A new ad for a chicken company boasts that its chickens get to run around in the sun and climb ramps. (Then they have their heads cut off and are plucked, but that's later.)
The fate of chickens is something of a national obsession, which is why chicken producers are hitting back with images of farmyard bliss, where every fowl is happy, for three months. The producers are on the defensive from chicken freedom fighters, a loose axis of lobby groups battling for territorial expansionism to allow chickens to walk, Rousseau-like, away from the confines of their crowded cages and into a solitude and peace they might not otherwise know.
But are chickens their own worst enemy? After giving chickens access to open space via doors leading from their barn to freedom, one major producer found the chickens were actually refusing to venture outside, preferring to sit in their stalls or scratch about in the dirt inside the barn. The freedom fighters hit back, demanding the ungrateful chickens be somehow forced or cajoled to go outside and play in the fresh air, like bored television-watching children on school holidays. Before, of course, being despatched to satisfy an ever-growing national appetite for crispy chicken tacos, chicken and mayonnaise sandwiches with snipped chives, spicy chicken korma with flaked almonds, barbecued chicken skewers with Moroccan marinade or plain old roast chicken with onion and basil stuffing. Not to mention chicken Twisties, which really do contain trace elements of fowl. They’re still delicious, forty years after childhood. Eat one and you’ll eat two hundred.
There’s no getting around the problem. Chicken is delicious. Chickens might deserve a short, happy life like Hemingway’s Francis Macomber, but they excel, unlike Macomber, after their death. This attitude is speciesism or even human supremacy at its very worst; but the several hundred million human beings - including children right now being sustained and nourished by eating crisp, succulent fried chicken – are in the happy position of being able to ignore this. And even disagree with it! When the chicken hits the grill and the aroma drifts across the collective nose of humanity, chicken rights go up in smoke. Literally. And what smoke! Of course, everyone likes making animals happy, but stopping gangsters chopping the horns off baby rhinos to sell to the Asian black market gets my vote ahead of letting the chickens out.
Speaking of dreadful fates, being confined to the barn is nothing compared to being wrapped up in pieces of dead pig and stuffed with pine nuts and bacteria-injected cheese. If only the chicken knew! The following recipe is the kind of thing you don’t cook for ages and then you do it again and think: what have I been eating for the last five years!?!
Prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast with pesto and gorgonzola.
Slice each chicken breast in half, but not all the way through. Stuff it with a generous amount of home-made pesto and a slice of gorgonzola.
Now wrap the breasts in a couple of slices of thinly-sliced prosciutto. The prosciutto will stretch and hold well when wrapped carefully. Otherwise use skewers to keep it in place.
Cook the wrapped breasts very gently in a pan with a little olive oil, white wine, half a grated onion, some peppercorns and some chopped parsley. Place the lid on the pan and simmer very gently, turning the breasts after several minutes, depending on their thickness. The fluid will poach the chicken before reducing. When they're almost done, toss in some cream, remove the cooked breasts, raise the heat to reduce the sauce and then pour it over the chicken to serve.
On the side, fresh steamed asparagus spears with lemon juice and pepper, and potato mashed with flecks of kalamata olives.
Leftover stuffed chicken? Chill overnight, slice across the grain and use the slices in sandwiches with mayonnaise and rocket leaves.
More chicken freedom news: the other day I heard a chicken freedom fighter calling for a compulsory floor price for eggs to support free-range farming. "Is $2 too much to pay for an egg?" they shrilled, rhetorically, "when a happy chicken somewhere out there will peck a pristine field under the mild spring sunshine?"
In this Shangri-La, the hens would live a Utopian life in a kind of a poultry parterre where no fox roams, no relentless sun scorches, no drenching rain washes away the vision - and no jar of Chicken Tonight awaits. For $24 a dozen.