The hottest thing in poultry this side of the pond is air-chilled chicken, says the San Jose Mercury News. For decades, Europeans and Canadians have been enjoying chicken that has been cooled by circulated air after being butchered, instead of being dunked in chlorinated water, which is standard operating procedure in the United States. Fans claim that the Euro method produces poultry that is tastier, has better color, and gets a crisper skin when roasted. Air-cooling may also reduce the risk of bacterial cross-contamination.
The air-chilled cluckers get the stamp of approval from no less than food scientist Harold McGee in the Mercury article. “Whenever I can find them, I buy them,” he says. “The basic fact that you’re not adding anything extraneous to the chicken is the most important to me. If you’re buying chicken, you want chicken–not chicken with ice water.” When the article’s author did a taste test, however, she said “it was a close call. The air-chilled might have had an iota more flavor, but I knew ahead of time which bird was which. My husband, who tasted them blind, thought both chickens were equally flavorful.”
Smart Chicken has been offering organic and vegetarian-fed air-chilled chicken in the U.S. since 1998. Sales have been so slow that the company actually filed for bankruptcy in 2000. While air-chilled poultry still makes up a tiny percentage of the U.S. market, that may be changing. In January, Whole Foods began converting its meat counter poultry sections to air-chilled chicken only. Niman Ranch will start selling an air-chilled French heritage chicken in April. (For those of you in Northern California, the Merc article also includes sources). It looks like air-chilled chicken is on a roll.