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Nuclear Chickens (moved from LA)

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Does anyone have an explanation for why fresh chicken parts at the supermarket are monster sized? Seriously, they are huge. It's almost hard to believe that they are chickens instead of turkeys. I'm talking about plain, fresh chickens from Foster Farms, Purdue etc. but even at Whole Foods the organic, natural feed chickens are gigantic. I just fried some up in a 12" skillet and the pieces were so big that only 2 of them would fit in the pan! Just wondering if anyone else has noticed and if anyone knows why suddenly all the chickens look like they were raised next to the nuclear power plant. It's scary.

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  1. Chickens come in different sizes, boilers, fryers and I forget the other designations. Dr Hogly Wogly in the valley used to give you a half chiken that would feed 2 people, god forbid you got the 3 meat plate, you had breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day!

    1. Chickens are bred to be bigger today because more of them are sold as parts than as whole chickens. Food service uses breasts, tenders, thighs, legs, and wings. Consumers buy more parts as well. All of those sell for more than if you buy the whole chicken. Even livers can be sold for close to the price of a whole chicken. At my market, chicken feet sell for more.
      If you break down a small chicken (say 2 1/2 pounds), each of those parts would be smaller than the portion size that Americans expect. So producers are just providing what the market wants.
      Small chickens - normal size, if you will - are still available at poultry markets. The supermarket chicken does look scary but after seeing them for so long, the normal ones look rather scrawny. They taste just as good, maybe better.
      BTW, none of them have hormones. There are no hormones approved by the FDA or USDA for use in chicken production. It's just breeding.

      2 Replies
      1. re: MakingSense

        Oh yes... the poultry market. I remember as a kid going to one in our neighborhood to pick out the Thanksgiving turkey which was still alive and nervously walking around in it's cage with the other turkeys that hadn't been picked yet. Is there anyplace in L.A. that's like that? Probably not since that was in the 60's. What's the best poultry market? It would be nice to buy fresh duck instead of the kind that's frozen hard as a brick.

        1. re: SugarFrosted

          Didn't I see one at Grand Central Market when I visited LA? Surely one of your Asian, Hispanic, or farmers' markets sells fresh poultry? I have two poultry vendors at Eastern Market in Washington, DC, walking distance from my house and some of the farmers' markets in our Metro area have poultry too from what I understand. I can even get more than one kind of fresh duck and duck breast.

          Those small chickens don't make it into regular supermarkets because they're a specialty item now. Interesting that the recipes in so many cookbooks - Zuni, Hazan, Keller, etc. - all call for the small ones. The recipes are more successful if you hunt down the right size instead of using the "nuclear chickens." Worth the effort.

      2. Its sad... but that is reality. Chickens are bred to be huge & have no flavor.... even the free range chickens (commercially available) tend to be dissappointing. You really have to go to another country, or buy a farm to learn what real chicken is suppossed to taste like.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          One of the reasons is that chickens are slaughtered at a very early age - even the organic, free-range, specialty chickens - before they develop full-bodied flavor. The cost of feeding them outpaces the return on investment for what they can be sold for in markets. I seem to remember that five to six weeks is the magic age. Chickens in other countries are often slaughtered at a later stage.
          That's why a stewing chicken is more flavorful although tougher. I think capons are allowed to grow a little older as well. Both have more flavor, although the capon has different factors involved.

          1. re: MakingSense

            In other countries people also have little chicks... and they seem more flavorful than even our stewers. Its the same with Turkey.... they have just been bred to lose any gaminess whatsover... and then "Free Range" are rarely allowed to subsist on grubs & insects... again we may like the idea of Free Range... but people just don't have the expectation that chickens should be full of flavor. Things are changing... but I still remember when gourmet publications would describe Mexico's food ecosystem as somewhat backward.... and denigrate the strong flavored, tougher chickens etc as late as the mid 90's.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              You're right. Maybe it is American taste. The country wants mild flavor and tenderness and it should cook quickly. How much boneless, skinless, tasteless dry chicken breast is sold every day in the USA? People complain about fish that tastes fishy or the "off-flavor" of grass-fed beef, and buy double-breasted turkeys shot full of stuff to keep them juicy.