What, exactly, is Amish chicken?

Recently, I taught a class called “Chicken Dance” at EQ at the Party Source. We discussed the differences between “natural” and organic, free range , cruelty free and more. Bonnie Bray asked me about Amish chicken. I said I thought it was just a pretty name but that I’d research it for her. Well Bonnie, my money’s still on organic for the best choice in chicken. Here’s the scoop on Amish chicken from  the NY Times

What exactly does ”Amish” mean, in a culinary context?
”It’s a marketing ploy,” said Ariane Daguin, co-owner of D’Artagnan, a Newark-based supplier of Amish chicken to New York restaurants and markets. ”It doesn’t mean anything.”
The mystique of the Amish label, Ms. Daguin said, comes from its ”aura of naturalness,” though chickens raised on Amish farms do not always eat vegetarian feed. Nor are they free-range or free roaming.
Bruce Aidells, co-author with Denis Kelly of ”The Complete Meat Cookbook,” is a devotee of Amish meat products. ”I don’t know if it has more fat in it or what,” he said of Amish pork he ate in Bern, Ind. ”But it has a wonderful taste, a real nice pork flavor.”  Asked to describe that flavor, Mr. Aidells offered the word ”porkiness.” He also recalls fondly the Amish chicken at the now-closed David Ruggerio restaurant, which had a taste that he called ”chickeny.”
Mr. Tardi of Follonico agrees that the virtues of Amish chickens are hard to pin down. ”There’s all this talk about free-range and organic, and this isn’t that,” he said. ”But it is minimally processed, with no hormones. It’s a chicken with morals.”
Not necessarily. Phyllis Pellman Good, the author of ”The Best of Amish Cooking” (Good Books, 1988), who is a Mennonite (the sect from which the Amish broke in the 17th century), says that Amish chickens, contrary to popular belief, are not free-range.”They lead pretty confined lives,” she said. How about hormone injections? ”There’s a range from quite cautious to full participation in that type of technology,” she said. ”They’re way beyond little nests in quaint barns.”
Regarding the origin of Follonico’s ”Amish” chicken, Mr. Tardi acknowledged, ”I can’t vouch for the fact that it was produced by Amish people in black hats and no buttons.”


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