SPENT HENS

Instead of selling end-of-lay hens live, why not suggest customers buy them dead, to cook like most Europeans do?

Recently, chicken is far more prevalent in the UK than Europe.

A spent hen will stay as tender as a younger bird, if kept moist.

Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty have interested both Chefs and the general public in the quality of old hen meat when handled properly.

94% of the 2.2 million chickens eaten daily in the UK are broilers, intensively reared, 5% are free-range and 1% organic.

In 1950, people ate less than one kilo per year, and it was often a spent hen.

Today we eat more than 2kg a month, and average 25kg a year.

A spent hen which has performed well may have had her life extended to 85 weeks, or 600 days.

That’s 17 times longer than the typical broiler and 7.4 times longer than the 81 days of the slow-growing, high-welfare chicken.

In shape, the legs of the 1.1kg spent hen will measure some 12cm, whereas, those of the 1.8kg free-range broiler are 8cm long.

Spent hens may be browned in oil or fat in a pan, before being put in a pot of water, together with vegetables and herbs, and simmered on a low heat for 6 hours. The temperature should be kept below 180° F (82 ° C).

A good slow cooker will achieve this.

If it goes above this, the protein fibres toughen.

The flesh will then shred easily, like pulled pork, and have a distinctive “chicken” flavour.

The reaction of cysteine with sugars in the meat gives flavour, but the most important chemical to give traditional “chicken” flavour is 2-methyl-3-furanthiol.