Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Chicken Cheaters

I buy organic meats for Karel and the Little It.  Not so much because I actually believe it's healthier, but because in Europe, at least, the labelling laws say that for a product to be called "organic" (or bio, or EKO, as the label is known in the Netherlands), the animal must have free range and be fed organic food.  Such animal products get 3 stars under the "Beter Leven" label.  I prefer products that have 2 stars--I don't see the point of feeding organic feed, but I do think animals should be free range.  1-star products indicate that the animal is caged, but otherwise treated humanely--meaning better than one of the poor box-pigs that you can see in the commercial below.  As our local supermarkets go, it's either 1 or 3 stars.  Some of it does come out of concern for animal welfare--but mostly because I think it's squicky to eat something that's likely been eating its own shit.  

But even if you don't subscribe to my views, I have discovered another reason to purchase organic animal products:  you actually get what you pay for.  Yesterday, after swallowing my disappointment that our Albert Heijn was out of organic whole chickens, I flinched and bought a seemingly-huge scharrelkip--a 3-4 lbs beast (normally it's 2-3 lbs) of a bird.  Roast chicken was on the menu last night, and I didn't feel like going back home and rejiggering the menu so that we could have an organic bird.  I'm principled, but not a saint.  And also--it's chicken.  How different could it be?

Turns out:  vastly.  The chickens that I have bought up to now, being organic chickens, released just a bit of liquid when they were finished cooking--certainly, one layer of onions and carrots was plenty to keep the chicken out of the its juices.  So I was completely unprepared for the soup that the bird was swimming in when it was finished--almost 1/3 of the roasting dish was flooded with extruded liquid.  Then I remembered that chickens are injected with saline to make them juicier, less prone to being tough when faced with errors of cooking time.  In the end, then, there was about as much meat on it as the organic bird, and the organic bird also tasted better--more noticeably, the dark meat was actually kind of dark.  Plus organic chickens have tougher skin--I somehow put 3 holes in the skin of the chicken in the process of turning it, which I never managed to do with an organic one, and I know I manhande the organic birds just as badly (not a dainty home cook).

Given the price difference between the 1-star bird and the 3-star birds (negligible), it comes down to this:  if you're going to buy a starred animal product, go with the 3-star products.  With a 1-star product, you're already paying a premium for the privilege of eating a humanely-treated animal.  You may as well go all the way and get something that tastes good, is easy to handle, and isn't 1/3 saline.

(You may be asking yourself why I spend up to twice as much money on an organic chicken, when I'm always trying to minimize costs and cut out this and that.  One bird will last 10 meals--one as a roasted chicken, one as a ragout, and then the bones and juices get boiled for up to 1 L of stock, which is good for 8 meals, and maybe-sometimes there might be enough for wraps the next day.  It might not be as efficient as 22 meals for $49 (she did have a bigger chicken than I did, and apparently Karel is a bigger carnivore than Karl), but stretched the way it is, €10 isn't too bad a price. ) 


  1. I believe the same as you, that animals should be allowed to roam free, I buy organic and free-range as well, I even try to go to the farms that are about an hour away from us and buy from there. That is crazy how different it tasted. I know with beef, I made burgers from some kind of organic free range beef and my husband commented how different it tasted, that it was better.

  2. Organic stuff here is at least double the cost of conventional stuff, so I have to pick my battles :-/ I buy most of our meat on sale, or when it's almost-date-expired, and freeze it until I need it.

    Some small farmers here will sell beef to friends and family, but then you have to buy a HUGE portion of meat.