The secret recipe to cheap chicken (supermarkets don’t want you to know about)

5th September 2017

Apron at the ready? Welcome to the ultimate recipe for a typical supermarket cheap chicken (fake farm name included).

The secret recipe to cheap chicken (supermarkets don’t want you to know about)

Name of recipe: Whole chicken, weighing a minimum of 1.35kg.

Tastes like: Not much. Little to no flavour due to fast-growth and weak bones with little flavoursome collagen and fat. Oh and watery breasts that slice like butter. You wouldn’t taste of much if you’d grown quickly in low light that left you a bit twitchy, unable to really stretch your legs or rest properly and where the constant opportunity to eat is your only solace.

Popularity: Huge, massive. Like really, really big. The biggest thing since sliced bread (don’t get us started…). Every day Britons consume 2.2 million chickens. Of the total of UK chicken production, free-range accounts for 5% and organic 1%.

When was it created? The recipe was born when rationing was lifted in 1954, prompting increased production of chickens raised for meat. The birds? They’re slaughtered at on average 35 days.

Who created it? Independent poultry trade disappeared during the Second World War. Turns out it was retailers, not the Ministry of Agriculture, who pressed British poultry farmers to follow American methods and exploit economies of scale and to drive down prices.

How much? on average, £3.15 per bird. Less than the average pint of beer.

Serving suggestion: Add a dose of antibiotics to stave off E-coli. In 2016, 24% of UK supermarket chicken samples tested positive for the bug. Experts now estimate 50% of all antibiotics in the UK is given to farm animals.

Can ingredients be swapped? Throw me a slow-grown bone. Funny you mention… did you know slow-grown birds are reared over 81 days? That’s over double the supermarket average.

But how does it compare with free-range? Truly free-range birds walk around outside during the day, move their muscles more than those kept indoors in mega-sheds and enjoy a varied diet. Their ability to roam free, in addition to the age of slaughter, impacts the taste and texture of the meat. So with a slow-grown and free-range bird, you’re winning.

The result? Birds with thicker skin with a better fat content that’s full of flavour. Their meat is a lot firmer and has more structure because the birds actually use their legs to roam around and forage. Oh, and they have stronger bones too because they’ve developed properly – meaning it’s definitely worth whipping up a batch of stock.

Phew. I thought it was all doom and gloom for a second. Or am I missing something? There is another way. Every food purchase is a vote for the kind of food system you want. Buying sustainably produced chicken, knowing who produced it and also holding them accountable is a step in the right direction. Know your chicken farms and you won’t go far wrong.

Discover more on the real cost of cheap supermarket chicken.

Meet farmers Nick and Jacob at Fosse Meadows farm who rear slow-grown poultry in Leicestershire.

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