This Bird's Got Soul

I am interrupting my European travel journal this week to interject a few words about the best darn chickens I have ever tasted. Now many of you might naively believe, as I once did, that all chickens are created equal and that they all taste the same, but you must trust me when I say that you are dead wrong. I first stumbled upon Soul Food Farm last year when I bought a dozen of their eggs at my neighborhood farmer's market. I had never seen nor tasted eggs like this before. They were simply stunning in their box, their hues ranging from pinkish-brown to turquoise blue.

Their true beauty was revealed, however, once I cracked open their granite hard shells and slid a few of them into a bowl. The whites were perfectly translucent, like viscous water. The yolks fluoresced like day glow and stood so tall, they resembled ping pong balls the color of the rising sun, bobbing in the bowl. Once cooked, their flavor was rich and luscious – scrambling, poaching, hard boiling, soft boiling, it didn't matter, these eggs were the nonpareil.

When I heard recently that Soul Food Farm was starting a monthly CSA in San Francisco, where they would provide eggs, chickens and more, I jumped at the opportunity to join. I was a bit wary upon placing my first order, as chickens cost $6.50 a pound and eggs $6.50 a dozen. Could I justify buying $25.00 chickens or eggs that cost more than twice those that I buy at the grocery store? When I did the math, I realized that breakfast made from a couple of eggs costs about $1.00 (or less than I probably lose down the black hole in my sofa every day,) but it was the pricey chickens that really concerned me. From an ethical standpoint I felt justified in spending the money. Soul Food Farm chickens are pasture raised, eating grass and bugs like chickens are supposed to and roaming freely on one of the most beautiful landscapes imaginable. Cheesy as it sounds, these chickens seem happy and they are not pumped up with drugs or hormones, nor crammed into tight, dark spaces like so many factory farmed chickens.

Then, last month, I tasted one of these divine birds for the first time. I wanted to prepare it as simply as possible so as not to mask its natural flavor. I patted it dry, generously seasoned it with salt and pepper and threw it into a hot oven with a skeptical snicker, "OK $25.00 chicken, show me what you've got!" An hour later that bird had me silenced. Never had I tasted a chicken so succulent, so moist, so incredibly delicious. It's like I had never really tasted chicken before. Tonight I made my second Soul Food chicken and I have to say, it was better than the first. It's hard to imagine that something so typically bland, neutral and uninteresting could taste this way. This is a bird that requires no sauce, no fancy preparations, no adornment of any kind. In fact, to do anything more to these chickens than a quick showering of salt and pepper would be blasphemous and excessive.

But don't just take my word for it. If you ever get the chance to try such a chicken let me tell you, unequivocally, that it is worth every penny. Not only for the peace of mind you get knowing that your chicken lived a good life, or because it is important to contribute to the livelihood of small farmers who put forth the time and the love to do this in the right way, but also because you have simply never tasted real chicken until you’ve tasted one like this.

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