The Chicken

My kitchen’s a mess which is why writing seems such a good idea round about now; the chicken stock has been simmering since this morning, we’re having chicken curry for supper & I haven’t packed the spices away and on top of that I made some zaalouk from a new recipe with the beautiful aubergines Mark found yesterday. Chicken clearly prevailed today & since my son Richardt says it’s is extremely healthy, I’m pretty chuffed with myself – naturally I googled it to make sure & he’s  right:

if you’re prepared to lose the skin & stick to the breast 120 g should provide you with 67.6% of your daily protein requirements; it’s also rich in tryptophan, vitamin B3 & 6, selenium, phosphorus & choline. It’s also been proved that the chicken did, in fact, come before the egg – as per Dr. Colin Freeman of Sheffield University: “It had long been suspected that the egg came first, but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first” and it seems that the secret lies in the egg shells.

The chickens that we eat today originate from the Red Junglefowl and according to the Encyclopædia Britannica (2007): “Humans first domesticated chickens of Indian origin for the purpose of cockfighting in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Very little formal attention was given to egg or meat production… ” Be that as it may, chickens have been around for a good while & the first chickens were domesticated in the south of China in 6000 BC but nobody’s quite sure whether the chickens we eat nowadays originate from them or from the ones that were around in the Indus Valley in around 2,500 BC. Chickens travelled from central Asia to eastern Europe (Romania, Turkey, Greece, Ukraine) in around 3000 BC, Syria got them around 2000 BC  but the western part of the continent only saw them around 1000 BC when the Phoenicians took them along the Mediterranean to Iberia.

  • The Egyptians used them for cock fighting around 1400 BC & by 300 BC they were widely bred here; it was introduced into Africa but the information is a little fuzzy here. Archaeologists found evidence of chickens dating back to middle of the 1st millennium in Mali, Nubia and along to the east coast to South Africa.
  • The Americas & Asia is home to a blue-egged chicken which may mean that these American chickens originally came from Asia – quite interesting that.
  • Thailand, Russia, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia & Sub-Saharan Africa is also a little fuzzy information wise.
  • The first domesticated animals of the Lapita culture of Oceania were chickens, dogs and pigs.
  • The first pictures of chickens in Europe are found on Corinthian pottery of the 7th century BC.

  • Ancient Greece: chickens were still rare but prestigious & often found at symposia; the main centre for chicken breeding was at Delos, Cratinus called chickens Persian alarm; in The Birds  Aristophanes’s calls the chicken “the Median bird” (because they came from the east) chicken pictures are found on Greek pottery.
  • Chickens were spread by Polynesian seafarers and reached Easter Island in the 12th century AD, where they were the only domestic animal (unless you count the Polynesian rat) & they were housed in stone coops.
  • The Romans used them for oracles (it all depended from which side they appeared); according to Cicero any bird could be used, but normally only chickens were consulted. They were treated with care & looked after by  the pullarius – he opened their cages & fed them on pulses; if an augury was needed, the chickens got a special soft cake & everything depended on the manner in which they ate the thing.  If they didn’t come out of the cage, flapped their wings or flew away, it was a bad omen but if they ate with gusto, it was a good omen. To illustrate: in  249 BC, the Roman general Claudius Pulcher threw his chickens overboard because they wouldn’t eat before the battle of Drepana, famously saying “If they won’t eat, perhaps they will drink.” It had terrible consequences because the Carthaginians trounced him & he 93 of his ships were sunk. He got into huge trouble & was hauled before the court to be tried for impiety when he got back to Rome – he was fined heavily. Despite the In 161 BC law that forbade Romans to eat fattened chickens, Romans continued fattening them with bread soaked in milk & people like Apicius loved them & the law simply ignoredIt was renewed a number of times, but does not seem to have been successful.



  • 1,5 kg whole organic or free range chicken
  • 2 red chillies, cut in half (if you have a sensitive palate, remove the seeds)
  • 2 large stick of lemon grass, pounded
  • 150 g tin of coconut cream
  • 1 tbsp of ginger, finely ground
  • 4 limes, zest only
  • 2 limes, juice only
  • 1 good handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped


  • Pre-heat  the oven to 190 C.
  • Put the chillies, the coconut cream, the lime zest & juice, the ginger and the coriander in a food processor to a smooth paste.
  • Carefully push the paste between the skin & flesh of the chicken breasts, making sure it is evenly distributed – I learn this technique years ago from the Jamie oliver shows & have never stopped using it.
  • Score the chicken thighs twice with a sharp knife right down to the bone & rub the rest of the paste into the cuts and all over the chicken thighs & between the wings & the breast.
  • Put the lemon grass on the roasting dish & pop the chicken on top of it, cover with a piece of foil & roast for 40 minutes, then remove it, baste the chicken with the juices at the bottom of the dish & roast for another half an hour, basting occasionally until the chicken is cooked & ready.

Columella had loads to say about chickens & these are some of his tips:

  • Tanagrian, Rhodic, Chalkidic and Median (commonly misidentified as Melian) breeds, despite their beauty, are quarrelsome by nature which is why the Greeks used them for cockfighting.
  • Dwarf chickens are pretty but useless.
  • Roman chickens are best for farming purposes (alternatively a cross between they & the Greek cocks).
  • The ideal flock has no more than 200 birds (so 1 person could look after them easily).
  • White chickens are useless for farming because they’re not particularly fertile & easily caught by eagles or goshawks.
  • Five hens need a single cock to for optimum breeding but Rhodian & Median cocks are too heavy & not that interested in mating so they can only cope with 3 hens; the hens who belong to heavy roosters don’t like to brood so it’s a good idea for normal hens to hatch their eggs.
  • A hen can’t  hatch more than 15-23 eggs & she can’t look after more than 30 hatchlings.
  • Eggs that are long and pointed give more male chicks & rounded eggs produce mainly female chicks.
  • Chicken coops should face southeast & lie adjacent to the kitchen because smoke is good for them & the coops should have 3 rooms & an hearth so they can have plenty of dust & ash baths.
  • They should eat barley groats, small chick-peas, millet & wheat bran but not the wheat itself; alternatively they can be fed boiled rye-grass & the leaves and seeds of alfalfa; only give them grape marc when the hens stop laying eggs in mid-November (it makes eggs small).
  • Hens begin laying after the winter solstice & parboiled barley mixed with alfalfa leaves & seeds make them more fertile.
  • All free-range chickens must be fed 2 cups of barley daily.
  • Hens older than 3 years must to be slaughtered because they don’t lay enough eggs (Romans had many recipes for these older hens).
  • Capons were produced by burning out their spurs with a hot iron & the wounds were treated with potter’s chalk.



  • 2 whole boneless, skinless free range chicken breasts (from a large chicken) , cut into large chunks
  • 2 ½  tbsp thick oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 tbsp hot chutney
  • 1 tbsp port


  • Combine the oyster & chilli sauce with the chutney & the port & pour into a Ziploc bag; add the chicken pieces, remove the air from the bag & seal, leave in the fridge overnight.
  • Remove from the fridge an hour before you want to grill them, set the grill or barbecue to high and thread the pieces of chicken onto skewers.
  • Grill for about 5 – 8 minutes a side, turning often to prevent them from charring too much.
  • Serve immediately with salad & bread of your choice.


The Araucana chicken originated in South America & was bred in the south of Chile by the Mapuche people; these are chickens without tails but with tufts of feathers around their ears & they lay blue-green eggs. There has been some speculation on the origin of these chickens & whilst some DNA analysis have shown that they came from Polynesia long before Columbus arrived in the Americas, further studies negated this.


  • In Indonesia they’re used during the Hindu cremation ceremonies because they’re believed to a channel for evil spirits that may be hanging around during the ceremony; the poor chicken is tethered by the leg at cremation & it stays there to suck up the evil spirits – then it goes right back to continue life as a chicken.
  • In ancient Greece, it wasn’t used for any kind of sacrifice because they were exotic; when Socrates was dying from self-administered hemlock poisoning he reminded his friend Crito that “I owe a cock to Asclepius, will you remember to pay the debt?” Also: Greeks were convinced that lions were afraid of cocks (see Aesop’s Fables).
  • In the Christian New Testament, Jesus also refers to a chicken in Luke 22:34  when he says  “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny 3 times that you know me.” The cock is a symbol of vigilance & betrayal. Jesus also compares himself to a mother hen in Matthew 23:37 “… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
  • In Central European folk tales, the devil is believed to flee at the first crowing of a cock.

  • At Yom Kippur Jews perform a ritual called kapparos; at this time a kosher chicken (or fish) is swung around the head & then slaughtered (the woman brings a hen & the man a rooster) & the meat is donated to the poor; it’s serves as a reminder that life is in God’s hands.
  • The Talmud suggests that readers learn to show “courtesy towards one’s mate” from the rooster, because when a rooster finds something to eat, he usually calls his hens to eat first.
  • In the Chinese calendar, the chicken is one of the symbols of the Zodiac; in Confucian Chinese weddings, a chicken can be used as a substitute for one who has suddenly died, is seriously ill or not available to attend the ceremony (they put a red silk scarf on its head & a close relative of the absent bride/groom holds the chicken so the ceremony may proceed – this doesn’t really happen nowadays.

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