IN SEARCH OF AN HONEST CHICKEN
ccSCOOP Food Editor
02-01-10 - 6:30 p.m. - A few years ago the French actor Gerard Depardieu was shooting a movie in New York. A reporter asked him what it was like to work in America, and he reportedly asked the reporter where he could find a chicken that tasted like a chicken. It's not only fussy French movie stars weaned on poularde de bresse who are asking the question. Let's start by knowing our chickens.
We'll pay a lot for a mediocre steak—something that supplies necessary protein and implies luxury and well-being—but watch every cent for the most important, healthy source of protein available: a chicken—something that should be a pleasure to eat but isn't a good deal of the time. It used to be possible to get a chicken that wasn't a product of mass production, yes. It wasn't spongy, listless, tasteless, and a drag to eat. It wasn't raised in death-camp-like conditions, mechanically processed and finished off with a "chemical dip." And not in France,* non. Right here.
Like Stanley Kowalski, what I am is a 100 percent American, born and raised in the greatest country on earth, but a country that's been settling for less, chicken-wise, for too long a time. So what about the myth of the all-American chicken? There's Hoover promising—alas, a promise unfulfilled—"a chicken In every pot" and Chicken Every Sunday. There's Mrs. Wilkes' supernal fried chicken. And there's Jack Nicholson asking the waitress to hold the chicken in Five Easy Pieces. Actually, Thomas Jefferson** was there first, and no one was more influenced by France than he. He even created chicken and waffles. I can't wait to go to Gladys Knight's in Atlanta.
In my search for a local chicken the egg definitely came first; anyone who has ever tasted a Feather Ridge Farm egg will attest to the fact that, once you have tasted them, you want to know more. So I talked with Kate Bogdanffy at Feather Ridge Farm in Elizaville, and she told me that her family's been raising chickens since 1938, right here in Columbia County. I discovered the Feather Ridge Farm chicken. The chickens (Cornish Cross, usually 3-6 pounds) are handfed (with feed milled on the farm) and hand-prepared not mechanically prepared. And so I found a healthy, local chicken, super fresh, probably in better shape than I am, not fed any antibiotics and ethically raised. No visions of PETA dancing in my head.
I was shocked to discover its substance, its weight before cooking—not the spongy waterlogged mass I'm used to getting. I roasted it simply and discovered a chicken that tasted like a chicken and was a pleasure to eat. Feather Ridge's goal is to produce a chicken at a reasonable price that local people will buy and eat, people in the city will buy and eat (they're now available at the Tribeca Greenmarket), and everyone everywhere will want to buy and eat. It's the 2010 chicken.
* It's just that in France where whole regions have supported and prospered from agricultural industries based upon the reality and myth of their poultry. The French want to know how their chickens are brought up, what they were fed, in what environment, whether or not it ever shook hands with Paul Bocuse, and how they'll pair with the wines raised in the region, so it brings up another French reference, how an agriculturally rich region can make a fortune growing products people want and get them to spend money in that area and buy products from that area.
** And if you watch this video, you'll never feel the same way about a chicken, Thomas Jefferson, or being an American again. This has absolutely nothing to do with how Feather Ridge Farm is raising their chickens, but once upon a time in America this is how it was.
Here's TJ on sustainable agriculture.