The humble chicken is having a renaissance. It may have served us from time immemorial in pies, curries, casseroles and, of course, the great British roast (there’s hardly any recipe it can’t be used in), but there is a renewed interest in its use in top kitchens.
It’s an interesting development: it may be easy to cook, inoffensive in taste and appearance and relatively cheap but, let’s face it, it isn’t the most exciting of meats. It takes on the flavours around it but usually isn’t the star of the show itself. But now restaurants and pop ups are springing up devoting their entire menus to the bird.
Here’s why: until recently, as far as chefs were concerned, there was only one chicken that could really hold its own in terms of taste – the French Bresse – which, at over £30 each, was only ever seen in the most exclusive restaurants. Now British birds are giving the French a run for their money, with traditional breeds such as Bronze, Black Leg and Cobb coming back into fashion. Bred for flavour at all costs, and reared to the highest welfare standards, fed on natural grains and allowed to roam outside in woodland, these birds have bags of flavour.
Of course, any animal bred this way is going to be more expensive than an intensively reared alternative, where speed of growth and final size are key. But the depth of flavour makes them worth every penny. For a start, you need fewer ingredients to create a great dish. Put them in a curry and you will be able to taste the meat through the spices; make them into a pie and it will be transformed. These birds make their presence felt against gravy and pastry and all the other ingredients that all fight for a diner’s attention. And they make roast chicken just the way it should be: the centrepiece of the Sunday lunch, enhanced simply with some fresh herbs (thyme, marjoram or even rosemary) and white wine, or powerfully partnered with 40 cloves of garlic as per my favourite Keith Floyd recipe – amazing.
It might take longer and cost more to rear chickens for taste rather than volume, but like maturing a good cheese or a fine wine, these top quality British chickens are well worth the wait.