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Apr 25, 2007 12:14 PM

Farm fresh chickens?

I saw the thread about Olivera Egg Ranch. Any other places in the general area that sell fresh chickens? Anyone had their fresh-killed chicken? Any recommendations/comments on the quality of the various selections available at our butcher's (Rosie's, etc.).

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  1. The best butcher-counter chickens I've had are the Smart(TM)Chickens. They're processed without any water, so they haven't lost juices to the water bath and absorbed water. Mary's also does an air-chilled chicken, but I haven't tried them side by side. Rosie's is not in the same class. My sister recently moved and no longer has access to SmartChicken. She dry-brines her whole chickens before roasting, and she says she was shocked at how much water was at the bottom of the pan after dry-brining a Rosie chicken compared to the SmartChicken.

    Chinatown is probably the best source for fresh-killed chicken -- there's a couple of poulty specialist butchers on Grant near Broadway.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Yeah, I haven't been that thrilled with Rosie's. Where do you find the Smart Chickens?

      1. re: sgwood415

        I get them at Baron's Meats in Alameda. Andronico's and some high-end independent grocers carry it. It doesn't look like there's a retailer in SF, though:

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          The grocer search function is buggy. When you search for "California", Andronico's in SF is on the list.

        2. re: sgwood415

          I've seen them at Berkeley Bowl.

        3. re: Ruth Lafler

          Do you know where the Chinatown butchers are getting their birds?

          1. re: sgwood415

            They come from a variety of sources depending on what size and breed of chicken you want, live and freshly killed, etc. delivered daily from producers in Petaluma, Fulton, Stockton, and other locales in the Central Valley and some from Canada.

          2. re: Ruth Lafler

            Is dry-brining another word for salting?

          3. Petaluma Poultry stinks!

            The best butcher chickens come from Hoffman Farms. Local, organic, and very fresh, they're a few notches up from Smart Chickens. Zuni uses Hoffman for their famous chicken, 'nuff said.

            I'm not sure if you can buy Hoffman birds in SF, now that they pulled out of the Ferry Building Farmers' Market. I buy them Magnani Poultry in Berkeley. They get a fresh shipment in every Friday, I believe.

            You can bet that anything you buy in Chinatown wont be Certified Organic. Doesn't mean they're using bad practices, but when there's zero transparency I wont give a vendor the benefit of the doubt.

            More on Magnani:

            If you're looking for a source in SF, visit Marin Sun Farms at the Ferry Building Farmers Market. They mostly sell beef and eggs, but they sell chickens occasionaly. Local, sustainable & pasture raised.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Morton the Mousse

              Petaluma Poultry, FWIW, was the first producer in the country of Certified Organic Chicken. Chinatown may not be the Gourmet Ghetto, but where in Berkeley can you pick out your own bird and take it home with you, still alive? That's what I would call transparency.

              So "a Fresh shipment every Friday" is what you consider "very fresh?" I'm guessing you don't cook a lot of Chicken midweek.

              1. re: Gary Soup

                Thanks for pointing out my mistake. Magnani gets a few Hoffman shipments a week, I just know that they get them in on Friday because I usually buy them on Saturday.

                Transparency refers to the living conditions of the bird before it is sold and slaughtered. I know the chicken was once alive, I'm more interested in the content of its feed, the state of its living quarters, etc. A trained eye can ascertain a few things from examining a live chicken - is it debeaked? Do its feathers look healthy? - but a non-Chinese speaker wont be able to learn anything about the rancher's practices.

                Like I said, this doesn't mean the chicken tastes bad, nor does it mean that the rancher used bad practices. Based on the OP's profile and comments (s)her seems to be concerned over organic and sustainable food issues. If sustainable food is a priority, you will struggle with transparency when shopping in Chinatown.

                Petaluma Poultry's noble history not withstanding, their chicken just doesn't taste good.

                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                  Yes, my interest is in finding organic chicken from sustainable operations. And to find the better tasting chicken from that realm. I've found many "organic" products to be lacking in quality. The quest remains, as always, for the best flavors. But I want to find them from producers who have good practices. I agree that Chinatown, while maybe fresh, isn't as transparent when it comes to the source.

                  Thank you for the recommendation of Magnani, I'll be heading over there on Saturday to check it out.

            2. I've been meaning to post about the birds from Marin Sun Farms for a couple of weeks (sorry if someone's already mentioned it). We have been looking for a source of sustainable, local free-range chicken in SF since Hoffman decided to stop selling at the Ferry Plaza ( ), so that we don't have to travel over the bridge for a bird. Marin Sun Farms has finally started selling their chickens at the Saturday FP farmer's market--I think that they would qualify as farm-fresh.

              The bird comes whole, which was a change from Hoffman's, and although I had to make my peace with the bird whose head was looking up at me from the cutting board, I suppose that's a good thing. We decided to do a side-by-side with a Hoffman bird, doing the Zuni dry-brine/high heat thing. Both birds were absolutely delicious, with very little discernable difference between them--both were full of chicken flavor. The Marin chicken's breast was slightly dried out, but it was accidentally cooked a few degrees above what it should have been due to a poorly timed finger-burning incident, so I'm inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.

              The only drawback (and it's not an insignificant one) is the price--$6 a pound, compared to the price for Hoffman chicken of about $3.50 a pound at Cafe Rouge. We made the mistake of getting a 3 pounder, not realizing that it was coming with head and feet intact. I weighed it after these parts were removed, and was left with about 2 1/4 pounds of chicken, which makes the "roast chicken" part of the chicken nearly $9 a pound! I was happy to have the head and feet, as they contributed to a delicious stock, but still, that's special occasion food on our budget (which I guess I think meat should be). Even more than Hoffman, though, I'm sure that this chicken had a good life, and was treated and killed humanely. So I suppose that if it's just the two of us looking for a Sunday roast chicken, we'll probably stop by the Marin Sun Farms stall until the fall when the season is done. (But, um, for a dinner party, we'll still probably cross the bridge...)

              6 Replies
              1. re: Emily Hope

                Great post! Glad to hear that the city folk still have a good option for sustainable birds.

                Marin Sun Farms prices are steep, but they reflect a solid commitment to land stewardship and treating their employees well.

                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                  Absolutely. The price is worth the premium to me (as evinced by the number of times this winter that I waited in line for their $8 eggs), and we work it into a budget which consists of more home-cooked meals than out-food, but I realize that it might not be feasible for those on a more limited budget.

                  1. re: Emily Hope

                    So has anyone trie Ludwig Ave Farm chickens yet at the Sunday Kennsington Farmer's Market?

                    Of course, Alemany, Civic Center and the Old Oakland Farmers Market sell live chickens, but you have to dispatch them yourself.

                    1. re: Emily Hope

                      I'm of two minds about Marin Sun Farms: Their prices have gone up tremendously in the last year. Eggs went from $5/dozen to $8, chicken from $4 to $6. Their products are amazing -- best eggs I've ever had, and I love some of their beef off cuts -- and their commitment to sustainable agriculture is wonderful. But I have a hard time reconciling those prices, both with my own budget and with their rapid upward trajectory. That said, as long as they're selling their stuff, more power to them. They should get what they can, I suppose.

                      One other thing: The recent departure of Mariquita Farms came, in part, because it's difficult to make it selling just produce at the FP market. Andy, in his explanatory letter, suggests that there are fewer people doing their weekly shopping and more and more tourists mucking up the works buying herbed salts and other items they can check in suitcases. MSF's high prices will likely push a few more regulars to seek other ways to purchase their food. I, for one, am contemplating a CSA as a more economical alternative to the market. With Mariquita and Hoffman gone, MSF's prices going up, etc. the market is far less appealing.

                      1. re: Tobias

                        Mariquita Farms left Ferry Plaza because, thanks in part to the connections with restaurants and CSA subscribers they made there, they can now get paid for "every single leaf and root with no waste through ... CSA and restaurant sales." That means they no longer have a motive to knock themselves out doing the market on Saturdays.

                        1. re: Tobias

                          While the Marin Sun eggs were indeed $8 during the winter, I noticed last week that the price had come down to $7. So I think pricing is also dependant on supply -- they have few eggs during the winter and the hens are now laying more. So perhaps they may even come back down a bit further as supply increases.

                  2. I have been following this topic with interest. About chickens:1) I have found the tastiest to be Hoffmans and Fulton Valley. Cannot say one is tastier than the other, but Fulton Valley has large roasters while Hoffmans are petite, and I like to do the Marcella Hazan roast on my Webers with those big ones and make several different meals out of the leftovers for my wife and me. And 2), I also like to do red-cooked chicken and have been maintaining my red-cooking sauce for many, many years. The Fultons, the Rockys, any others (have not red-cooked a Hoffman) cook in that wonderful rich sauce but do not get red; the Chinatown chickens get wonderfully mahogany in color. I have assumed that it is because they are just killed that day whereas even the best of the others have had a longer journey from their home to mine. Maybe the skin gets less porous over time. Any other ideas?
                    About eggs: on this list, a couple of years ago, there was a previous discussion of eggs which included link to Chron article which now I cannot locate. This article pointed out that nearly all brands of eggs in local stores came from same Petaluma egg marketer. Despite this, I still find Uncle Eddies to taste better somehow; maybe it is the packaging. As for Marin Sun,whenever I do my Pt Reyes beach survey I drive past their chickens foraging in the pastures next to their large mobile tent-like roosts, right among the grass-feeding cattle and near the herd of goats. I do not mind paying more for them just because they feel like neighbors. I cannot say that I detect flavor that makes them worth three times Uncle Eddies but the yolks are definitely fattier and thicker and would have to be the egg of choice for custards or fine baking. Has anyone found this to be the case? By the way, they are a dollar cheaper per dozen from the Pt Reyes Station store than at Farmers Market.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: alfairfax

                      Marin Sun Farms, B&B Farms and Riverdog Farms all raise pastured eggs. As the chickens are allowed to graze on pasture, they get a steady diet of insects (remember, most poultry is omnivorous). This gives the yolks a dark orange or golden color, a thicker texture, and a superior flavor. Petaluma Farms and most other supermarket eggs are pen raised and fed a grain based diet. No pasture = no insects = insipid, thin, dull yolks.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Thanks, I corrected my post. Should be Petaluma Farms, not Petaluma Poultry.

                      1. re: alfairfax

                        The pores of the other birds might be filled with more water.

                      2. I've been meaning to post on this topic myself - so I'm pleased to see it here already! Tried to get a chicken last night from Cafe Rouge, but got there just a few minutes too late (the butcher shop closes at 6:30).
                        After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, I'm more than ever, concerned with buying pastured local chicken. Luckily, I can get to Cafe Rouge or Magnani realatively easily. But I'm also looking for other sources of local pastured chicken besides Hoffman. Where can one purchase a Fulton Valley chicken? Does anyone know where the chicken from Barron's (at Star Market) in Berkeley come from? Also - what is B&B?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: oaklandfoodie

                          Here's a list of Fulton Valley Distributors. IMO, the birds are not as good as Hoffmans:

                          Baron's carries Smart Chickens. Again, IMO, not as good as Hoffmans:

                          B&B is a an excellent egg seller based out of Mendocino. They use to come to the Berkeley Farmers' Market, but stopped about a year ago. Their eggs are sporadically available at the Berkeley Bowl. The best eggs available in the East Bay are from Riverdog Farms at the Sat Berkeley FM (get there early).

                          1. re: oaklandfoodie

                            Have you tried Ludwig Ave Farm chickens yet at the Sunday Kennsington Farmer's Market? This market is nearish the end of Solano Avenue. Morton, do you have any thoughts about Ludwig chickens?

                            1. re: rworange

                              I don't like Ludwig's eggs, so I haven't tried the chickens.