Thursday, March 13, 2008

Air-Chilled Chicken

In the you-learn-something-new-every-day department, there's a fascinating post over at Natural-Specialty Foods Memo about air-chilled chickens -- what looks to be the next big thing when it comes to healthy, natural poultry. Instead of cooling the freshly slaughtered chicken carcasses with ice water -- which many say is less safe and affects flavor -- they're cooled with blasts of chilled air. From the article:

Numerous supermarkets and butcher shops in Western Europe have sold the air-chilled birds for decades, and air-chilling has been used by poultry processors in the region for about 45 years However, the concept has only recently been implemented by a handful of poultry processors in the U.S., which is why until now it was near-impossible to buy a non-ice water-cooled chicken in America.

But, as we said above, that's changing. Whole Foods Market, Inc. is the leader in offering air-chilled chickens for sale in the U.S. in fact, even though 99% of the chickens slaughtered and processed in the U.S. are still cooled the old fashion way, by dunking the dead bird in a huge tub of ice water, the Supernatural grocer has decided to eventually convert most of its full-service meat counters in its U.S. stores to sell only air-chilled chicken.

Air-chilled chicken has improved safety, flavor, and texture, but so far very few processors have switched over. Whole Foods in Northern California (and Andronico's -- remember them!) carry the birds as does SuperValu, who owns Bristol Farms, one of the leading small producers. (At least we know at some point they would have had them in Sunflower markets -- why else would SuperValu own a natural chicken producer?) Here at home, these are most likely to be coming from a small producer so ask your butcher if he can get them. My guess is not yet -- but it's something good to know may be coming to a meat counter near you in the next year or two.
Update: And it looks like air chilled chicken is much more readily available than this author would have us believe. I'm looking into the particulars, but it appears that air-chilled chicken is available locally at Trader Joes and Marsh. Thanks commenters for catching this!


Anonymous said...

I've been buying the Smart Chicken brand in TJ's and in some N side grocery stores for a couple years.. They are air chilled and avail in town, no need to wait. They do taste better than the typical Purdue/Tyson stuff. Higher priced, but I'm willing to pay that if I can't get a bird from my friends that raise the live ones!

Keith and Esther said...

Bell and Evans chicken is all air chilled and can be purchased from nearly all Marsh meat counters.

braingirl said...

D'oh -- now you know I have been to the grocery store in two weeks! Looks like this is much more widely available than the original author would have us believe (or it's a case of flyover-itis.) Interestingly enough, I've been seeing this more and more -- we midwesterners having more access to some natural products than coastal food lovers do.

Keith and Esther said...

The Bell and Evans chicken has been available at Marsh since I moved back from Singapore nearly two years ago. I spoke with their VP about the operation about a year ago. The chicks aren't free range nor are the organic, just air chilled.

What gets my goat about the big processors is that they add chicken stock and brine into the processed birds. Yuck! Who needs chicken flavoured chicken?

susan said...

Chickens in European countries are air chilled.

O'Malia's downtown has carried them for years. They're not that rare, taste much better.

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo said...

Good to see the piece generated a discussion. No fly-over hubris here by the way...LOL.

And,you are right: Often there are more "upscale" and "natural" offerings in the Midwest than on the coasts...and with Whole Foods' HEB and Market Street supermarkets, for example, headquartered in Texas, that state has really become a leader equal or more progressive than the West Coast in many ways.

We write alot about Europe as well; so check us out for a global view on occassion as well.

Enjoy your blog Braingirl!