A chicken reared and roasted for the table was, until relatively recently, considered an extravagance – something for those of privilege. There were many who kept a few chickens at home, but the focus was egg production, and any bird that made it into the kitchen was probably a spent laying hen or tough cockerel. This was in part due to our reliance on eggs, but until the genetic tinkering that started in the 50s, chickens grew slowly and naturally, and the grain needed to fatten them for roasting was considered too precious.
The industrial hybridisation and mechanisation within the poultry farming industry has left the poor chicken in a sorry state, with the majority of poultry producers having moved onto a fast-growing, bland bird. There are, of course, some small-scale exceptions and we feel incredibly lucky to work with father and son Gerald and Richard Botterill, who rear their heritage chickens on the Belvoir Estate in Leicestershire. And, with our weekly trips to Paris to deliver beef, we can take full advantage of the wonderful poultry of France, a nation that has retained much of its integrity in chicken farming where many countries have not. Whether you choose a bird reared by the Botterills, or from Bresse, Landes or Challans, you can be sure of a number of elements help to ensure a quality bird;
- a comparatively long life of 81-120 days, where most free range Cobb birds are killed at 60 (and intensively grown birds at 40).
- fed a natural diet of locally grown cereal completely free from growth promoters and hormones
- a traditional breed which will grow naturally, rather than an F4 hybrid designed to put down protein before the skeleton is fully formed
- a free range life, outdoors over grass and herbage.
- slaughtered on the farm where it is raised, rather than transported for processing causing unnecessary stress and injury to the bird, and often resulting in fatalities
- dry-plucked, to prevent degradation, clamminess and smell
- hung for a week before evisceration, to give real depth of flavour and succulence
Essentially, you can be sure that the care and attention given to the bird in life is reflected in its eating qualities.