I usually ignore press releases from food companies filled with mind-numbing marketing-speak and buzz words like “organic” and “natural” but something about the one from Yorkshire Valley Farms captured my attention. It announced the arrival of supermarket chicken that I could feel good about. Is that possible? These chickens, I was told, have been happily-raised properly-fed, organically-certified, and free-to-roam in their Peterborough, Ontario, homestead until, ahem, their arrival, air-chilled, in sanitary packaging at our Loblaws and Superstore locations.
I am particularly touchy about the subject of supermarket chicken. Ewww. That combination of words alone makes me squeamish. I can’t remember the last time I bought chicken from a supermarket, much less wrapped in cellophane and styrofoam. Like many informed eaters, I’ve become increasingly choosey (read: wary) about which birds pass muster with my squeam-o-meter. I am somewhat consoled by the word organic, but not always. And I find so-called “local” chicken almost impossible to come by here in the nation’s capital. Not that local is a guarantee of freshness, much less a happy life for the animal, nor does it tell me anything about the use of antibiotics, hormones, or animal bi-products. But that’s another story.
Suffice it to say I was intrigued with possibility that really good-quality organic and locally-raised chicken were now available on a large scale here in Ottawa. It does beg the question of whose deep pockets are behind this endeavour. But the other question is: how does it taste?
Like the iconic Life cereal TV ad where the big brother didn’t want to taste the new cereal first, I confess I was relieved that the product had already been taste-tested and recommended by none other than locavore chef extraordinaire Jamie Kennedy. If it’s good enough for him, I reasoned, I might as well give it a try.
I stopped at the butcher counter at the Richmond Road Superstore this week and noticed the sign for Yorkshire Valley Farms. The butcher directed me down the long cooler counter aisle where the new products were tucked in alongside their less-fortunate fowl friends. I was impressed with the groovy “bird-in-a-bag” style of packaging for the whole chicken, but I opted for the standard styrofoam package of skin-on bone-in thighs and another of boneless skinless breasts (surely the best test for flavour and texture). When I opened the packages at home, everything looked appealingly fresh and clean and firm. I roasted all of it in a hot oven with just olive oil and salt and pepper so that I could taste the pure flavour of the bird and I have to say: it was wonderfully juicy and it actually tasted like chicken! You know what I mean, right?
I’m not sure this experience was enough to convert me away from buying fresh chicken from a trusted butcher shop, but it has made it possible to imagine a future where our favourite edible animals are treated with the respect they deserve, even on a supermarket scale — an advantage that pays us dividends on our plates…and with our squeam-o-meters.