High up the pecking order at Sutton Hoo

PUBLISHED: 10:18 23 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:12 20 February 2013

Chickens cluck happily in the straw at Sutton Hoo

Photograph by ANDY ABBOTT

Chickens cluck happily in the straw at Sutton Hoo Photograph by ANDY ABBOTT

Glyn Williams discovers just why Sutton Hoo Chickens are getting Suffolk poultry an even better name

Glyn Williams discovers just why Sutton Hoo Chickens are getting Suffolk poultry an even better name

For far too long, chicken has been taken for granted, more often than not limited to being a weekday supper choice but rarely the centre of a special celebration meal. It wasnt always that way; certainly in my parents generation with rationing well into the Fifties and post war depression lasting even longer, the leftovers of the Sunday roast chicken (if you were lucky enough to have one) were eked out imaginatively and necessarily for most of the week.
But now the Jamie Oliver effect on sales of free range chickens (and more thoughtful meat shopping in general) as well as changing dietary habits are helping us to cherish this most versatile and delicious meat.
Having a coop of hens in your back garden and collecting warm eggs every morning for breakfast is certainly one of the most fashionable hobbies right now. That, combined with intense media scrutiny of how chickens are reared, has led to a much increased demand for high welfare slow bred, well fed poultry.
The domestic wisdom of making more of your weekend joint is something Belinda Nash, owner of Sutton Hoo Chickens, agrees with.
Her late husband Charles, one of the countys true gentleman farmers, took many years to perfect the rearing and taste of these precious flocks of Suffolk Whites, reared on their land next to the National Trusts famous landmark site near Woodbridge.
Housed in family groups, these lucky birds openly roam all day and evening over their 20 acre paddocks, sometimes even by moonlight as they do on bright cloudless nights.
Naturally Belinda is just as passionate about this old-fashioned style of poultry which has that natural slow reared farmyard taste of yesteryear. And understandably, she wants her tasty produce to be valued as something a little bit different.
I know our chickens come at a premium but a family can get three or four meals off one of our large birds. It seems as a country that we are finally catching on to the more continental approach or is it just regaining that post-war prudence; wise cooks now put less emphasis on the amount of meat on the plate but rather buy better and then use less, preparing it more creatively and getting every gram of goodness off the carcass.
Asking Belinda to elaborate on what she does with one of her prized chickens after it has starred as the familys fine Sunday roast, she talked of removing the remaining white meat for a gourmet salad, using the thigh meat for pasta or risotto, the drumsticks shredded into a warming bean cassoulet and the bones and skin made into stock.
The flavour is in the fat of any meat, so scrape the jellied juices off the carving plate into the stockpot together with all the skin and bones into the stockpot with your vegetable trimmings and herb stalks, simmer well for an hour, strain and chill overnight. The next morning, remove the fat from the top of the stock and then you have a tasty healthy base for a hearty soup.
But it is not just whole free range and organic birds which Belinda and Will, Charlies godson, specialise in. They have extended their range to several oven-ready ideas for easy family meals: spatchcocked chickens (split, flattened and marinaded) in zesty flavours Spanish herb and garlic, sweet piri piri with tomato and red pepper, local Purely Basil Pesto; chicken burgers and sausages in the original seasoned and lemon-chilli versions; and of course, chicken joints and cuts to suit all recipes.
Sutton Hoo Chickens birds and other products are stocked widely across Suffolk, in the countys great independent butchers, farm shops and well stocked delis. Ask for them at your local outlet and you should be in luck. But if not, ask them to call Belinda Nash or Will Waterer on 01394 386787 or visit their website at www.suttonhoochickens.co.uk

PS If having your own flock of egg-laying chickens appeals, then consider giving a few ex-battery hens a new lease of life Little Hen Rescue (www.littlehenrescue.co.uk) just over the Suffolk/Norfolk border would love to hear from you and also need your donations to keep up their valuable rehoming work.

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