CHILDREN grow up quickly. One moment, they’re bawling but adorable babes, the next moment, they’re taking their first steps, and doing cool new things. Doting grandmothers may babble sweet nothings to their grandkids — like kuai kuai zhang da, grow up quickly! — but do you really think they mean it? I doubt. What they secretly want is their little babes to be babes forever, suspended in a timeless bubble of baby smells, baby fat, coos, gurgles, and all.
But what if they could really grow up quickly, as crazy-quick as an overnight morph from boy to adult, just like how Tom Hanks played it in that 1988 fantasy comedy, Big? It’s fun in the movies, but we really don’t want to be going there for real.
The truth in our chicken world is that crazy-quick is as real as can be, rendered in a kind of fast-forward we wouldn’t want to be wishing on our kids. Hugh Fearnley-Whittington, my River Cottage hero, had portrayed this sad chicken tale before in one of his TV programs called Hugh’s Chicken Run years ago when I used to keep a daily diet of the Asian Food Channel. If you want to watch a grown man cry at the sadness of it all, Fearnley-Whittington is the guy.
I’m not sure if I can make my tears come, but what I can share with you is a conversation I had with Kenny Toh, the Head of Projects at Toh Thye San Farm, the folks who supply to Auntie Eng at the Bukit Timah Wet Market, the lady whom I always visit to get chicken.
Now, here’s a number to remember: 65.
It refers to the number of days a chick must grow before it reaches a marketable weight, which is anything from 700g to 900g. That’s just the minimum weight, of course, you do get heavier birds.
My favored ones for stocks and a warm, delicious bouillon are about 1.1 to 1.2 kg, with lots of chicken feet thrown in for that lip-smacking collagen goodness you’d just want to kiss me.
This is the kind of chicken I’ve been getting since Auntie Eng came into my radar about a year ago. They are marketed as the Anxin chicken, anxin connoting that wonderful feeling of being “free of worries.” And why ever worry, because these chickens are reared in a free-roaming environment, and “grown slowly with love,” so the farm proclaims.
No Enhancers, Please
What about their feed? It’s a cocktail of goodies, I’m thinking, as Kenny shares some of them: soy beans, corn, organic selenium, and even garlic, can you beat that? And our avian friends get a dose of natural health supplements as well, plus probiotics, it sounds like they’re even better nourished than I am! Let’s not forget what they’re not fed with: antibiotic residue and chemical growth promoters.
These free-range chickens, also called GG Poulet, are Naked Necks, a breed of chickens from France, so called because their necks are featherless. GG, by the way, is not some special French acronym, it’s just short for the Gesing Group, one of Toh Thye San’s sister companies, but it sure has a certain allure, evocative of some star dancer at the Moulin Rouge.
Cast side by side with the word, poulet — French for chicken, and pronounced poo-lay — the word may not exactly conjure, for me, all the bright lights of a cabaret and its marquee star, but I’m sure thinking, This chicken is special! And why wouldn’t you?
Working with a Fine Chicken
I like that when I return home with a chicken thigh or breast that Auntie Eng’s husband, Uncle Chuan, has deboned, I’m not getting a clunky piece of meat. If you observe its color, it tends to be more pink, perhaps yellow, as Kenny would describe it — certainly not that dull, lackluster pallor you find in normal chickens.
But this isn’t exactly a poulet de Bresse either, the best chicken on earth, so I’ve never ever perceived a yellow — then again, I’m as color-blind as I’m dyslexic, so don’t trust me on this one, but you can trust me on taste and the fiddling bits involving my hands.
In my recent attempt at a chicken roulade, my first with an Anxin breast, I was so thrilled that each roll I had ended up with turned out to be the perfect size on the plate. What was wonderful too is that after I had butterflied each side of the breast, Anxin yielded a thickness that didn’t require an extra step of hard work — I didn’t have to call upon my meat mallet!
You know, Auntie Eng probably has some really cool customers she’s only half-aware of — someone from some Ang Moh restaurant at that place down the road visited her to get a pile of duck legs for some Ang Moh dish, she’d once shared with me. Duck leg confit, I’m thinking.
I really don’t think she’s trying to be modest or deliberately discreet or anything like that — she’s definitely not the coy type! — but these Anxin chickens are truly clucking a cool cabaret chorus. And I only learned this as recent as two weeks ago: I’m so hopeless, it took me a whole year before I visited the Toh Thye San web site Auntie Eng had pointed me to, and what restaurants do I see on their partners page?
Let’s Sing 65!
Iggy’s, Long Chim, Bincho, Corner House, Hide Yamamoto, and several other big names, plus Imperial Treasure, my favorite of favorites! These days, Yang Guifei has joined this stellar cast in the happy chicken song called GG Poulet, going lah-lah 65!
Once you’ve joined her in this pink and healthy tune, do you really think you’d ever go back to singing a 21-day song?