We are a nation of chicken lovers. Over a billion birds are reared for consumption in the UK each year. It goes without saying that animal welfare and how the bird has been reared is of the utmost importance when it comes to deciding which chicken to buy. But what many consumers don’t take into account, is what type of chicken to buy, and how that choice can have a major impact on the dish they’re cooking, depending on its size, leg to breast ratio and so forth.
At The Ginger Pig, we sell seven different types of chicken, plus quail, pigeon and guinea fowl. We’ve put together a handy guide so the next time you’re perusing our butchery counter or website, you’ll know exactly which chicken to pick for your recipe needs.
Rearing: Developed by crossing various pure-bred strains in the early to mid-20th century, just after the war. Large open barns with access to outside, reared for around 50 days.
Key features: Bigger breast to leg ratio
Tim’s top cooking tip: This chicken roasts well, especially if covered in a little bacon, and roasted for about 2 hours at 180 degrees. A little bit of foil loosely over the top is also a good thing. This bird is relatively fast-growing and the structure of the muscle is tender, so it doesn’t lend itself to casseroling, coq au vin, poule au pot etc.
Weight/Price: 1.8kg, £9 per kilo (£16-17 per bird)
Location: Lutterworth, Leicestershire
Rearing: 80 days, total outdoor, free-range living.
Key features: More substantial leg and narrower breast. The extra growing time, breed and outdoor living results in a more ‘textured’ meat – darker in colour, especially the legs.
Tim’s top cooking tip: These do roast well, but a good covering of butter over the breast, and something like half an onion pushed into the cavity, to keep the breast moist, is necessary. Starting at a higher temperature for 20 minutes, perhaps 180-200 degrees, and then a couple of hours, even 2 and a half hours, at a lower temperature (160). Regular basting just to keep the breast moist.
I think these birds are best used in coq au vin or poule au pot, where the leg and thigh join together and the breast on the bone is slow cooked with wine, bacon and onions. Alternatively, the whole bird in a large casserole packed with root vegetables and celery, works well.
Weight and price: 2 to 2.2kg, £11.80 per kilo (approx. £26 per bird)
Location: Belvoir Estate on the Lincolnshire/Leicestershire border.
Rearing: 70 days and 100 days - these are two birds which we’ve developed over the years thanks to our long-standing relationship with the fantastic Botterills family, over multiple generations. These birds are reared in England, but from breeds originating in France.
Key features: More substantial leg and narrower breast.
Tim’s top cooking tip: Fabulous if roasted slowly in order just to break down the muscles, especially round the leg, but outstandingly good flavour. Can be used for coq au vin, and other chicken-y wine-y dishes!
Weight/Price: 3-4 kilos, £10.80/kg for 70 day, £12.95 for 100 day. Please note that sadly due to the farm being affected by avian flu, we won’t have these birds until later in the year.
Location: Reared near the Atlantic Coast in Vendée department in the Challans, in the Pays de la Loire region of western France.
Rearing: Each bird has a card attached stating it has lived ‘en plein air’ (outdoors), also stating the age it was killed (normally 80 days) and the food ration it was fed.
Key features: Black legged chicken, it favours leg meat rather than breast as we tend to find with French chickens.
Tim’s top cooking tip: The flavour is outstanding, slightly gamier than any of the other birds we sell. This is the bird that butchers and French markets have on their rotisseries. The French also use this breed for their popular chicken and chips (poulet frites). Personally, I joint this into legs, thighs and breasts on the bone, and make a sauce with cream, mushrooms, chicken stock – in fact any recipe which is a bit “cordon bleu-ry”. No point in pot roasting or coq au vin as you lose the flavour during the slow cooking, and there are other, better subjects to use in these recipes.
Weight/Price: Approx. 2.4kg, £13.85 per kg (approx. £30 per bird)
Corn Fed French chicken
Location: The Loire Valley, France
Rearing: Fed on maize corn (not the usual wheat or barley)
Key features: The maize gives the flesh a lovely deep yellow colour, and the flavour is excellent.
Tim’s top cooking tip: I wouldn’t roast this bird, but instead use it in recipes where a jointed chicken is required. Best left on the bone, and broken down into legs, thighs and breasts, and like its black-leg cousin, can be included in those rich and iconic 1970’s recipes. Alternatively, and again broken down into joints, the corn-fed bird will marinate and barbeque very well. Also for barbequing, the chicken can be spatchcocked (cut along the backbone and opened to create a more even thickness for cooking).
Weight/Price: Approx. 1.6kg, £15.25 per kg (approx. £30 per bird)
Poulet de Bresse
Location: This chicken has the ‘appellation d'origine contrôlée’ status, meaning it has to be reared in the former province of Bresse in Eastern France.
Rearing: Diet is strictly cereal-based, and also milk. Each bird must have a minimum of 0.5 ha of pasture in the area of production and allow a minimum of 10 m2 per bird.
Key features: The birds come to us long-legged and we dress them in front of our customers. Their diet produces a very white and soft flesh, the liver is much prized as this is also extremely pale and cooks very well with mild flavour. At Christmas, we also bring in Capons from Bresse which are the same breed and reared in the same way, but these are the cockerels which are castrated. The taste and texture of a proper capon is fantastic, but it is only found in a few areas in France, there are no English capons.
Tim’s top cooking tip: I think it is important that every part of the chicken is used, perhaps a very lightly fried slice of liver on a small piece of toast for a starter, and then a poached chicken with either salad or spring vegetables.
Weight/Price: Average 2kg, £26.50 per kg (approx. £50.00 per bird, certainly a luxury!)
Location: Reared near the Atlantic Coast in the Vendée department in the Challans, in the Pays de la Loire region of western France.
Rearing: Like all our French-sourced birds, the Guinea Fowl benefits from the 'Label Rouge' label, one of the highest benchmarks for excellence in French agriculture and food production, alongside labels concerning status of location such as AOCs (like the Poulet de Bresse) and IGPs (Indication Géographique Protégée). The Label Rouge have a superior quality and mean the birds have been reared in the open air.
Although native to Africa, the guinea fowl is now widely farmed in France. These are free-range birds each with a minimum of 2 m2 of pasture, reared to 94 days minimum.
Key features: Small in the breast and heavy boned. Pheasant goes out of season at the end of January, but for every recipe requiring pheasant you can substitute guinea fowl.
Tim’s top cooking tip: I think a guinea fowl should be pot-roasted on a bed of vegetables, with a little rack of smoked pork ribs laying over the top. Alternatively, guinea fowl goes remarkably well with cream and chestnuts, broken down into legs and thighs which can be slow-cooked and the breast quickly roasted with a bit of bacon over the top.
Weight/Price: Average weight 2kg, £15.85 per kg (approx. £32 each – one guinea fowl for two people)
Key features: At 600g each, these are small birds - as you’re buying an ‘unfinished’ young chicken, the meat to bone ratio is low.
Tim’s top cooking tip: These birds spatchcock and barbeque well.
Weight/Price: Average weight 600g, £11.60 per kg (Approx. £6 per bird)
Rearing: These are farmed rather than wild, and sold as ‘squabs’.
Tim’s top cooking tip: A lot of keen cooks who follow Italian/French/Spanish recipes like them, often marinated in red wine, certainly simmered in red wine or calvados, and more often than not found as a starter.
Weight/Price: Average weight 45g, £13.60 each
Tim’s top cooking tip: Quite trendy to have as a starter, one quail per guest. Marinated, perhaps a little bacon and a sage leaf skewered to the breast, quickly roasted and served with a napkin across the knee as you do need to use fingers.
Weight/Price: Average weight 35g, three per kilo (£5.70 each)