Over the past thirty years or so there has been a steady decline in the quality of the chicken that can be purchased at the supermarket. The flesh has no firmness because the chicken industry primarily raises chickens crammed together so that they don’t have room to walk, and they often have difficulty standing when not being propped up by other chickens. That issue aside, the chickens we buy just don’t seem all that … fresh. They were likely slaughtered and then flash-frozen for transport, although your grocer will probably deny it. The flesh has often been injected with water, so that you’ll hopefully fall victim to the illusion that the meat is moist when in fact it is just rubbery. And who knows what evil crud they put in the chicken feed; it certainly isn’t listed on the label.
So sitting beside this sorry mess that is not fit for human consumption are some other, more expensive chickens. They might be organic, or perhaps free-range, or both. The packaging might brag about the chicken being “air” frozen, as if that’s better than flash frozen. Maybe it is, but who cares? It isn’t fresh, that’s for sure.
So yeah, generally if I’m willing to pay $3 or so per pound, the organic, free-range, air-frozen chicken tastes a bit better than the standard fare than can be had for less than half that price. Nevertheless, even the premium chicken is often old, it’s likely also been frozen, and it sure doesn’t meet the “smell” test for fresh, at least not if you’ve ever actually smelled a freshly killed, cleaned, and plucked chicken.
So what’s a person to do? There are a couple of options. In recent years, more and more people have been raising chickens, both for meat and for a steady supply of fresh eggs. This sea change in how some people have decided to source their poultry is not just a trend, it has become a movement. Sites such as backyardchickens.com provide a wealth of information to novice chicken ranchers, or chicken rancher wannabes. Also, there was an article that detailed this trend in the New York Times back in August of 2009 that is a great jumping off point for learning about this trend.
But making the decision to raise your own chickens is a pretty big step, and not one I was willing to seriously contemplate. Luckily, the solution for our family has been to buy our chickens at a Halal market. Initially I found the market when I was looking for a place to buy goat meat for a recipe I wanted to try. It is called Halal Meat Shop and Groceries and is located at 20 Cambridge Street, Suite 9, in Burlington, Massachusetts. The shop also stocks beef, lamb, and goat, and whenever I have been there, they have had one or more butchers on duty. For a small market, it is invariably quite busy.
I do have to be careful to request that they leave the skin on the chicken, as by default all skin is removed. The chickens have been killed according to Halal standards, and whenever we have purchased them, they have been very fresh. Whole chickens include the neck, which is a nice departure from the supermarket norm. Giblets are not included. Once the chicken has been prepared and served, it is quite clear that the quality of the chicken being consumed is significantly better than anything available in a supermarket chain, organic or not.
If, like me, you have been dissatisfied with the chicken available in your supermarket, I highly recommend that you seek out your nearest Halal market–buying Halal chicken has been a good experience for us.