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Now reading A Guide to Chicken Breeds

A Guide to Chicken Breeds

Pitting the planet's most distinctive chickens against each other.

chicken

Bresse Galoise

“The queen of poultry, the poultry of kings”
—Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
FROM FRANCE
SIGNATURE: AN AOC LABEL
RARITY: 1.2 MILLIONYEAR
PRICE: $20-100/BIRD
FEATURED IN: POULARDE EN VESSIE

Anyone can make sparkling wine, but champagne can come only from a specific region. And anyone can raise a chicken, but only certain chickens raised in Bourg-en-Bresse carry the AOC label. They live outdoors, with at least one hundred square feet of their own space (bigger than my first NYC bedroom), and are encouraged to forage for bugs and grasses (healthier than my first meals while fending for myself). And they are monitored by the Centre de Sélection de la Volaille de Bresse to ensure everything is up to AOC standards. Chef Daniel Boulud describes it as “a beauty of a bird, which is monitored from birth until it reaches your plate. It feeds on maize, seeds, insects, and worms. You can really see the difference this makes when you look at the liver and fat. The color of the liver is whiter, and the fat is much more yellow, showing its better diet. This is also a walking chicken, so the legs are as developed as the breast. It takes longer to cook, because it’s a sturdy bird, but the payoff is there. Where I grew up, outside Lyon, we would buy the poulets de Bresse live from the market and then grow them further on our farm, until we were ready to eat them. I’m not sure that complied with the AOC guidelines, but I like to think my father did a nice job with them. They certainly tasted fantastic.”

Cornish Cross

“The chicken in every pot”
FROM THE UNITED STATES
SIGNATURE: UBIQUITY
RARITY: 50 BILLIONYEAR
FEED CONVERSION RATIO: 1.6
AGE TO MATURITY: 6 WEEKS
FEATURED IN: EVERY BUCKET OF THE
COLONEL’S ORIGINAL RECIPE

Young chickens slaughtered for meat are referred to as “broilers.” And no breed converts feed into meat better than the Cornish Cross (a hybrid of the Cornish breed from England and the White Rock variety of the American Plymouth Rock). Originally intended to be a fighter, the Cornish somehow lost a lot of the aggression that its parents had. What it gained, though, was a muscular, flavorful body that could be harvested young, which paired well with the Plymouth Rock that was popular in New England for its juicy meat and ease of rearing. When you go to the grocery store for that shrink-wrapped tray of skinless breasts or grab a box of chicken nuggets from the drive-through, chances are you benefited from these birds’ freakishly fast ability to turn the brutish and short span of their lives into fluffy, dry white meat.

Jersey Giant

“The supersized bird”
FROM THE UNITED STATES
SIGNATURE: LARGE SIZE
WEIGHT: 10-15 POUNDS
HEIGHT: 16-26 INCHES
AGE TO MATURITY: 9 MONTHS
FEATURED IN: WHOLE ROASTED CHICKEN

As its name may suggest, this breed was created in New Jersey and is HUGE. Bred in the late nineteenth century to be as large as possible, the Jersey Giant was meant to compete with the turkey as a family-feeding table bird. They can
weigh three times as much as the average broiler chicken. As a heritage pure breed, they may grow slower than most commercial chickens, but that extra time develops a better flavor and texture. And just as they grow slower, the best ways to cook them are traditional slower methods. Consider it for your next Thanksgiving dinner!

Ayam Cemani

“The Lamborghini of poultry”
FROM INDONESIA
SIGNATURE: UNRELENTING DARKNESS
FEATHERS: BLACK
SKIN: BLACK
MEAT: BLACK
ORGANS: BLACK
FEATURED IN: HAINAN JI FAN

Believed to have mystical powers, the Ayam Cemani is traditionally eaten for medicinal purposes or sacrificed for good fortune. Why is it so revered? This Indonesian bird is completely black,tip to tail, inside and out. This small bird
needs slow, wet cooking methods—like those used to make a plate of Hainanese chicken rice—to showcase its full flavor and draw out that spiritual power. But because of low laying rates and import bans, it is hard to come by—and extremely rare in the U.S. When it first landed on American shores, its photogenic appearance and rarity made it a media star. Breeders were able to sell individual birds for as much as $2,500.

Dong Tao

“The Dragon Chicken”
FROM VIETNAM
SIGNATURE: CRAZY LEGS
LEG CIRCUMFERENCE: 4 INCHES
PRICE: $1,250 BIRD

The circumference of the thick, scaly legs of the Dong Tao can match an adult human’s wrist. These giant legs are caused by an enzyme that also happens to result in sweet, tender meat. Originally bred for the royal family, this chicken is now a symbol of wealth and prosperity for all of Vietnam’s elite, eaten as a delicacy in finer restaurants. It becomes especially popular during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, when suppliers struggle, and often fail, to meet demand for this thick-legged bird.

Jidori

“The Kobe beef of chicken”
FROM JAPAN
SIGNATURE: A LIFE OF LUXURY
DIET: WILD CLOVER, VEGETABLES, TOMATOES, AND APPLES
PRODUCTION: 1 PERCENT OF DOMESTIC MARKET
FEATURED IN: KIRITANPO NABE (RICE-STICK HOT POT)

Jidori means “chicken of the earth,” and in Japan these birds are required by law to be free range. Raised in open pastures, they are allowed to grow slowly (up to three times longer than other chickens), to minimize their stress and ensure quality. They are slaughtered and delivered to kitchens within the same day, and are most likely the kind of chicken you’ll see served raw, as sashimi. But the earthy flavor and firm texture stand up to the long-simmering waters of a fragrant hot pot, too.

Silkie

“The teddy bear bird”
FROM CHINA
SIGNATURE: FLUFFY PLUMAGE
FEATHERS: WHITE, BLACK, BLUE, OR BUFF
SKIN: BLACKISH
EGGS : CREAM
FEATURED IN: WU GU JI TONG (SILKIE CHICKEN SOUP)

Unlike most other birds, the Silkie’s feathers are not barbed and instead puff out. This downy “fur” is incredibly soft to the touch and makes them look much bigger than they actually are. Adding to their cute appeal, they make excellent mothers—it’s been said they’ll raise ducklings and goslings. And though their feathers come in a few colors, white being the most common, their flesh is always dark gray with a bluish hue. Because of this coloration, they have traditionally been seen as having medicinal properties in their native China, making them an ideal candidate for a restorative chicken soup.

Kuroiler

“The rural revolutionary”
FROM INDIA
SIGNATURE: SCAVENGING
BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION FUNDING: $12.4 MILLION
PROJECTED ANNUAL PRODUCTION: 2 MILLION
FEATURED IN: KUKU KIENYEJI

Initially bred in India in the early ’90s by a socially conscious entrepreneur, the Kuroiler
was designed to be an excellent rural-village chicken and is even finding great purchase in Uganda, outperforming indigenous breeds. They provide more meat and eggs than other local species and are extremely efficient scavengers, adapted to live off the waste from kitchens and farms. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has donated millions of dollars to fund the distribution of this breed throughout Africa, helping impoverished villages become sustainable poultry producers. These rugged birds may initially have a gamey flavor, but their long cooking time allows rich spices in stews like kuku kienyeji to permeate deep throughout the meat.

Featherless Chicken

“The bare-all bird”
FROM ISRAEL
SIGNATURE: NUDITY
FEATHERS: NONE!
FEATURED IN: COMING SOON TO A CHICKEN SHACK NEAR YOU

In Israel, believed to be where humanity first used chickens for food, scientists have bred a chicken without any feathers. This chicken grows leaner and faster in warm climates, because it doesn’t waste the energy and calories that traditional chickens do trying to stay cool. Proponents believe it saves the chicken from having to grow feathers, which farmers have to spend time and money to pluck anyway. However, feathers help keep parasites and sunburn at bay. Still, this could be the future of mass-produced poultry in large parts of the world. Despite the lack of plumage, its flesh is reported to taste like chicken.