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Hey, it’s Dietsch. I haven’t posted here in a while, but I wanted to talk about something important: where we get our food.

More specifically, where we get our chicken. Chicken is important to us because it’s the meat we eat most often. It’s relatively lean, but as everyone knows, when it’s cooked and sourced well, it’s flavorful. Julian loves it. But, unfortunately, finding good quality but inexpensive chicken is surprisingly difficult.

Because we eat chicken so often, we want to make sure we’re eating good stuff. It doesn’t need to be organic, although that’s nice, but we certainly don’t want antibiotics or hormones in the meat. Free-range birds that eat grubs and grasses tend to taste better than birds raised indoors on a grain diet, but to find birds like that, you need farmer’s markets. And with a toddler, getting to the farmer’s market is harder now than it used to be. (We have one in the neighborhood; more on that later.)

One thing we’re adamant about, though: no Tyson, no Perdue, no Swift. None of the stuff you find at most major groceries. We’re building a boy here; we don’t want to flood him with chemicals.

brick chicken 2

Since moving back to Brooklyn in June, we’ve had to start over again on the task of researching our best food sources. In Providence, we had things nailed down pretty tightly. We knew who had our favorite chickens, for example (Pat’s Pastured), and we knew what our second and third choices were — which farmer’s market and grocery birds were reasonably good choices, if we couldn’t buy from Pat.

During our first stint in Brooklyn, things were also pretty set. I worked for a while near Union Square, so getting to the Greenmarket three times a week was pretty easy. I’d swing through in the morning or at lunch, cache my stash in the communal fridge, and haul it home at the end of the day. (Our favorite chickens in our swinging DINK days? Tamarack Hollow, Violet Hill, and Flying Pigs. It’s hard to say which of the three we liked best.)

This go-around, things have changed. I work from home now, writing and taking care of Julian. I’ve tried going into Union Square with him during the week, but to get him on the subway, I have to wear him in the carrier, and hauling 22 pounds of baby and Greenmarket goods home is pretty stressful.

We have a small Greenmarket on Cortelyou Road on Sundays. We get beautiful eggs from Knoll Krest Farm, but we haven’t asked them yet about chicken. (Years ago, we bought some stewing hens from their USQ stand and they were delicious, but I don’t know whether they sell young chickens, or just older laying hens for stewing.)

We make out okay in this neighborhood for grocery stores. I mean, we’re unlikely to ever see a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s here, and that’s okay with me, but we have a couple of C-Towns, a Met, and a Key Food. And also on Cortelyou, we have the Flatbush Food Co-op. Unlike the more famous Park Slope Food Co-op, you can shop at Flatbush without being a member.

Chicken offerings at Flatbush include Eberly, Wise, Free Bird, and Bell & Evans. Eberly birds are raised by Amish and Mennonite farmers in Pennsylvania. Eberly is organic and offers its birds at least some access to the outdoors. (I probably don’t need to explain how loose the term “free range” is; it’s hard to know how much outdoor access a “free-range” bird really gets.) We’ve had Eberly’s chickens many times and are satisfied. Its turkey was the centerpiece of our beautiful Thanksgiving feast this year.

Wise is a kosher operation, but it’s also organic. As with Eberly, its birds have some outdoor access. The birds are raised by “a group of ten small family farms” in Pennsylvania. We’ve also been satisfied with Wise chicken.

Free Bird is another organic producer. Free Bird’s birds are cage-free, which I don’t think Eberly or Wise claim to do. Its birds are raised on farms in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. Free Bird would be my top choice at the Food Co-op, but Flatbush doesn’t always have it in stock. When it’s out, I go with Eberly or Wise.

Bell & Evans sells some birds that are organic and some that are not; it says its birds are free-range. Like the first three, its birds are raised in Pennsylvania. We like B&E birds, but Bell & Evans sells EVERYWHERE; I don’t feel like they need my custom.

brick chicken 1

Prices vary, but generally, these four options run about $3.99 to $4.99 a pound. I don’t mind paying a premium for quality meat, raised in relatively humane circumstances without a lot of crap added to it, but still, with a kid, that’s pricey.

Recently, though, I’ve started to realize there’s another option. We went into Chelsea Market a few times, after we moved back, and while there, we stocked up on meats from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats. The Dickson’s site is pretty transparent about its sourcing, so I learned that their delicious chickens come from a distributor called Madani Halal in Queens. The birds are shipped live to Madani from Amish farms in — yes — Pennsylvania. They’re raised cage-free, without antibiotics, and on a purely vegetarian diet.

Now, Dickson’s birds are wonderful, as is all their stuff, but they’re also pricey: $5.00 a pound. At prices like that, even humble chicken ceases to be a weekly staple of your diet.

However, we live in an area of Brooklyn known as Little Pakistan, an area that has drawn Pakistani immigrants for generations. We have halal shops everywhere. Walk up or down Coney Island Avenue, anywhere south of Church Avenue, and you can’t miss them.

One shop, a bodega/butcher’s called Evergreen, is just around the corner from our apartment. At Evergreen, if you want jasmine rice, the smallest bag available is five pounds. If you have room to store a 30-pound bag, Evergreen can hook you up. Also, if you’re nuts about curries, this is the place for you; every curry spice and blend imaginable is for sale here. Fenugreek, coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala — you can buy them all for a pittance.

Halal, if you don’t know, is the Muslim equivalent to kosher law. The strictures are quite similar. No blood, no pork. Animals must be treated humanely, and must be slaughtered in such a way as to minimize suffering. (Although the exact method of slaughter has prompted some controversy; the Wiki entry on halal has a summary.)

Halal meat, like kosher meat, generally carries a tag or a mark to indicate that it’s safe to eat for adherents of the respective religion. So thanks to this tag, I learned that Evergreen’s chickens come from Senat Poultry, in Paterson, New Jersey.

Well, they’re slaughtered in Paterson. The chickens themselves are raised on … wait for it, wait for it … Amish farms in Pennsylvania. They’re vegetarian-fed, free-roaming birds, raised without antibiotics or hormones.

To our palates, they’re just as good as anything we can get at the co-op, and they’re as good as the birds we were getting at Dickson’s. They’re not specifically organic, but that’s the only difference between Senat’s birds and those from Eberly, et al.

Oh, wait, there’s one other difference, and this one’s major.

Evergreen charges me 2 bucks a pound. Those, my friends, are mass-market grocery prices — what you’d pay for Tyson birds at C-Town.

We’ve had better birds from the farmer’s markets, sure. But a four-pounder from Evergreen costs me $8.00, whereas a bird from a Greenmarket vendor might cost me as much as $6.00 a pound, or $24. Is that bird three times as good? I cannot honestly say “Yes.”

So, let’s sum up.

Co-op birds — Eberly, Wise, Free Bird, B&E:

  • Organic (mostly; some B&E birds aren’t)
  • Free roaming
  • Hormone and antibiotic free
  • Vegetarian diet
  • $3.99 to $4.99 a pound

Dickson’s birds:

  • Halal
  • Free roaming
  • Not organic, but hormone and antibiotic free
  • Veggie diet
  • $5.00 a pound

Evergreen:

  • Halal
  • Free roaming
  • Not organic, but hormone and antibiotic free
  • Veggie diet
  • $2.00 a pound
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