Ever wonder what all the fuss is when it comes to “fancy” chickens? You know the kind: lives down on the farm, roams green pastures, nibbles grass and organic grain, never met an antibiotic or a saline solution, spends time pecking in the dirt, basking in the sun, hiding from hawks — you get the picture:
Down on the farm — at Skagit River Ranch in Sedro-Woolley.
As much as I like the idea of truly free-ranging chickens raised on family farms, until recently, I’ve never actually bought one. Not only because they cost a small fortune, but because several years ago I cooked a $65 local heritage turkey for Thanksgiving (along with a $24 supermarket bird) and there wasn’t a single well-fed mouth at that very long table who disagreed with my assessment: we all preferred the plump cheap bird to the lean, genetically superior, well-bred and thoughtfully raised one.
And sure, I do spend the occasional $12-$14 bucks on high-quality organic chicken — when I’m feeling righteous and/or flush. And I certainly enjoy eating the delicious, carefully sourced chicken prepared at sustainably-minded restaurants all over town.
Whole Paycheck’s organic chicken.
Matt Dillon flipping the carefully-sourced bird at The Corson Building.
That being said, most of the time, when it comes to cooking for my family, I ask, “Why spend a bundle on a chicken raised by a hardworking farmer and sold at the farmers market when you can buy two birds for the same price at your neighborhood supermarket? (A question that will surely be raised and answered tomorrow night at Town Hall.) And then there’s that other important question: “Why duke it out over who gets the wings and drumsticks on a single chicken when you can buy two (or sometimes, three!) cheap ones, leaving plenty of appendages for all — plus white meat for sandwiches and bits and pieces for chicken salad?”
Good questions, and I set out to find some answers.
First I purchased a frozen bowling ball-of-a-chicken from Skagit River Ranch ($25) in Sedro-Woolley, and supplemented that with a similarly sized fresh Draper Valley Farms “Natural” Northwest-grown, antibiotic- and hormone free chicken from the big Mount Vernon-based outfit ($8 at QFC).
Note the differences? Subtle, at least on first inspection.
Those differences are clearer, here. That’s the (thawed) $25 bird on the left.
The expensive pastured chicken is decidedly flat-chested, but her gams are much bigger — thanks to daily exercise.
The Playmate of the Month hails from Draper Valley. And yes, she’s a cheap date (on sale today at QFC for 99-cents a pound).
As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one thing better than a roasted chicken, and that’s two roasted chickens. (Or better yet, two Weber-smoked chickens.)
A little paprika, some herbes de Provence, an hour and a half or so in the oven. . .
And in the end, my family agreed: the moist and memorable $25 chicken — which truly did taste like chicken — was a treat well worth its price. When we dissected it (literally and figuratively) Mac and I agreed it’s comparable in cost (actually less expensive) than the fresh king salmon, halibut or any of the other fine local seafood we sometimes splurge on — as well as the rib-eyes and lamb chops I occasionally cook at home for my family of three.
What do you know? The down-on-the-farm-raised chicken, deconstructed for our dining pleasure, was worth every cent.
Would the $25 chicken be a weekly staple, the way an $8 chicken regularly is? Not likely. Nor does the costly chicken’s superior flavor (and those big juicy drumsticks) make me want to reconsider and order a $65 pasture-raised turkey for this year’s Thanksgiving feast. But that’s just me.
So, what do you think? Done any poultry taste-tests of your own? What was your verdict? Is there a locally available chicken that you prefer? And while we’re talking turkey, so to speak, I’m curious: what brand of big bird are you partial to when it comes to the holiday centerpiece?