The peck­ing or­der: is free-range tastier than other chicken?

Kosher birds raised hu­manely are now on sale. But do they taste bet­ter? By Leon Sy­mons

The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES 35 -

FREE- RANGE chick­ens are now be­ing sold for the first time by kosher butch­ers in Lon­don and Manch­ester. They have ap­peared as a re­sult of a Chan­nel 4 television se­ries, Hugh’s Chicken Run, in which television chef Hugh Fearn­ley-Whit­tingstall set out to per­suade the poul­try-buy­ing pub­lic that they should be eat­ing free-range birds rather than the in­ten­sively reared ver­sion — those kept beak-byjowl in large sheds and sold at two-fora-fiver in our su­per­mar­kets.

The pub­lic re­sponse per­suaded Stephen Gross­man, of kosher meat dis­trib­u­tor Lewco-Pak, that Jewish cus­tomers were also clam­our­ing for hu­manely reared, free-range birds. So An­glo-Jewry’s big­gest poul­try abat­toir, based in Bed­ford­shire, linked up with a lo­cal farmer to rear birds for the kosher mar­ket.

But is there a dif­fer­ence in taste be­tween the cheaper, in­ten­sively reared chick­ens and the pricier free-range variety? The JC’s edi­to­rial de­part­ment de­cided to put them to the test.

We bought four whole birds of sim­i­lar size, all around 1.9kg (4.2lbs): two free-range birds, which were on sale at £5.79 a kilo, and two con­ven­tional chick­ens, priced at £3.20 a kilo.

They were roasted in the same way, with a rub of ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil and for ap­prox­i­mately the same time, be­fore be­ing brought be­fore the panel for a blind tast­ing.

Travel ed­i­tor Jan Shure judged that chicken A tasted like a clas­sic or­di­nary bird, while chicken B was much moister and tastier. News ed­i­tor Jenni Frazer agreed: “Chicken B was much firmer and had a bet­ter taste al­to­gether.”

Man­ag­ing ed­i­tor Richard Bur­ton ex­panded: “Chicken B was not as dry as chicken A. I could eat a lot more of chicken B be­cause it was more moist.” Art ed­i­tor Karen Sil­ver took a sim­i­lar view: “It’s more suc­cu­lent.”

Food-page ed­i­tor Si­mon Round ad­mit­ted can­didly that he was find­ing it dif­fi­cult to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two. So there was sur­prise when he an­nounced: “But I know which one is free range and which is con­ven­tional.”

He re­vealed he had snapped a leg bone in half. “You can tell the dif­fer- ence, be­cause the in­ten­sively reared bird’s bone will snap eas­ily but the free-range one won’t. Its bones are much stronger be­cause it has been al­lowed to run out­side and de­velop nor­mally.”

The JC panel had mostly de­cided that they pre­ferred the favour of chicken B. Yet this was the in­ten­sively reared bird. This came as no sur­prise to Stephen Gross­man: “Peo­ple tend to go for what they are used to,” he said, “and free- range has a stronger flavour and a firmer tex­ture.”

So why has there never been freerange kosher be­fore? “There has never been a de­mand be­fore. Free-range is more of an emo­tional con­nec­tion be­tween the food you eat and how it gets to your plate, how it is reared and cared for, how it lives. This is also in line with the Jewish ethos about the care and wel­fare of an­i­mals we kill for food.”

Free-range chick­ens may live bet­ter lives than their con­ven­tion­ally reared coun­ter­parts — but did our panel pre­fer them?

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