A recent New York Times article looked at a new trend in New York City that has some big-name chefs pretty darn excited.
Guys like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Burke are all in a tizzy over what are being called Green Circle chickens, which are most probably -- actually, we're going to go ahead and say definitely -- better fed than you.
The chickens, a rare French breed, are fed scraps from restaurants like Per Se, Daniel, Gramercy Tavern, the Modern and David Burke Townhouse in an effort to re-create the taste of farm-to-table chickens of days gone by. It's an experiment and friendly competition to see whose scraps make the best tasting birds.
In the NY Times article, chef Burke is quoted as saying, "Listen, if the chickens ate ginger and lemon, you would have a gingery, lemony chicken, I think,"
... Wait, really?
Unfortunately, no, not really. Or at least that's the educated guess that they're making over at Popular Science where writers delved a little deeper into the scientific possibility that lemons + chickens = lemony chicken.
For starters, chickens don't eat lemons because they don't like citrus and because it's suspected that it negatively affects laying. But also there's the problem that a lemon's flavor comes primarily from its peel and specifically from chemical compounds called lemoniods. They're toxic in high doses.
Which brings them to their second point, that while it's true that what you eat ("you" also applying to animals like chickens) affects how you taste, it does so unpredictably. For example, one study found that people really could taste the difference between grass and corn-fed beef. Another found that animals fed fish oil did indeed taste fishy. On the other hand, this study found that chickens fed garlic actually taste milder than those on a regular diet because the chemicals in garlic reduce the sulfur content of chicken eggs.
So back to Burke's lemon chickens. The bottom line is that you'd probably have to feed a chicken a poisonous amount of lemon peels to have a chance of imparting flavor to the meat. And a few lemons in a chicken's feed (assuming you could get it to eat lemon at all) wouldn't have any affect either.
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On the upside, when Vongerichten first tasted these pampered chickens, the Times reports he was "on the verge of tears." Which makes us really want to know, is it local?