“Chicken doesn’t taste like chicken anymore.” So goes the common refrain of people older and wiser than me, people who grew up eating chicken before the advent of the industrial chicken farm. I was born in the late 70s and did all my growing up in the 80s. By then, chicken was pretty standard.
Up until a few years ago, I didn’t know what the old-timers were talking about. Then I tasted my first pastured chicken, an Americauna. What hit me was a totally different chicken dining experience. Oh, I could tell that it was chicken. But the similarities ended there. The chicken actually tasted happy. I kid you not.
That’s why when I read this recent article in The Atlantic, I thought: YES! A news story that gets it.
Beyond the world of organic chicken, even beyond the world of “pastured chicken,” is the world of heirloom chickens. These are heritage breeds. They take longer to grow, and they really should be grown out on pasture. But they’re what chicken was before the industrialization of our food supply in the 1950s.
From the article:
It wasn’t until recently that I tasted chicken for what it truly is: a delicate meat that has a sense of terroir, not unlike wine or olives or chocolate. The meat on your plate reflects the bird’s life—its breed, what it was fed, how it lived, even the way it was loved (or not) by the farmer. Raising a good chicken, I’ve learned, is an art.
My chicken education took place recently thanks to Slow Food Toronto, which had organized a heritage chicken tasting at Victor Restaurant and Bar to compare four breeds that are now almost extinct, each prepared four different ways: roasted, pan-seared, braised, and as a broth. By sampling these rare birds, we were making a statement against industrial food—and eating to preserve the diversity of our food system.
Our guide for the afternoon was Carrie Oliver of the Artisan Poultry Institute, a small, California-based organization that aims to transform our understanding of meat by educating the public about its tastes and terroir. As the first plates of roasted chicken were served, she urged us to record our impressions. Was the texture tough, or merely chewy? Did it have a good bite, or was it mealy? What was the personality of the chicken? Reserved? Straightforward, or adventurous? Then there were the flavor notes, which were so diverse it was hard to believe a chicken could have these characteristics: citrus, baked clams, mushrooms, blood, barnyard, pheasant, liver, umami, caramel, corn, and many more.
Go read the whole thing. It’ll make your mouth water.
(photo by brioso)
This post is participating in today’s Real Food Wednesday carnival.