Organic! All- Natural! Free Range! Just how do you cut through all this jargon and make informed poultry choices?
For starters, check out our take on some common chicken and egg claims. Although it's important to note that with the exception of "organic"-and to some extent "free range"-none of these terms has any legal definition, so they can basically mean whatever the marketer wants them to.
Organic. This is the one claim that is government-regulated and enforced. Organic producers introduce no pesticides or other artificial chemicals into the animals' feed or environment. So yes, buy organic chicken and eggs.
Free Range. The term evokes images of hens prancing around a farmyard, but according to the USDA, in order to label a bird "free range," all you have to do is offer it "access to the outside." So if you stuff 10,000 chickens into a barn with an opening that leads to a concrete pad, you have 10,000 free-range chickens.
Natural. Simply means that nothing is added after the bird is slaughtered. It has nothing to do with how it was raised, housed, or fed.
Farm-Raised. All chickens and eggs come from farms. The largest mass-poultry-producing facilities are still farms of a sort.
No Hormones Added. The USDA doesn't permit added hormones in any poultry, so even the most undesirable chicken has no added hormones.
Omega-3s. Similar to the above. All egg yolks contain omega-3 oils-the amount can be increased by including fish oil or flax seed in the birds' feed.
Cage Free. This means that the hens that laid the eggs weren't jammed into cages. But it can still mean thousands of birds crammed into a marginally sanitary barn. It carries more weight when paired with "organic."
Air Chilled. Instead of being submerged in cold chlorinated water with their deceased brethren, these chickens are individually hung in a cool environment for processing. It lessens the transmission of harmful organisms, cuts out the chlorine, and avoids water retention in the chickens' flesh.
Pastured. Means that the hens have been allowed to forage naturally, in addition to getting traditional feed. It also inherently implies a more humane and pleasant lifestyle for the birds.
"Humane" Certifications. Be careful here. There are valid third-party certifications, but there is also "Humanely Raised," a self-serving designation of the National Chicken Council with minimal requirements.
So ... where does this leave us? Here are a few basic recommendations:
Good: Look for organic, air-chilled chickens and organic, cage-free eggs. It's a step in the right direction.
Better: Buy pastured organic chickens and eggs. They might require a little legwork to find, but it's well worth it.
Best: Chat up the chicken growers at your local farmers market; find the ones with the right answers and a love for what they do; and get your poultry directly from the source
Grilled Chicken Paillards with Cucumber & Capers
Paired with organic brown rice and a salad, this is a perfect light late-summer supper.
4 6-oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to ½-inch thickness
1 Tbs. safflower oil
1 cup peeled European cucumber, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 Tbs. capers
1 tsp. fresh lemon zest (preferably Meyer lemon)
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice (preferably Meyer lemon)
1 Tbs. lemon olive oil
¼ tsp. kosher salt
- Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Moisten chicken with safflower oil, and season as desired. Grill until just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side, and set aside loosely covered.
- Combine remaining ingredients in small glass bowl, and stir to combine. Slice each chicken breast into 4-5 thin slices, and fan each on serving plate. Spoon cucumber mix over chicken slices, and serve warm.
PER 1/4-CUP SERVING: 248 cal; 35g pro; 11g total fat (2g sat fat); 1g carb; 94mg chol; 267mg sod; <1g fiber; 1g sugars
Summer Omelet On the Run
A fast, healthy, robust breakfast for those crazy weekday mornings.
1 whole egg
2 egg whites
1 Tbs. shredded fresh basil
2 slices ripe avocado
- Spray small sauté pan with olive oil cooking spray, and place over medium-high heat. In small bowl, fork-whisk together egg, egg whites, 2 tsp. cold water, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour eggs into pan, and swirl quickly to spread evenly.
- Cover pan, and cook until surface is just barely firm, about 1 minute. Place basil and avocado on one side, fold omelet in half, and slide onto serving plate.
PER SERVING: 190 cal; 15g pro; 13g total fat (3g sat fat); 5g carb; 186mg chol; 184mg sod; 3g fiber; 1g sugars