One of greatest disconnects I've found between people and the meat they eat is in knowing the age of the animals they consume. Most seem to assume that it takes a chicken several years of growth to reach their plate; they are very surprised to hear that their supermarket chickens are in fact slaughtered after only 5 ½ weeks. Sixty years ago, knowing how old a chicken is was considered essential knowledge for determining the method used to cook it. But with the advent of hybridization and the modern poultry production system, our centuries old knowledge of how to cook chickens of every age has all but disappeared.
While in the past people would have laughed at anyone trying to make chicken soup with a 5 week old bird, today we all use these same young birds for roasting, frying, grilling or making soup. Before modern birds took hold, young chickens would be used for grilling and frying, and middle aged chickens of 5-12 months would be used for roasting. Only "stewing fowl", depleted egg laying hens or breeding stock of over 12 months, would be used for making soup. The reason for this is because as chickens age their meat becomes tougher but also much more flavorful. The slow, moist heat of stewing breaks down the tough meat, while the rich flavor infuses the broth with an intense and delicious taste.*
Stewing fowl are almost entirely unavailable on the open market today. In order to procure one of these birds, you’ll have to find it locally and will likely need to find someone able to help with slaughter and processing. A good way to go about this is to check out the resources section of my blog. There you can find links to websites which will help you find local farms to source your meat, eggs and dairy.
So now you have some more knowledge around “old chickens,” a term which actually possesses a double meaning. In addition to a soup chicken’s ideal age being over a year, it should also be of an old bloodline. This is what’s known as heritage chicken. Heritage birds are a very important subject and will be a large focus of this blog. But before we get into heritage, I will touch on a very “down to earth” subject in my next post. Can anybody guess what ingredient I’m hinting at? Post a comment if you think you have the answer!
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About the blog:
Welcome to The Kosher Omnivore's Quest! My old blog on kosher slaughter, kosher meat, and animal welfare. For new content check out my new website, The Kosher Cut™. There you'll find: blog posts about shechita and related topics, educational slaughter presentations, kosher slaughter training, and a selection of high quality professional kosher slaughter equipment.