A Merrier World inspired this blog, to raise awareness for chickens. Poor things. Prisoners on a factory-production line, they have turned into commodities. An organic chicken seems expensive in comparison because it gets to lead an ordinary life.
A cheap chicken is cheap because it does not lead a normal existence. Bred to quickly gain weight, it is sometimes too heavy to walk, and, kept indoors in a noisy shed with 40,000 other birds, it is denied its natural behaviour such as feeling the sun on its back, perching or stretching its wings.
“Poor people must have cheap healthy protein,” say the chicken-factory defenders. Hello? Cheap chicken is not exactly healthy – it is full of fat, antibiotics and is a food-poisoning risk, which is why it must be cooked so carefully. A false economy, if I’ve ever heard one.
Here are ways to eat organic chicken on a budget. Buy a whole chicken and serve it as a once-a-week treat. Use its carcass for soup and leftovers for future meals. Serve it with a plateful of other goodies as I did yesterday (see the above pic with its Better Food organic salad leaves, carrots and potatoes, kamut grain and non-organic broccoli) so a little goes a long way.
My chicken came from the Sheepdrove organic farm butcher shop in Bristol, belonging to Sheepdrove organic farm in Berkshire. Master butcher, Graham Symes, picked one out for me. “See its beautiful heart shape?” he said. “That’s the way a chicken should look with the breast falling over the legs (see pic below).”
Instead of £18 for 2.6 kilos, it was half-price because of a current surplus. You can get your half-price beauties here. Hurry while stocks last!
Sheepdrove organic farm is owned and run by the kind and visionary Peter and Juliet Kindersley. Peter has put his publishing profits to a good cause, developing top animal welfare systems. My favourite Sheepdrove fact: their chickens peck at healing herbs to self-medicate. Chickens are clever creatures when allowed to be their natural chicken-selves.
The Kindersleys have recently developed a terrific new safe way of feather-plucking on its on-farm abattoir. Usually the feathers are loosened by dunking the dead birds in a bacteria-infested hot bath. The new Sheepdrove method of steaming could dramatically reduce the number of bacteria for non-organic and organic poultry alike.
Our chicken was delicious. “It tastes like chicken should taste,” said my sister who is a regular Sheepdrove shopper.
Here’s how to roast a (preferably happy) chicken: allow 20 minutes of cooking time for every pound/500 grammes – and then 20 minutes extra. I smeared the breast and legs with olive oil, rubbed in paprika and salt, and slithered slices of garlic under the skin. I simmered the giblets in wine and water for stock, and made gravy with this and the cooking pan’s juices, thickened with my new discovery: an ounce of rolled oats.
A tip for the absent-minded cook: do not put a chicken – in a plastic bag – in the oven to get to room temperature, then forget it’s there and switch the oven on. Getting melted plastic off a hot oven is no fun. Trust me.