Saturday, October 22, 2011

Where to find good chooks

I reckon one of the easiest and most rewarding things you can do as a food lover is to start buying your fresh food from places other than the supermarket. I get my vegetables from Fruit World, Harvest, Pt Chev’s Little Hero, weekend markets and, when I can manage it, from Art of Produce in Crummer Road, a great little Auckland secret where chefs and hotels get their fruit and veg each morning but which is open to the curious public too. None of these places is more expensive than the supermarket but they’re all fresher, more personal and with more interesting vegetables. Look, above, it’s a grilled radicchio, mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil pesto salad made after one particularly awesome Saturday morning haul.

Would I want somebody to read the above paragraph out in front of a large audience as an example of what you’ll find on my food blog (as people did recently at both the Murray Mexted Roast and the Mt Albert Celebrity Debate, much to my embarrassment)? Probably not. It’s just the sort of middle class tosh that gives food writers like me a bad name. But look, you’re just killing time before internet porn hour anyway aren’t you? Think of me as your high brow amuse bouche before the burger and wedges arrive.

Anyway, whether or not you get your veges from the supermarket isn’t my main concern, but I would really like you to start buying your meat from a decent butcher (ie one that doesn’t have an adjective before the word ‘butcher’ in their title). Proper butchers hang their meat for a decent time so the flavour develops, and store it properly too – not in its own blood in a vacuum sealed container. Some of them, like Westmere and West Lynn, only sell organic meat too, which is better for everyone although, if you don’t want to pay the premium, NZ beef and lamb is pretty guilt-free from an ethical perspective. Both those butchers do free range chicken and pork, too, which is really important to seek out, because the alternative is pretty unspeakable.

But here’s where things get interesting. I was going to write this particular blog to convince you it was worth spending $30-$40 on a chicken, which is what the beautiful, well-loved chickens from Sunset Free Range Poultry go for at West Lynn. ‘I know’, I was going to reply to your inevitable emails complaining about the ridiculous price, ‘it’s a lot more than you’re used to paying. But it’s worth it – you can get three meals out of it by roasting, then doing sandwiches, then making up a beautiful soulful stock and turning it into a hearty farro and kale soup like this one’:

Man, I was prepared to stick up for that $40 chicken. And to help equip myself, I sent an email to Sunset, asking if they could help my argument by sending a list of reasons the West Lynn chooks were so much more expensive than the ones down the road at Westmere, which go for $19.95. And do you know what they said? That they’re the exact same chickens, and if you decide to pay almost twice as much for them at West Lynn, you’re a fucking mug (paraphrasing).

And I thought that was pretty disgraceful, because as a busy middle class liberal, you don’t actually have time to investigate the back story of every single purchase you make – you’ve got letters to adopted African children to write. So, you rely on places like West Lynn to do that investigation for you, and price their products accordingly. You should be able to, within a couple of bucks, assume that you’re getting what you pay for – and of all the meats where you should pay as much as you can, it’s chicken, because those poor chooks are the big losers out of the mass-production, fast-growth farming which has developed over the last few decades.

So buy the SPCA blue-ticked Sunset Free Range chooks (and eggs, their beautiful eggs), but buy them from Westmere Butcher. Or one of the other growing number of stockists around Auckland, some of which, yes, are supermarkets.

Note, I haven’t been able to get sufficient information to recommend the $14.95 unbranded chooks at Westmere, which for a free range bird seems a bit too cheap not to be cutting some corners in production. You might not be able to assume much about an expensive chook, but you can certainly make some guesses about a cheap one. Anyway, it’s getting late, and this post is getting long – time for you to open a new tab and go do what you need to do.