The other day I was shopping for ingredients for a dinner party. The supermarket had sold out of the chilled local chickens I usually buy, so I bought two imported from the United States that had been frozen then thawed. When I started cut- ting up the chickens, I realised the ana- tomy was different. Of course, each had two legs, two wings, two breasts and a back (although they lacked a head and neck). But compared with local chickens, the breasts were huge and the legs small.
I'd heard about selective breeding but hadn't noticed it before because I rarely buy imported birds. Many people outside Asia prefer the leaner breast meat, so chickens are bred to have larger breasts. The ones on these birds were so big that two pieces satisfied each of my two guests (I don't eat breast meat); when cooking local chickens, I serve three pieces per person.
While my guests were happy, I was less so. It wasn't just due to the disproportionately large breasts; the meat of the bird felt odd. It was soft and flaccid - almost as if it had been brined for too long - and the skin wasn't tight on the flesh, like it is on a fresh chicken.
Because of this, I changed cooking methods in an attempt to give it a firmer texture. I had planned on pan-frying the pieces, then simmering them briefly with white wine. Instead, I pan-fried the pieces and braised them for a fairly long time, using assertively flavoured ingredients to give the frozen meat more taste - lots of onion, garlic, piment d'Espelette and home-made chicken stock.
My guests loved it, yet I couldn't help but think how much better it would have been to have used fresh chicken bred for flavour, not the size of its breasts.