Chickens were already being reared thousands of years ago in places such as China, Egypt, and India. The chicken was even around in the Neolithic era, in the form of its ancestor, the Red Junglefowl (bankiva), which was domesticated in Asia.
It is thought that the inhabitants of the island of Kos, in Greece, taught the Romans how to fatten up these birds in enclosed spaces. They became so popular that the Consul Canius Fanius Strabo banned their presence in the streets and banned them from being served. The only ones authorized were those raised in backyards. It was then, in the year 162 BC, that castration was invented as a way of getting around this law.
For centuries, the chicken remained more or less unknown, the food of farmers. It was cheap and so did not deserve a place on the table of the rich, who preferred to eat peacock, and also turkey when it arrived from America, with the bourgeois eating mainly goose.
It is assumed that chickens reached the American continent in the boats of Christopher Columbus, but it is quite possible that the Polynesians had taken chicken there first, as bones have been found in Chile, dating back over 600 years. However it happened, chicken was a great hit on the American continent, which is the largest producer of chickens in the world.
In Europe, chickens were brought to the fore in the 16th century by Henry IV of France, who stated his desire to ensure that every farmer could have one in his pot every Sunday. Later, Vincent la Chapelle, chef to Louis XV, created the dish Chicken à la Reine. Carême also liked to cook chicken and was not afraid to use it twice in the same menu, as a starter with Chicken sautéed à la lyonnaise and as the roast dish: Poulard with egg sauce.
A brave farm chicken gave his life to feed a hungry Napoleon on the evening of the battle of Marengo.
During the War of 1870, Escoffier, then Chef to Colonel Andiau, was shipped to Metz with him, where he immediately started to rear hens and chickens. 33 years later, he published his Guide Culinaire, containing 97 recipes for poulard, 50 for chicken breasts, 60 for sautéed chicken, 22 for corn-fed chicken, and 8 recipes for poussin, without counting recipes for giblets, wings, and chicken mousse, and mousseline.
Factory farming of hens started in the 19th century and further developed in the 20th century, from 1920 in Britain and then in the United States. At that time, they were being raised for their eggs.
From the 50s, raising chickens took off all over the world, across all continents.
The label must always indicate the origin and weight of the chicken, the price per unit and per kilo, its nature and its class (or those of the pieces), the date of packaging, and the sell-by date.
The different categories (1–4) indicate the size, i.e. the weight range of the chicken. 1 is the smallest, the poultry weighs 850 g or less.
The letters A, B, or C define quality: conformity, degree of fat, and muscle development of the chicken. A is the best.
The quality of the flesh of a chicken obviously depends on its age and its diet.
Its color also depends on its diet: those fed yellow corn have yellow flesh.
Choose chicken that has a label. Many of them have obtained a PGI that guarantees an even higher quality.
When plucked, the skin of the chicken should be intact, with no tears, no stains, and very firm flesh. If the head has not been removed, the remaining feathers around the collar should be bright, clean, and soft.
Poultry, regardless of the breed, should be firm. The firmness of the thighs and fillets indicates how muscular the bird is. The firmness of flesh is a result of this.
In France, some forgotten breeds have quietly returned to the market, such as the Houdan, the Gâtinaise, the Janzé, and the Grise du Vercors.
Chickens, spring chickens, hens, poulards, and capons are sold fresh and whole.
Chickens are sold:
. fresh, whole, and ready to cook (eviscerated)
. fresh and in pieces, packed under vacuum or modified atmosphere,
. frozen, whole, or in pieces.
Livers, kidneys, and cockscombs are occasionally sold on specialist markets.
Before use, poultry should be gutted and dressed.
If eggs are found when gutting a hen, they must be immediately discarded, as they may be toxic.
If the poultry is to be cooked whole, it is trussed. Otherwise, it is jointed, i.e. cut into 4 or 8 pieces, depending on the size.
There are countless chicken recipes from all over the world, in which the bird is roasted, broiled, cooked in casseroles, whole, in pieces, etc. It goes well with all vegetables, but also with fruit.
Its carcass can obviously be used to make chicken broth or stock.
2–3 days in a cold room or refrigerator at 1°C–5°C.
When the chicken is whole, it is better to hang it on a hook. Jointed, it should be put on a rack then covered with a cloth.
Chicken is high in protein and fairly low in fat.
Approximately half of this fat comprises mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is why chicken fat is very soft. Located mainly under the skin, it can be easily removed.
Chicken can often carry salmonella, dangerous bacteria but which are killed during the cooking process. Chicken should never be placed in the refrigerator without being wrapped, otherwise it may contaminate other food.
There are many categories of chicken. In France, they are distinguished by the rearing method used and the age at which they are slaughtered.
Standard chickens, known in France as quatre-quarts
Raised on factory farms on a large scale: 20,000–30,000 chicks live together in the same
building, 20 animals per square meter, without ever seeing the sun. Fed vegetable meal (meat and bone meal has been banned since 2001) and given antibiotics, they are slaughtered when they are 45 days old and weigh 1 kg or less. Their soft bones and flesh put them at the low end of the chicken scale. They are the cheapest, bought by large-scale caterers and sold roasted on spits.
De marque chickens
Raised under more or less the same conditions as standard chickens, but with a little more space (16 chickens per square meter), they are slightly older when slaughtered: at least 50 days, up to 65 days. They weigh from 1.2–1.8 kg. They are more consistent and less soft because of their age; their quality varies depending on the brand.
Label Rouge chickens
They come from smaller farms (6,000 chickens per building maximum).
They are better fed, as the Label Rouge insists on a diet of 70% cereals, 25% flour, rich in vegetable protein, plus a mineral intake, and bans antibiotics. They must be at least 12 weeks old when they are slaughtered.
Their flesh is much tastier and they have real bones. Each chicken is given an identification number.
Label Rouge fermier chickens
They start their lives in the same way as Label Rouge chickens but with more space (4,000 maximum per building). When they are 6 weeks old, they live in semi-freedom: these are the only chickens on the market to have seen the sun.
They are slaughtered at the same age, at least 12 weeks but sometimes a little older. They weigh 2–2.5 kg.
Some of these chickens have been awarded a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication).
The chickens are labeled and only fed grain from organic farming. They must be slaughtered at the age of 81 days.
Raised in a traditional manner: they spend 35 days in a henhouse with 10 square meters per chicken. When they are 5 weeks old, they are let out in fields of at least 5,000 square meters.
Fed corn and wheat, as much as they can peck, plus dairy products from when they are at least 35 days old, the chickens are slaughtered at 4 months, poulards at 5 months and capons at 8 months.
Obviously these are the best (and most expensive), with a firm and tasty flesh. They are the only ones with both AOC and AOP labels (protected AND controlled designation of origin).
This is a small chicken, weighing 500–600 g, and around one month old. It may have a label. But whatever category it falls under, its flesh lacks flavor, and is often soft and grainy.
A grain-fed cock, raised in a barn and given freedom, well fed with grain until it is 5–6 weeks old, when it is castrated. A few weeks before slaughter, it is locked in a cage in the dark and fed cereal and milk. The Bresse capon (PDO) is 8 months old, while the others are 5 months old, at slaughter. They have a very tender white flesh and are rich in fat, which is just as white.
This is a laying hen that has run its course after 18 months to 2 years. It weighs 2–3 kg, is very fat, and becomes a "spent hen", which is slaughtered. The vast majority are recycled to make cold cuts. Some make it to poultry butchers.
This is a young hen that has been carefully selected to become a poulard.
The Bresse poulard (PDO) lives in freedom for about 16 weeks, and fed grain.
It is then locked in the dark (before sexual maturity and therefore before it has had the wicked idea of laying eggs) for 21 days and fed mainly milk, giving it a delicate and tender flesh.
Free-range poulards are usually selected in August to be slaughtered before the end of the year.
All the while, they are well fed and allowed to roam free. They weigh 2.5–3 kg.