What is free range chicken?

What Does Free Range Mean?

You’ve probably seen the term ‘free-range’ pop up across lots of different meat and dairy items. This can make your shopping experience more confusing than it needs to be, which is why we’re here to clear things up. Free range means the produce has been subject to certain standards and practices in its manufacturing/farming process. Although, this will vary between pork, beef, lamb, and chicken meat.

In this blog, we’ll be looking at free range chicken – what is it? How does it compare to organic chicken? And how to get the best cooking results?

Free range is a classification that refers to a method of animal husbandry. It allows livestock to roam freely for large portions of the day, rather than being confined indefinitely. While there are laws that govern when produce can be labelled ‘free-range’, it’s up to the farmer to decide how they meet the requirements.

As such, free range chicken enclosures can vary from one to the other. Some chicken meat might be labelled ‘pastured’ or ‘cage-free’ to give more information about how the farm rears the chickens.

In the UK, all poultry has to meet certain legal requirements to be classed as free range. The RSPCA sets out the following guidelines on what constitutes free range chicken:

  • Animals have at least enough space so there isn’t more than 13 per square metre, with a maximum flock size being set at 16,000
  • Slaughter only takes place after the animal is at least 56 days old
  • They’re given continuous daytime access to the open air and vegetation for at least half their lifetime

Free Range vs Organic Chicken

If you’re looking for quality chicken that’s a cut above the bog-standard supermarket variety, organic and free range are often the types that jump out. These chicken varieties are synonymous with higher quality but is one better than the other? Well, it’s up to interpretation and personal preference. However, there are some differences between the two which can help you decide. Organic standards in the UK state that chickens must:

  • Have continuous easy access to an outdoor pasture featuring suitable vegetation, with the only viable exceptions being in adverse weather conditions
  • Be part of a flock that doesn’t exceed 3,000 hens
  • Be raised on a diet free of GM foods and antibiotics

So, there are some definite similarities there in terms of outdoor access, enclosures, and animal welfare. The main difference is that organic chicken methods typically go further and are more specific about ensuring the animal has a good quality of life.

Both varieties can be heavily influenced by the farm they’re sourced from though. For instance, some might just do the bare minimum necessary for their meat to achieve a ‘free range’ or ‘organic’ accreditation. At The Village Butchers, we inspect the practices of all the farmers we work with across the UK, only selecting the very best. Our free range chicken comes in either medium (1.75-2kg) or large sizes (2-2.25kg), which is perfect for a Sunday roast.

Cooking Methods For Free Range Chicken

Many studies have concluded that free range chicken is juicier, more tender and less fibrous in texture. Nutritionally, they’ve also been found to be higher in protein, zinc, and iron than conventional chicken. For both these reasons, free range chicken is used as the centrepiece to many knock-out dishes. Here are some of the best ways to cook free range chicken:

Whether you want to cook wings, thighs, drumsticks, or a whole free range chicken, barbequing is a great option. First, pick your choice of BBQ sauce or marinade and apply it to the chicken. Equally, why not make your own? For a whole bird, spatchcock preparation allows the meat to lie flat and cook evenly. Sear on a medium heat BBQ grill for 4/5 minutes per side, then finish on the cooler side for 30 minutes with the lid closed. Individual pieces can stay on the hotter side, they just need regular flipping.

A whole chicken can produce wonderful results when cooked low and slow in stewing liquid. You can do this with a whole bird or one that has been broken down into its various parts, although this will influence cook time. Submerging in boiling liquid will typically cook a whole chicken in around 90 minutes, and 15 minutes for removed breasts, thighs and drumsticks. Be sure to check there is no pinkness in the meat before serving.

The beauty of this method is that you can incorporate a range of global flavours into the cooking liquid. There also aren’t any rules about what other meat or vegetables go into the stew. You could even apply this technique to a hearty chicken noodle soup. Leaving chicken meat in a stew for too long will cause the fibres to break down entirely though, so this should be avoided.

Oven Roast
A roast chicken is a nigh-unbeatable British classic that provides meat for several days. For free range, it can be best to cook lower and slower, so the lean meat doesn’t dry out. Covering during the roasting process is essential here. Of course, the best thing about roasting chicken is being able to use the tray juices to create an amazing gravy.

Roast Free Range Chicken Sides

There aren’t really any wrong choices when it comes to pairing sides with a perfectly cooked roast chicken. However, there are some tried and true classic options that are sure to please all comers:

  • Extra crispy roast potatoes
  • Honey mustard carrots and parsnips
  • Green beans with lemon and oil
  • Yorkshire puddings
  • Cheesy cauliflowe

Check out our recipe for >The perfect Roast Chicken.

Buy Free Range Chicken UK

At The Village Butchers, we recognise that chicken is one of the most versatile and beloved meats out there, and for good reason. We have many purchasing options both of free range and corn fed chicken varieties. As with all our meat produce, it’s sourced from the knowledgeable and trusted farmers across the UK to pass the quality on to you. Contact us today.

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