Haute chicken?

Roast chicken

Chicken is known as the "safe" protein, something you serve to guests who aren't adventurous eaters. But a growing number of heritage chicken breeders are attempting to change that perception. The Wall Street Journal reports on the trend of U.S. breeders and chefs offering birds that "sing out with flavor." 

Chickens in North America didn't used to be the bland breed that is found in most supermarkets today. Many varieties of birds populated the countryside up to the middle of the 20th century. Then an ambitious breeding program in the U.S., dubbed "Chicken of Tomorrow," led to the the Cornish Cross breed of chicken we know today. The breed "is built to live fast, die young (hatchling to supermarket in as little as 30 days) and leave a bland but meaty corpse."

When searching for more flavorful birds, chefs and growers are, not surprisingly, looking to France. There the chicken hasn't been relegated to a bland and boring single breed. It's long been a dream to have the Bresse chicken, thought of by Francophiles as the best tasting chicken in the world, brought to North American markets. Bresse chickens, regarded for their firm yet buttery flesh, are pasture-raised and then "finished" on dairy-soaked grain products.

That dream is coming true, with small outfits like Greenfire Farms, an importer and breeder of heritage fowl, providing Bresse birds to small farmers like Brice Yocum of Sunbird Farms in Visalia, California, who follows the old-school growing practices. This method of raising chickens is labor intensive and costly, but Yocum thinks the birds are worth the investment. "I do what I do because it's better," he says. The Bresse is among several heritage breeds coming to American shores.

All of this means that chicken is moving to the top of menus at restaurants across the country--with corresponding prices that raise eyebrows. At the Nomad in New York, the roast chicken for two is called a "must-get," but comes with a hefty $82 price tag. Have you seen any new chicken breeds offered at your local markets or restaurants? If so, are you willing to spend considerably more money to try them? 

Photo of Roast chicken with apricot stuffing from Food Network Magazine

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