Plump and tasty, “air-chilled” chickens are, indeed, cool. I’ve been hearing about the superior taste and texture of air-chilled chicken for a long time but just recently got around to buying and roasting one—which is crazy, since an herb-and-lemon-stuffed, juicy roast chicken with crackly golden skin is among my favorite things in the world.
The term “air chilled” refers to the method used to cool the chickens after slaughter to stop growth of bacteria. Apparently, air chilling has been a preferred method in Western Europe for almost half a century. Chickens are sprayed with lightly chlorinated water inside and out, then whisked along a track and misted with supercold air.
Conventional processing calls for “immersion chilling” in chlorinated water—a process in which a chicken can soak up anywhere from 2 to 12 percent of its weight, on average, in added moisture . And guess who pays for that added weight? Not to mention the effect this process has on the flavor and texture of tender chicken meat. Air-chilled chickens, obviously, absorb less liquid, leaving the taste of the chicken undiluted.
As far as flavor and succulence goes the air-chilled, certified-organic Smart Chicken brand (the only one I could find locally) was a revelation. I tucked fresh sage leaves and soft butter under the breast skin and stuffed the cavity with a punctured lemon, a few cloves of garlic and leaves of sage; roasted the three-and-three-quarter-pound $15 chicken for about an hour-and-a-half (started it out in a preheated 475-degree oven for 15 minutes, then lowered the temperature to 325 degrees) and voila! Perfection—with a crisp skin, true chicken flavor and plenty of leftovers after three adults enjoyed it for dinner. Smart Chickens are available in Utah at Harmons, Dan’s and Target stores.