As the quality of our food and the industrial system that provides it comes under question, more and more people are asking questions that I often take for granted. Questions like, "is chicken meat?" and "is chicken red meat" are a result of our industrial food system that separates the consumer from the source of their food and what their food is. This aspect of our food system must change if we ever hope to see any of our national health care problems diminish or even go away. Only after that will the questions about food as well change.
Another phrase I entered was, "is free range chicken". The results were very different. The searches people were making were more serious. The ones entering that phrase weren't asking if chicken is meat but more serious questions. I try to do a good job of explaining the difference when I am talking to you at the market. But when I entered the phrase "is free range chicken" into the Google search bar I realized there maybe more questions that I have not answered. I am going to try and answer many of those questions here. I am going to start with the first one here and follow up with the rest in other posts.
Is free range chicken tough?
Is free range chicken tough? I have heard people say that they have had free range chicken before and it was tough or chewy. Of course, if you are going to lay your hard earned money out for food, you will want it to be enjoyable to eat. Very few things in life are as enjoyable as a tender juicy chicken. But, truth be told, some free range chickens are a little tough. This is where it is important to know your farmer. I can't stress that enough. You should know what and how the farmer you are buying from is raising his/her livestock (chickens, cattle, sheep, ect.). It will make a world of difference in your satisfaction with what you purchase.
Basically, there are three types of chicken you can get meat from (you can eat them all but we are talking about accepted meat types here). The first is older laying hens. These chickens have lived their lives laying eggs and now have become consumers of feed and produce fewer eggs. These chickens have great flavor but due to their age tend to b tougher. They are typically referred to as stewing hens. Again, great flavor, but more suited for the stew pot.
The second is a chicken sometimes called a "Freedom Ranger" or "Red Ranger". These are a slower growing chicken that is often used in free range production. These take longer to raise but also have great flavor. What you need to keep in mind when buying chicken is the longer it takes to raise the chicken the tougher it will be. So I would place this type of chicken between older layer and the next type, the Cornish-rock chicken.
We raise Cornish-rock chickens. These are a cross between a Cornish rooster and a White Rock hen. These chickens have been selectively bred for years for growth rate. In turn they grow to a nice slaughter weight before getting tough. In spite of this quick growth they still have great flavor.
So are free range chickens tough? Some can be and it really depends on what you are buying. The best thing to do is ask the farmer growing and selling the birds what kind of birds they are and how old they are at slaughter. A good rule of thumb is the younger they are the more tender the chicken will be.
Have you ever ate a free range chicken that was tough?
Part 2 - "Is Free Range Chicken....Organic?"