Salivating over a gastronomically gorgeous chicken recipe is one thing, but are you making the best of your dish with your choice of chuck? Supermarket chickens are usually inferior to the calibre of poultry you’ll find at a decent butcher’s, farm shop or specialist breeder.
For the serious poultry cook, only the best birds should grace your dinner plates. This always means using slow-maturing, free-range fowl. Outdoor-reared, naturally-grown birds mean longer breasts and fatter legs for the pot.
In 2012, butchers of distinction, The Ginger Pig, launched its 100-day chicken. Reared outside, this cross-breed between a Sussex or Dorking hen and a Cornish Game cockerel is larger than average and suitable for slow-cooked chicken recipes.
The Ginger Pig also recommends the French breed poulet de Bresse which, under French law, can only be sold as 'La Bresse' if actually reared in the area around the town of Bourg-en-Bresse in south-eastern France.
Other notable breeds are poulet noir and corn-fed Landes chickens. French birds have a particularly good reputation as they are grown for 93-110 days – up to a month longer than British birds; even commercially grown free-range British chicken are reared for just 65 days.
Beloved of Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal’s idea of a “proper chicken”, and ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’ author Simon Hopkinson’s desired bird, the Label Anglais is a chef favourite. It’s so good that MasterChef’s John Torode exclaimed that the chicken is: “really juicy, with nice big wings and very brown leg meat, along with a moist breast. It tastes like it had a perfect life.” This sentiment is clearly shared with Raymond Blanc, who recently added it to his menu at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons.
Recently, however, bighospitality.co.uk wrote that, according to a number of industry experts including Mark Hix and the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), the majority of chefs don’t know which breed of chicken is on their menu. If poultry quality matters to you and you’re eating in, head for a reputable butcher or an online supplier like www.sjfrederick.co.uk. If you’re eating out research your market. Chefs and restaurants with passion for provenance will be able to tell you where their chickens are sourced.