Photo essay by Jo Dickins
Introduction by Malcolm Jolley
Carrie Oliver is used to promoting organic beef, but the artisanal meat advocate traded fur for feather on January 24, for what is widely believed to be the first ever heritage breed chicken tasting – at least in Toronto. Oliver facilitated the tasting, attending by roughly 40 interested diners. The birds, which included Buff Orpingtons, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Jersey Giants and Americaunas (click here for more pictures of the breeds) all came from Mark Trealout’s Kawartha Ecological Growers farm. The event was hosted by the Toronto convivium of Slow Food at Chez Victor, in the St. Germaine Hotel.
Chez Victor Chef Mark Chrystian, Mildred’s Temple Kitchen’s Donna Dooher and the Wine Bar’s Marc Dufour meticuously cooked each breed in a single way, trying hard to replicate each dish with each breed, so that the true flavour of the bird could be discerned. Dishes included a braised treatment, a broth, pan seared and roasted fowl.
Peter Goring a long time Slow Food member and amateur gourmet told GFR was “amazed at the differences with each chicken with each dish”. Consulting his notes, a few days after the event, Goring maintained that the stock made from each breed was particularly different, and planned to purchase chickens from KEG at the Green Barn Farmers Market and other heritage breed farmers based on which breed fared better in which dish. Goring explained that he learned that the heritage breeds they tasted take at least twice as long to mature as common industrially raised breeds like White Rock. The flavour he maintained was considerably more profound. Mark Trealout agrees, adding that the event was a “real eye-opener”. Trealout shared his tasting notes with GFR:
Ameraucana – Did not stand up too well to roasting whole – a bit dry, a bit tough. A favourite in the pan seared breast category, though. Great balance of flavour and chew. Same for braised legs.
Barred Plymouth Rock – A great middle-of-the-road bird. It did well roasted, did well pan seared, did well braised and a tasty broth. Nice pronounced flavour, nice texture without being too over the top or too understated.
Buff Orpignton – Softest texture, mildest flavour (in contrast to the other birds sampled, that is – definitely more flavour and texture than average grocery store bird). Best for roasting whole and a good amount of natural corn fat on this bird made the pan seared breast taste like fried chicken. Broth had a nice sweet hint to it too.
Jersey Giant – Most robust flavoured. Dense and meaty. Braised legs were my favourite application for this bird. Was popular with many folks as a whole roasted bird too. Broth was robust and earthy – almost with a hint of mushroom.
Jo Dickins is a Toronto-based professional photographer. Find out more about Jo Dickins at jodickins.com.
Find out more about Kawartha Ecological Growers at kawarthaecologicalgrowers.com. Find out more about Carrie Oliver at discoverbeef.blogspot.com. And find out more about Slow Food Toronto at slowfood.to.
Photo of Jo Dickins by John Gundy.