Features & Stories

Consuming Passions: Chicken


Jenny Jefferies’ cookbooks For the Love of the Land and For the Love of the Sea celebrate the UK’s farmers and fishermen. Here she considers the wonderful qualities of chicken, once a luxury but too often now taken for granted.

By Jenny Jefferies

Once whilst in Malawi, Africa, I visited a local food market and my new friends chose a chicken to buy. We drove 15 miles back home with it in the back of the car, privately promising myself that I wouldn’t give it a name. As soon as we entered the shack, we slit its neck, drained the blood, plucked it, cooked it and enjoyed a delicious and hearty meal celebrating us simply being together. We ate the entire chicken, including the feet, and left only the beak. 

My regular Sunday roast chicken with my family back home in the UK is nearly very much the same; only that we pick up a chicken, but it is usually already butchered and wrapped up in cling film, and even has labels stuck on it with sell by dates printed on. It is a fairly ceremonial occasion as it happens on regular Sundays, with often the same people; and it’s a very valuable time in the week to reflect, discuss, share, and enjoy the food and above all each other’s company. Every day is a gift and the roast chicken is often the focal point on the table awaiting the decorous carving of the meat as we give thanks and praise for the food and the time we have together. I think that chicken is such a beautiful and versatile food that symbolises celebration, and no matter who you are or where you come from, chicken is always a crowd pleaser and unarguably good for you. 


Roast Chicken from Real Food Kids Will Love by Annabel Karmel


Roasted, fried, steamed, poached, boiled, in a currysandwichburger, a fricasseekebabstaginespies, or a simple salad; chicken is so precious and versatile. The roast chicken, especially, is the gift that keeps on giving, often for days afterwards. Amongst other journeys, the chicken carcass can be made into a stock and then into a soup which is widely known to offer medicinal benefits. Whenever I feel a little low, both emotionally or physically, I dive into a bowl of chicken soup and immediately feel comforted and healed. This maybe just a psychological effect, but for me it works better than any modern medicine. Chicken is a great source of protein and also provides lots of other nutrients your body needs, like iodine, iron, zinc, vitamins (especially B12) and essential fatty acids. Chicken contains cysteine which is an amino acid that is related to N-Acetyl-Cysteine, a supplement used to treat bronchitis. Does chicken soup really hasten recovery from viral illness? Well, perhaps - judge the evidence for yourself


Chicken with Cashews and Thai Chilies from Everyday Thai Cooking by Katie Chin


Chicken is undisputedly the most popular meat in Asia (in dishes such as this Chicken with Cashews and Thai Chilies), and it is by far the most consumed meat in Australia, South America and Europe. This simple meat is justifiably valued all over the world.

Bird flu is no doubt currently the greatest threat to the poultry industry and British farmers pride themselves on having some of the highest standards in animal welfare on approximately 164,000 farms that sell poultry and eggs. When it comes to chicken, the UK is around 75% self-sufficient and poultry and poultry meat production with birds to a value of around £2.9 billion produced each year.

My main message to people is to always buy local, buy sustainably, buy seasonally and to those in the UK, buy British. Poultry farmers in the UK need our unwavering, all-year-round support more than ever and I urge you to get to know your local butcher, farm shop and/or farmers market. They can also offer advice and recommendations for suitable recipes to enjoy this great and simple staple. 


Chicken Coconut and Pineapple Curry from 30 Minute Mowgli by Nisha Katona


Chickens outside the kitchen

The epic journey of the chicken started approximately 10,000 years ago in an Asian jungle and is the first descendent of the dinosaur. The chicken’s wild progenitor is the red junglefowl, otherwise known as Gallus gallus spadiceus,  according to a theory advanced by Charles Darwin (and later confirmed by molecular genetics). What an honourable CV!

Chickens are bred for both their eggs and meat and are so good for you, your family and community. We have enjoyed many an opportunity in seeing a road sign saying “Fresh Eggs For Sale” and popping a few pounds into the honesty box. We also frequently save up our empty egg boxes and donate them to a local road side egg seller. No words are ever exchanged; only a shared enthusiasm for local business support and tradition. This is certainly one of the things that I love about living in a rural village. 

Chickens can also make great pets and can teach the younger generation about food provenance, kindness, routine, nature and nurture. I am very much looking forward to providing a home in my back garden for some new chickens in the spring and collecting eggs every morning for our breakfast. Perhaps even selling some on the front of our driveway. 

Food can be such a heartwarming common denominator in all of our communities and for all the reasons mentioned above, chicken is definitely my favourite ingredient and dish. There are more than 13,000 chicken recipes on ckbk and you can find some of my personal selections in the collection below.


Photo: Paul Gregory


Jenny’s chicken recipe recommendations

More Consuming Passions

Di Murrell enjoys the many delicious uses for the humble fish, whether fresh or tinned

Drinks writer Laura Hadland on the darkest and most intensely flavored of beer styles, with countless culinary uses

Salute the Pig creator Chris Bulow celebrates all things porcine, from nose to tail…