The ubiquitous and cheap chicken breast is everywhere – boneless, skinless and flavorless. The usual solution is to drown it in a marinade or drench it with sauce in an attempt to give it some flavor. Why is it so flavorless? Well, chickens tend to taste like what they eat so if they don’t taste like much we’re fortunate since animal feed may contain “rendered animal products, animal waste, antibiotics, metals, and fats”. Read a study (PDF).
Fortunately, George and Eiko Vojkovich of Skagit River Ranch don’t feed any of that (literal) crap to their birds or cows or pigs! Their chickens are truly free ranging as well and not stuffed into a poultry barn with access to a small hatch. Naturally, they are certified organic as well.
See! (Note that this photo was taken last November when the chickies were up in the upper pasture to stay out of the way of the floodwaters.) I can also say that they are quite delicious and well worth every penny.
Besides lack of flavor, factory-farmed poultry actually harbors real dangers beyond what may be passed on from their feed. Consumer Reports did a test in January 2007 which revealed that “campylobacter was present in 81 percent of the chickens”. Of course, in the first study that I linked, the feed was actually shown to be one vector of contamination. Not very surprising.
However, CR did have some good news for us in the Skagit Valley! Draper Valley’s Ranger chickens were amongst the least contaminated. “There was an exception to the poor showing of most premium chickens. As in our previous tests, Ranger–a no-antibiotics brand sold in the Northwest–was extremely clean. Of the 10 samples we analyzed, none had salmonella, and only two had campylobacter.”
Since Draper Valley steadfastly refuses to get a web presence, I will quote from the Bellingham co-op’s page: “Draper Valley Ranger Chicken – Raised in a low-stress, fresh-air environment; free to roam from barn to yard. Vegetarian diet, no animal by-products, antibiotics or hormones. Grown in fertile valleys of Washington. Humanely raised and processed.”
Now that should be taken with a grain of scratch as I have seen both Draper Valley’s regular coops and the free range coops. The free range coops have a door in back and a netted in pen. There is no evidence of chickens at either, but maybe I just didn’t get lucky! There usually isn’t a smell anyway, at least, driving by. I have noticed an odor occasionally at the processing facility on Jason Lane when shopping at the Mount Vernon Building Center (yet another local business!), but that isn’t too surprising.
With all the talk of the dangers of chicken, it’s hard to get an appetite up for it, but I love the taste of a happy bird. The best chicken that I’ve had in my life, was a yardbird that was given to me by a friend along with a dozen green eggs. The stock from the carcass was a deep brown color not the usual pale yellow.
If you feel that George’s or Ranger chickens are too pricy for your food budget, and you don’t have any friends handing out plucked and cleaned chickens, reserve them for a more occasional treat. Make sure, however, that you use the whole chicken and also make a stock from the carcass. We usually get 3 meals for two, not including broth, from one chicken. It’s not so bad that way.
By the way, nigari tofu stands in wonderfully in all your favorite chicken breast recipes. It has the same flavor profile, after all. 😉