The chicken’s route from being a springtime delicacy to junk food has been fast in Scandinavia. In just 30 years, chickens have become too cheap and too off-puttingly insipid to be considered good food. The chicken cookery traditions in Scandinavia make this an even bigger problem. However, there’s a new wave to enhance the taste of Scandinavian chicken.
The northern recipes rely solely on tasty and succulent poultry, with mellow spicing that cannot, and should not, make up for lousy modern quality.
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Fortunately, there is a growing number of Scandinavians willing to pay for the luxury of eating a chicken bred in the traditional manner, and the reward is a bird that can be cooked simply and delicately and given to children and young people who have never had anything so inviting and delicious to eat.
The Taste of Scandinavian Chicken
Old people, who had believed that their taste buds had tired, discover the taste of food they have not enjoyed for decades.
Chicken-keeping on a small scale has long been popular among Scandinavians, and as in other countries the passion for home chicken-keeping, including in towns and cities, is currently on the increase. This is in part a reaction to the trend for the mass-production of poor-quality chickens with next to no taste, and certainly no quality of life.
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Habitat and appearance
Chickens were first introduced to Scandinavia during the Bronze Age. These were sturdy little birds, very much like the wildfowl originating in Asia. They evolved in time into what are now called landrace chickens, beautiful birds that easily withstand temperatures of -40 Celcius, and lay more than 200 eggs a year.
The plumage of landrace hen is mottled brown, like that of a pheasant (perfect camouflage for hiding in woodland) while the cocks are brightly colored in brown, black and white. They are agile birds and fairly good flyers and will stay in tall trees overnight if you let them.
Landrace chicken can still be found all over Scandinavia, where they are loved for their beauty, hardiness and friendly nature. On smallholdings they are often left to roam freely, and find most of their food themselves. They are also popular among home chicken keepers, even in cities. The eggs are small, but the yolk is as large as that of a big hen’s egg, and they are delicious.
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In the past 200 years, the original landrace chicken has been interbred with hundreds of other breeds (many of them British ones) to improve meatiness, size, egg size, egg-laying capacity and fast growth. It is part of man’s nature to keep developing and improving both animals and plants, and it has had beautiful consequences in many ways.
With chicken breeding, however, it has just gone too far. Chickens now grow so fast that their legs cannot carry them. Egg-layers are so effective, laying an egg every single day, that they are little more than skeletons when slaughtered, and not worth eating.
There is, however, a fast-growing counter-offensive of conscientious chicken farmers who are producing fine, large, slow-grown organic chickens, though at a much higher price. Fortunately there are more and more of us prepared to pay for the luxury of eating a bird that goes a long way, and which has all the taste you rightly expect from a chicken.
Buying and storing
It is simple. If you want to succeed with northern recipes, you must invest in prime-quality, large, organic chickens that have been raised slowly. Anything else will be a disappointment. If you rib it with a little salt inside and out, a fresh chicken can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days.
Scandinavian recipes for chicken are relatively few – chicken has been a luxury for centuries, a spring treat you did not want to take chances with – but they are certainly delicious. Furthermore, there is a solid logic to the way Scandinavian chicken recipes have evolved.
Soups were made from old and worn egg-layers, fattened to make beautiful broth, while spring chickens were filled with parsley and roasted slowly in butter and served with delicious curdled sauce, fresh peas, cucumber salad and new potatoes.
Leftovers were used for stews, salads and the Scandinavian beloved chicken tartlets (tarteletter). White asparagus is a classic feature of some of the Scandinavian favorite chicken dishes, as are the creamy flavorings of parsley and tarragon.
The Taste of Scandinavian Chicken, written by Tor Kjolberg