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Are Free Range Chickens Worth It?


highchef
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I don't have access to free range birds, but I've been reading up on stock making techniques (the lesson here, from Les Halles, and Chef Folse's new encyclopedia for starters). In Les Halles, Mr. Bourdain stresses his preference for the free range chickens quite graphically, but it's not right there by his stock making recipe. It's an opinion elsewhere in the book, but I assume that's what he uses since he really doesn't like the way chickens are raised commercially. No one else makes a distinction. Anyway, since I have a sister who frequently runs I-10 between NOLA and Houston I asked her to bring me one so I could check it out. Now...what sort of taste test do I devise to see any appreciable differences? I was considering quartering it and braising in my large LC 'Chefs' pan (think large paella).

What, if any, opinion do you have on these birds? worth the bucks? must cook them tomorrow, what would you do? (I am going to save the bones and makes stock..even though they'll be cooked already. For what I paid her for them, I'm going to get a few meals from the investment!)

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Highchef,

We've eaten only free range birds for the past 10 years. They are worth the extra cost. My husband was a sceptic until I did side by side roast chickens. There is a true textural difference in the meat and the dark meat is much better tasting than the store bought birds. Concerning stock, any chemical junk will tend to concentrate in the bone marrow and I find a free range stock tastes better, although I know this is a subjective term, and looks darker. Typically, free range birds are older and leaner with a different muscle structure than caged birds. If you are roasting you want to take this into account. In conclusion, I would rather not eat chicken if it isn,t free range. The grocery store birds taste like wet cardboard.

If only Jack Nicholson could have narrated my dinner, it would have been perfect.

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i've heard that the difference between a free-renge bird and a regular bird is about 6 inches. The taste and texture have more to do with diet and processing than the ability to "roam".

The complexity of flavor is a token of durable appreciation. Each Time you taste it, each time it's a different story, but each time it's not so different." Paul Verlaine

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I have always found it to be worth the expence. The free range birds that I get have three times the flavor and just seem to be more wholesome.

Tobin

It is all about respect; for the ingredient, for the process, for each other, for the profession.

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I have always found it to be worth the expence.  The free range birds that I get have three times the flavor and just seem to be more wholesome.

Roasted one tonight. I was offered the original Rocky on sale or the newer Brand Fulton. Give me the Fulton any day. We have a choice of free range here. :biggrin:

Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

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Great Cartoon!

I've always found free range turkeys to have a different flavor, one that I appreciated very much. I have met others who didn't care for it quite so much, though. Either way, I buy them not so much for their flavor, but in an effort (misuided as some people seem to think it is) to be more humane to animals in general, and to show companies like Tyson that if they start treating their birds more humanely (a.k.a. free range) people will indeed take notice.

Edited by bentherebfor (log)

Some people say the glass is half empty, others say it is half full, I say, are you going to drink that?

Ben Wilcox

benherebfour@gmail.com

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We have a couple of brands of chicken at our Whole Foods market that I think are far superior to the standard Tyson/Perdue/whatever. Much more flavor and less fat, don't have the really disproportionate Barbie style breasts.

One is Eberly's free range and the other is Bell and Evans. Bell and Evans ia our home brand, we really like it. As good or better than the free range and cheaper. They don't call it free range, but the birds do get open space, maybe there's a standard amount of space required to use the moniker free range.

http://www.bellandevans.com/

http://www.eberlypoultry.com/products.htm

Both of these sites have store locators.

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chefswartz is right........the difference can be quite small in the different living conditions for chickens.....

Caged- self-explanatory, but I will add that if you ever saw the operation you would think twice.....I saw the same breed we have here "living" 2 to a cage once and, well, it was sad..(almost to tears kind of sad)

Free Roam- thankfully out of the cage and running around in a big open building...like an indoor soccer field with shavings on the floor and lots of feed and water to get free will........

Free Range- access to the outside world......a technicality sometimes as you will possibly see a 12" x 9" door at the end of a huge building with 20 K young birds who might just by chance wander out the door into a fenced area....

A real free ranger will be wandering outside eating a lot of grass...chasing bugs...finding grains...trying to fly, running a lot........these birds definately taste different.....I'm not sure better for some applications...but as far as stock goes...unsurpassed.....and the feet...! make chicken jelly if you wanted to...

I think the taste really has a lot to do with diet, age and processing (lack of added water especially)....

Eggs are a whole other story.

Edited by Farmer Dave (log)
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Silly question, but how big does the chicken cage/enclosure have to be for the chicken to be considered 'free-range'? Is there a certain minimum square-meter-per-chicken specification?

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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Caution about Bell & Evans: Unlike purveyors of free-range chickens, they include cod liver oil in their chicken feed. Bell & Evans is definitely better than Perdue et al. but, in my opinion, far inferior to real free-range organic chickens. (Of course, cod liver oil is organic, but it's a bad flavor, noticeable in the meat but really evident in the bones for you marrow-lovers.)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I cooked the chicken my sister brought. It was not marked 'free range' but she was told it was, I thought it was a bit fat for that from what I've heard. It was marked hormone free and organic, which I think is a major attraction. It cooked and tasted like a Tyson, but with denser meat and darker 'dark' meat. I'd probably go that route if they were available. There's another in the freezer marked as above but also as 'free range'. It is smaller and more expensive. I think he'll become stock on the reccommendation of farmer dave. Thanks. They are called 'Smart choice' and I believe they're from HEB. I'd like to find someone local who'll does the organic/hormone free thing, but I won't hold my breath.

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I have experimented spit-roasting both grocery store chickens and free range birds when I lived in the States. The free range were much better in my opinion but still its like comparing a Chevy to a Ford. The Rolls Royce would be the Bresse chicken from France. There are other "AOC" chickens in France that are very good too. In my opinion, the real taste test comes the day after when the chicken is coold. I am surprised that there aren't movements in the US to develop AOC type products like in France. (Maybe there are and I'm just poorly informed). The only drawback to the Bresse chickens is the cost.... it's almost cheaper to eat filet mignon. A good Bresse chicken can cost $40.

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Growing up to Vietnam I used to eat free range chicken all the time, the meat was so flavorful and the texture was so superb. Sadly there's an avian flu there and people are staying away from chicken.

I have not found any place that sells free range chicken in Boston :blink:

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For me, the welfare of the chicken is a big factor. I have no compunctions about eating meat, but in our society we simply don't treat our animals right. Same thing with the eggs, although I do get confused between the different designations (free-range versus cage-free etc...)

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For me, the welfare of the chicken is a big factor. I have no compunctions about eating meat, but in our society we simply don't treat our animals right. Same thing with the eggs, although I do get confused between the different designations (free-range versus cage-free etc...)

I have been to Bresse and have seen how they farm the birds. Basically, they take a big field and fence it in and the birds go whereever they want. It looks more like a playground for chickens than anything else! As much open and cheap land as there is in the States, this seems like a piece of cake to duplicate. Getting Americans to pay $40 for a chicken might be a bit tricky though. :rolleyes:

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Back to the live chicken part of the discussion, the guideline for space is at least a square foot per bird.....but typically much more than that for healthier flocks...sounds small but when you picture 2 chickens in a cage smaller than that with nothing to do for a year but look down at a food and water trough....so cage-free and free run are basically describing the same thing...

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Back to the live chicken part of the discussion, the guideline for space is at least a square foot per bird

For a free-range chicken?

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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. . . sounds small but when you picture 2 chickens in a cage smaller than that with nothing to do for a year but look down at a food and water trough . . .

Er, chickens are usually slaughtered at something like eight weeks of age.

--

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I would be happy to sell anybody all the free range chickens they want at $40 a piece!! I have a bunch of old hens scratching up my flower beds right now that would make wonderful stock, I am sure. (Let's see, what is 17 times 40?)

Cage free hens are raised in open buildings, with not much more space than they have in a cage--space is money.

The only requirement for free range is access to the out of doors--out into a small manure covered yard.

sparrowgrass
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I would be happy to sell anybody all the free range chickens they want at $40 a piece!!  I have a bunch of old hens scratching up my flower beds right now that would make wonderful stock, I am sure.  (Let's see, what is 17 times 40?)

Cage free hens are raised in open buildings,  with not much more space than they have in a cage--space is money.

The only requirement for free range is access to the out of doors--out into a small manure covered yard.

I think in the UK (and the EU for that fact) have very stringent rules on free-range classifications.

I think that for it to qualify for a traditional free range it has to have have 24-hour access to the outdoors, to breathe fresh air, to have access to a large meadow, field or orchard, to peck and scratch about and to have a truly natural existence; to be protected from foxes and other predators by an electric security fence; to have shelter from the weather when needed; to have a place to roost and a plentiful supply of grain and fresh water.

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