Friday, July 25, 2008
In search of chicken...
Pale, soft, and exudative… does a vision of chicken pop in your head? It should! These three words have bummed their way into the lexicon of the poultry industry as the biggest problem facing the original white meat. Go ahead, Google “chicken PSE” and see what comes up.
Apparently, as American demand for chicken has skyrocketed in the past decades (insert “I’ll just have a chicken salad” here), there has been an overwhelming change in the color, texture, and water holding capacity of the meat, defined as PSE. Growth defects, rapid chilling techniques, genetics, stress, and increased movement through the slaughter process all contribute to a change in pH which in turn gives us a weensy problem: quality.
So, is it possible to find a bird in town that resembles the mythic lore of the third-world chicken, or the American breed circa 1950…? What does such an animal taste like? How does the flesh perform under heat? Could it possibly be rich, robust, and moist?! Fear not my fellow Fresnans… the answer is yes!
One hot summer afternoon, I rounded the corner from McKinley onto Maple and took in the sight of a glistening statue of a rooster, chained to a fence in front of a squat building, framed in three languages: “King Poultry.” Some might be turned off by a vaguely marked ethnic building in an industrial park, but in search of chicken, I did a u-turn.
A waiting room, clean and sterile, punctuated with petite red paper lanterns and a couple of chairs, gives way to a small glass window. Sidle up: behold! Workers in gloves and masks, hairnets, and booties, rhythmically working over athletically built chicken carcasses. They are beautiful! Lean, long, puckered thighs and rubbery feet, with pintails and entrails gracefully pulled to the side. If you are suave enough to linger at the window a bit, you can peek into an adjacent room stacked high with cages of red-feathered chickens, scratching, bobbing, and flapping before their last rights.
You can choose the sex of your chicken and its color. They run about $8 each, and are prized for there, as one worker described, “sticky” flesh. Now, stay with me. Think about the last time you had an amazing, bone sucking experience of a roasted or grilled bird, and lingered with the little snap of protein when you pulled your teeth apart or the ghost of tacky gelatin on your fingertips. That’s it. These fellas are free-range, vigorous, healthy breeds, fed a little corn and picking up a lot of grass and bugs along the way. This not only gives them a more pronounced chicken flavor, but indeed they are better for you! Imagine eating the flesh of someone who strictly ate Fritos, as opposed to one who ate a little salad now and then too. Who’s leaner? Who has a better cholesterol count?
As if this were not enough, you can sling back a sack of eggs- 20 for $3. White, ecru, brown, or mottled, lop-sided, freckled, beige, or squat, these little guys are a beautiful testament to biodiversity. Crack one open for an intensely orange yolk, nestled in a firm, glossy albumen. Stunning. If you dare, do a side-by-side of the old-ass eggs you have in the fridge. Dear God.
Take it all in. Stay local. Get outside of your hermetically sealed thinking. Turn a cold cheek to PSE chicken and consider the King.
On Maple, just south of McKinley in Fresno