Chicken Industry

Hardbody chicken is hard to beat

There’s a specialised market in South Africa for what are known as hardbody chickens – older birds than those sold in supermarkets, but tough and tasty. 

Exactly what they are is difficult to define, explained an article in the Daily Maverick. Some specify rural, or free range, or heritage breeds. Or reared in townships or villages. Or older layers bought from egg producers. But cooked right, they are “simply delicious”.

“There is consensus that we are talking about is an older chicken that has tough but flavoursome flesh and strong bones. We agree that birds with such bodies are best suited to long, slow cooking methods. Beyond that all bets are off,” says author Anna Trapido.

They are called hardbody because they live longer and their meat becomes harder than the soft broilers sold in supermarkets.

Burundian chef says they are called poulet bicyclette in Central Africa. “The joke is that they get tough from riding a bike, all that muscle work, but the point is that they are older and richer tasting The flavour and texture are a product of age and exercise, and can be a good thing when cooked correctly, because it means the meat can take bold, robust spicing.”

Izaak Breitenbach of the SA Poultry Association says more than a million “end of lay” birds are sold live every month by egg producers and distributed in townships and rural areas.

“The taste profile of those birds is different and tends to be favoured by those who want the whole bird, head, feet, etc and who prefer a firmer chicken with more fat on it. Flavour comes from fat so, cooked right, they can make for beautiful meals.”

Chef Xoliswa Ndoyiya from Sanctuary Mandela in Johannesburg says rural and freedom of movement are important – the hardbody is known in isiXhosa as “a bird that you have to run to catch”. 

“It has lived a free life, generally in the rural areas where you feed it, but it is also scratching up insects and so forth. Those birds are full of flavour. Great for traditional stews. Lovely gravy.”

For chicken farmer Marie Sethunya, it is probably a mixture of breed and slow cooking, “In the rural areas people cook on fire. They give their cooking love in a way that urban people don’t have time for. Whatever it is, those indigenous chickens taste superb.”

Hardbody chicken is mostly served in township and urban eateries.