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Commercial Chicken (A Rant)

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
A few days ago I purchased a commercial, supermarket chicken, the kind that is prepackaged in plastic trays and wrapped in plastic. I usually buy my chicken from the local poultry shop or one of two organic meat/poultry counters in the organic grocery. This was the first time in almost twenty years that I bought a supermarket chicken.

The chicken was insipid - bland, flavorless, and had a strange texture, unlike the drier, firmer chickens I've been buying. It didn't taste much like real chicken. It seems that this is typical of commercially produced birds which are often frozen for shipment and thawed in the poultry case in the supermarket. In addition, the label on the package said the product contained 4% water from processing. What's that all about?

The price wasn't any less expensive than the fresh chickens I've been getting, and considering that the bird was watered down, it became downright expensive.

I will NEVER buy such a chicken again. Is this what chicken has come to? Yuck!

post #2 of 11
Hi Shell,
I am not well versed in US regulations but I know there is a law similar to Canada for processed whole chickens. Commercial chicken slaughtering uses a lot of water to clean, rinse, wash etc.. The industry is often accused of steeping chicken carcasses to soak up water to add weight. There is a limit set for water take up. In Canada I believe that number is 2% of water weight on chicken weight. Anything above that must be declared. That is probably what you saw on the label.
Sometimes phosphate appears on the label. That chemical actually help the water soak into the flesh and stay there. If you add too much, the flesh can have a rubbery or mushy texture once cooked.

Commercial chickens always appear ghostly white because they are fed with corn mostly. That look is a false commercial appeal quality. Organic chickens eat more plants then just grains like seedling and grass clippings. Their fat gets coloured with the fat loving pigments found in plants (usually orange carotenes). Yellow chickens is what demonstrates a healthy fed chicken.

Luc H.
I eat science everyday, do you?
I eat science everyday, do you?
post #3 of 11
It is. The same has happened to pork and when the beef industry can finalize putting an end to small cattle producers, the same will happen to beef. As Luc_H noted the ghostly white color of the meat and fat in chickens and pork(the other white meat) is due to a diet of corn and some soybean meal to enhance the protein content. Butter made from cows that graze rich lush pastures is a bit yellow. As the pastures become nutrionally depleted and more commercial feeds are added the butter becomes more and more pale so the butter makers add food colorant to make the butter look richer. Same with some cheeses.
post #4 of 11
The boutique chicken you've been buying is largely free range -- which means the chicken has had a chance to exercise. Even large commercial local producers in California like Zacky and Foster Farms allow more room in the cages for their birds than the chickens grown on huge factory-farms in the South for national distribution.

The differences in taste and texture are largely attributable to the chickens' lives. Free range birds are very different from caged birds. Caged birds with big cages are superior to birds who live their lives in small cages.

The feed the birds eat from one farm to another ranch is not all that different. It's grain as far as that goes. Birds who get a lot of yellow corn in their diet tend to show yellow. Agri-business chickens get more hormones so they'll grow faster. Faster growth results in a more tender bird (pound for pound) but less flavor. Because of their conditions agri-business chickens are more susceptible to diseases and receive cocktails of medications to prevent them. There's some question as to whether the use of these hormones and medications are good for humans.

One thing I've seldom seen discussed is the role particular breeds play in terms of taste. Asians can be very picky about what kind of bird they buy for what purpose. Generally, the more boutique the rancher, the more interested they are in choosing breed for flavor characteristics than for cost to slaughter-weight. After space, time is probably the biggest factor. Older birds have more taste.

USDA standards for "fresh" (not frozen) chicken includes holding it at temperatures at which it freezes solid. The USDA says those temperatures are above freezing and therefore the birds CAN"T BE FROZEN. This comes down to "Who are you going to believe, some guy from the board of Sanderson Farms who's a Bush Pioneer or your lying eyes?" At any rate, the non-freezing causes tissue damage at the cellular level which means the birds loose a lot of moisture when they're thawed from their non-frozen state. By the time you get them on your kitchen counter, they're sitting in pools of red tinged water.

The problem is not that the chicken is watery, but the opposite. It's lost water, cooks very dry; and for that reason moves from undercooked (not good with corporate-farm chicken) to overdone very quickly. The best way to deal with this is to brine the meat -- which will make a remarkable difference. A buttermilk bath is not quite as good, but a lot better than nothing. Both of these techniques restore some liquid to the cells and interstitial spaces by the imbalance between the birds' salt and acid levels and those of the marinade.

The hierarchy of not that fresh chickens probably starts with National agri-business, goes to local agri-business, kosher, "organic" (which can mean a lot of things), "free range," and finally "free range - organic."

Freshness makes a big difference in flavor, although most white Americans are too squeamish to want to think about it. The best period for cooking the bird is about 8 to 24 hours after slaughtering. You want just enough time for the rigor to fully dissipate, and otherwise start cooking ASAP.

The best birds in my area are from local Asian/Hispanic slaughterhouses or Asian markets. The customer chooses an appropriate breed and the bird is either slaughtered to order or bought from the case. Birds from the case, it is promised, are better than 24 hours fresh. It is also promised that the birds are more or less local and free range. These jokers wouldn't know "organic" if you hit them with it, but will tell you what you want to hear to make you happy -- if you can get past the language and accent barriers (I'm bilingual in Spanish, which helps a lot). If you want, you can go in the back and choose your own. IMO, it's a good idea for people to accept this level of participation and responsibility once in a while. You may disagree.

The next best source for poultry here are the many Asian supermarkets. (I'm not sure if we even have any specialty poultry or poultry/fish markets in the SGV that aren't fresh slaughter, Asian oriented.) Then, the better Hispanic markets and carnecerias. God knows how the birds are raised, but at least they're fresh.

This is a little different than Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto, but that's regions for you. You don't realize what a profound effect Alice Waters had on your food choices until you go somewhere else. No, I mean beyond Hayward. Look up, close your eyes, and say, "Thank you, goddess."

At any rate, the price to the consumer for good, fresh chicken is significantly higher than the local chain supermparkets' sale prices -- and one of the three local chians (Albertsons, Vons-Pavillions, Ralphs) is always having a sale -- at least 50% more for carneceria chicken, and 100% for breed-specific Asian chicken. Black chicken is currently running more than $10 a pound at 99 Ranch and $12 from the slaughter guy.

post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 
I had a Foster Farms bird - I'll get back to you and the others who've posted on that and other points later. Right now I've gotta get to Peet's and to work. Thanks to all ...

post #6 of 11
When I visted Chile in January, we stopped by a small town which was approx 80-90% employed by the huge SUPER POLLO processing plant at the edge of town.

We went to a cafe to grab a beer and two gentlemen sitting at the table next to us were speaking English. After some small talk, they told me that they supply a majority of the processing equipment for the poultry processing plants around the world. Some of the interesting facts they shared with us:

- This Super Pollo plant processes 26,000 chicken per hour...amazing
- Argentina and Chile prefer larger chickens and allow them to grow 3 weeks longer than most of the industry.
- BIG SURPRISE TO ME: Chickens grow to processing weight in 6 weeks from birth

The 6 week growth (9 in Chile) was a real shock. I would have never guessed. Under natural growth, a 6 week chicken is still a chick. It is all cross breeding and high calorie food. I don't try and judge the industry, humane or morally. We consume a lot of food and this is the way to fill the demand. I do believe these practices probably do play apart in the increase in size of the human race. You are what you eat.

I do buy Foster Farms chicken for work @ Costco, it's very cheap. For home, I usually purchase Rosie Chicken which comes from Petaluma Poultry in California. It does taste better, like the chicken I remember growing up. I don't buy "no-name" brand chicken.
post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 
It's interesting to me that you choose the cheaper, lesser quality bird for your restaurant. Is that because your customers can't discern quality, or do you run a low-priced place where you've gotta save a bit in order to make a price point?

Rosie's not a bad bird, but not as good as many other options. As Petaluma Poultry has grown the quality of the Rosie has slipped. You might want to try Marys Free Range Chickens as one alternative. Another option is Fulton Valley Farms, especially the whole body organic roasting chickens. Hoffman Farms has some quality chicken, but they're hard to find. Finally, and arguably the best birds: Raising poultry the new-old way

post #8 of 11
Thread Starter 
Some free range birds are freer than others, by a wide margin. I'm starting to look for pastured birds which are becoming more readily available now. I posted a link in another message in this thread.

I won't ever buy such birds. I believe the cr@p that they're fed and injected with is not very good for humans. In fact, I won't even feed such birds to my cat

It's certainly discussed around here ....

Most "free range" birds don't range very freely <LOL> It's more a marketing term than anything else. The amount of space most free range birds have available to them is very small, and many such birds don't even get out of the hen house to use the space.

Absolutely. That's why I buy my birds from the poultry monger as I've come to know when the birds have been slaughtered. One shop gets birds every day, another gets 'em twice a week. I only buy from those shops on the days the birds come in.

The local hallal marketsare also a good source for birds. Once again, best bet is to know when the birds have been slaughtered and delivered. I've sometimes ordered a specific size/age bird from the local hallal place. I agree that it's best to participate in choosing what we eat. Overall, most people are too removed from the source of their food. Most peo-le don't ask questions about the food they buy, and have little or no lnowledge about where their food comes from or how it's been prepared.

Amen! However, there are many places outside the Bay Area where quality produce, meats, and poultry can be had. I know of a farm in the south, for example, which onlysells poultry to people who make the trip to pick up the birds personally, and believe me, lots of people make a long drive to getthose birds. There is a growing desire for quality and humanely raised poultry and meat, and high quality produce, and it ain't just in The Ghetto any more.

post #9 of 11
I don't run a restaurant. I'm spending a provided budget that must be stretched.
post #10 of 11
Holy shmoely...you've purchased one supermarket chicken in twenty years and you're writing about what is typical of commercially produced birds?

I listened to a Bach piece on the local public radio station this morning. I must be ready for the music critic's job at the New York Times.
post #11 of 11
Thread Starter 
Yes, I am. My comments are based not only on this purchase, but on discussing the subject over the past year or so with a number of other people, including chefs in the area, regular consumers, and so on, as well as reading a number of articles on the subject. Based on the discussions and the comments of some well-known restarateurs, I bough a Foster Farms bird to try out. It was everything they said it would be. It seems that a few people here agree with my findings as well.

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