Chicken—roasting it, simmering it, sharing it—is more often than not on the menu for Shabbat and many Jewish holidays. And as careful as we are in going to the right butcher or grocery store, it can be hard to know which chicken to buy. But it turns out, we recently learned, that the quality of the chicken you buy can vary greatly depending on the breed.
Heritage breed chickens, now available kosher for the first time in decades, are the only chickens humans ate prior to the advent of factory farming. They’re happier, healthier, and more delicious than conventional chickens. Kosher meat companies Grow and Behold and KOL foods first made them available last December, in partnership with the Jewish Initiative for Animals and Frank Reese of the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch. We were thrilled to be among the first to try our hands at cooking a kosher heritage bird.
If, at this point, you need a poultry primer, believe us, we did too! By definition, heritage chickens are breeds established by the American Poultry Association before the 1950s. They were bred over thousands of years in order to live long and productive lives outdoors, to reproduce naturally, and to grow at a normal, balanced rate. You might be just as shocked as we were to learn that over 99% of chickens today are not bred to exhibit these basic traits. In fact, modern day conventional birds are made to grow as quickly as possible on as little feed as possible, and those traits are incompatible with breeding healthy and well-balanced birds. While heritage chickens take 112 days to get to full size, the conventional chickens we’re used to eating reach the same size in just 42. For the first time in history, factory farming made it possible to earn more money by breeding unhealthy animals.
As it turns out, chickens who live healthier, happier lives are also the most nutritious. When compared to factory-farmed chicken, heritage is healthier on all fronts: It’s higher in protein, has less than half the fat, and is much lower in cholesterol and calories.
Finally, their slower growth rate leads to a deeper and more distinct flavor than conventional chicken. When you bite into heritage chicken, you pick up on the rich, nutty, robust flavors of real chicken. It’s so lean and flavor-packed that you might even be reminded of Thanksgiving dinner! Honestly, the house even smells better when you’re roasting a heritage bird.
Because heritage birds are leaner and more muscular than your average conventional bird, it’s important to follow our cooking tips to ensure a rich, delicious chicken. When in doubt, cover the bird while cooking to keep it moist, and always remember that low and slow is the way to go.
Heritage kosher chickens are available from KOL Foods or Grow and Behold. Finally, you can buy kosher chicken, bred and raised in the most timeless, healthiest, humane way possible, cared for every step of the way. An important point to note: Heritage chickens are frozen and vacuum sealed, so they are as fresh as possible. But it also means you need to take care to thaw properly or the chicken won’t cook evenly. Here are some great thawing tips from Grow and Behold. Then check out the video below for a step-by-step guide to roasting these beautiful heritage chickens.