the link to read an article about a special kind of chicken.
For the past two years, we have raised the Dual Purpose breed, along with some Barred Rock and New Hampshire and we have found it to be very delicious and flavourful, unlike it’s fast growing counterparts. Richard Bazinet, professor at U of T says, “We have to give it another name, it’s not fair to call it chicken!” A slow growing, pastured bird is one of such high quality, that it barely makes it off the carving board because I’m picking meat off the carcass like berries on a bush. When a chicken is allowed to roam and forage, it just packs on the flavours.
Cafe Boulud in Toronto, recently had an article done about the attributes of free range Heritage Chickens in Maclean’s Magazine. Click on the link to learn about what we are missing out on.
Next time you are buying Chicken for supper, I challenge you to ask about the breed, the age, what it was fed, where & how was it raised. See how many answers you get. Compare your answers with how it tastes. You should never just be satisfied with a mediocre chicken again!