Over the last couple of years, I have been searching for the chicken equivalent of wagyu beef. Ive had Sutton Hoo (delicious) and Poulet de Bresse (incredible) and Label Anglais (marvellous). Ive tried capons (juicy) and cockerel thighs (meaty) but still I felt the perfect poultry experience was eluding me.
Then I read about Phil Truins free-range chickens. These are reared from one day old in small batches in freshly strawed barns until they are robust enough to enjoy the meadows outside in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
Phil promises: No chemicals, hormones or growing supplements are given and there are no additives in their drinking water. The fully matured birds are slaughtered, dry-plucked and finished by hand on site, then hung in the traditional manner before preparing for the table.
But what really distinguishes the Truin chicken from other birds is their size. At slaughter, they are around 14 weeks old, which allows them to grow to a mighty 4 kg.
So how good are they? For such a big bird I was expecting a lack of flavour, but no: it is wonderfully chickeny. The breasts are ginormous, but packed with flavour; and the legs are meaty with an almost gamey taste.
At 23 for the 3.5 kg bird I received , they dont come cheap (or cheep, ha hah), but it yields easily enough meat to feed six, or even eight, people. And even if you have fewer folks to feed, theres loads and loads of leftovers for pies and stir-fries.
The texture of the breasts is more like turkey than chicken, with an open grain. But unlike turkey, there is nothing remotely bland about it.
However, because of its size, I was concerned that the legs and breasts would cook at different rates, leaving me with dry breast meat or underdone legs, so I decided to follow Michel Roux Jrs recipe for Christmas turkey, which involves separating the legs from the crown, then quickly roasting the crown in a hot oven and slowly confiting (cooking in goose fat) the legs.
Heres Michels recipe for a 5kg turkey, which Ive modified for Phil Truins 3.5 kg chicken. You can make the leg confit several days ahead and then put in the oven to crisp up when needed.
You will need
1 chicken (or turkey)
1-2 large handfuls coarse sea salt (I used Tesco finest* Anglesey sea salt, which has massive crystals)
5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 jars goose fat (I used Cooks&Co)
150 unsalted butter, softened
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1. To remove the wishbone, loosen the skin at the cavity, then find the Y-shaped bone with your fingers. Expose it using the tip of a sharp knife, then carefully pull it out.
2. Remove the legs from the crown by cutting the skin between the leg and the body, then twist firmly away from the body to expose the joint. Cut through the ball and socket joint and remove the leg and thigh completely.
3. Lay the legs on a thin layer of coarse sea salt in a deep non-metallic flameproof dish. Sprinkle with the thyme and more salt to cover lightly. Leave for 90 mins to draw out the moisture. Wipe off the salt with a cloth but dont rinse. Discard the salt from the dish, then return the legs to it.
4. Preheat the oven to 140C/Gas 1. Warm the duck fat gently in a pan, then pour the melted fat over the legs, making sure theyre completely immersed. Cover with baking paper so it touches the oil. Put the dish over a low-medium heat and bring to a simmer, then cook in the oven for 3 1/2 hours until tender. Leave the legs in the fat to cool, then wrap the dish with clingfilm. You can keep it like this in the fridge for up to 1 month.
5. To prepare the crown, cut away the exposed part of the carcass where the legs were attached to give the crown a neat appearance.
6. Mix the butter in a bowl with a generous pinch of salt, a few good twists of black pepper and the lemon zest. Loosen the skin from the crown and, using your fingers, push the butter inside to cover the breast.
7. For the crown, preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 7. Put the crown in a roasting tray and season with salt and pepper. (I put mine on a bed of chopped squash, which acted as a trivet to allow the air to circulate around the whole bird). Roast for 15 mins, then remove and baste well with its juices. Turn the oven to 160C/Gas 3 and cook for around 1 hour 20-30 mins, or until the juices run clear when the thickest part of the breast is pierced with a skewer. Baste regularly.
8. Remove the tray from the oven and leave the turkey to rest for at least 30 mins before carving. Serve the crown on its own, or with the confit (I have reserved my confit legs in the fridge and will be having them next week, so watch this space).
9. Carve across the grain into thin slices. Serve with roast potatoes, roast squash, spring cabbage and gravy made from a stock (made from the giblets), white wine, thyme and lemon juice.
¢ I bought my Phil Truin chicken from Suffolk Food Hall.