The larger sizes of fryers always seem to have gobs of fat. What is the correct amount of fat in a frying chicken?"
These chickens are SO FAT they need extensive surgery before and after cooking . . . " . . . Perhaps you can persuade Holly Farms producer to change the chickens' diets! "
"Even more irksome . . . was the large amount of excess fat with the chicken. In addition to egg-sized amount of fat tucked inside each leg, I scraped out what appeared to be 'pure lard' from under the ribs of the back section and found fat globules everywhere.
"A consumer doesn't expect a 'fryer' to be overly fatty. This chicken had a pound of excess fat without taking into consideration the fat that remains in the cooking chicken. I know because I weighed it."
"I have just finished cleaning four Holly Farms chicken leg quarters and before I even started, removed three-quarters cup FAT (not skin) that was tucked under the thighs."
"I have just ground away in the garbage disposal about one third of my chick in great globs of fat."
". . . My major inquiry is why there are such enormous blobs of fat in each. There didn't use to be. Are they feeding something to the chickens that produces this ugly unnecessary fat?"
Letters asking why Holly Farms chickens are so fat have been coming to The Food Section for almost two years. But are Holly Farms chickens fatter than other chickens? Holly Farms says "no."
In reply to a woman who asked why there was so much fat in their chickens, Holly Farms wrote giving the per cent of fat in the various parts of their chickens and then said: "We at Holly Farms sell each part with the normal amount of fat and skin attached to it."
What is normal? No one seems to know, but Dr. Donald Bray, a poultry scientist at the University of Illinois has solved part of the puzzle. Bray, who just completed a year working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has given a scientist's credence to what all the letter writers have been suspecting. Young chicken are fatter than they used to be. Not just Holly Farms, but others as well.
Bray said poultry scientists have been watching this problem for awhile. "My personal feeling," he said "is that it's been going on for five years. Many poultry scientists have been cautioning the poultry industry about this, saying consumers will complain."
Other scientists confirm Bray's views. Two research chemists in the poultry division of USDA's Agriculture Research Service said approximately the same thing: "Chickens are fatter than they used to be."
According to Bray: "We've been selecting chickens to grow at a more and more rapid rate and when we do this we have a correlative response - they tend to get fatter at a younger and younger age. We've been so interested in growth, we haven't paid too much attention to the fatness problem."
But Bray added that Louisiana State University recently has found a method for breeding leaner chickens.
He also said the more the fryer weighs the greater the proportion of fat. In this area he said they sell larger chickens than they do in the South or Midwest. Here, Bray said, chickens weigh 3 pounds or more; in Illinois they are under 3 pounds.
"The longer you feed them the more meat you get in relation to the bone, but you are also getting much more fat in proportion to the lean."
Whether Holly Farms' chickens are actually fatter than anyone else's was a question Bray could not answer, but he suggested a way to find out. By broiling different brands of chickens and weighing them before and after.
Ten chickens were weighed, cut in half and broiled at 350 degrees for an equal number of seconds per ounce. After broiling they were weighed again and the dripping were weighed. The amount of drippings - part fat and part moisture - bore little relationship to the "disappearance" factor. For example, while there might be 4 ounces of drippings, 16 ounces had "disappeared" from the bird betwenn the before-broiling and after-broiling weighings.
And in the end, what one probably cares and most is how much chicken is left to eat.
Holly Farms did not appear to fare much worse in these measurements than other commercially raised chickens. All of them are "too fat." But locally raised chickens, those that live on nearby farms where the production numbers in the hundreds and not the hundreds of thousands, do ont appear to be as fat and do not lose as much after they are cooked. So even if they cost more, they may be an equally good buy, sometimes even a better buy, by the time they arrive at the table.
Why then have letters been complaining exclusively about Holly Farms fat chickens? Probably because they are the brand with the greatest volume of sales in this area. Giant, Safeway and Grand Union, three of Washington's four top volume supermarkets, sell Holly Farms.
Is one chicken better than another? According to Bray, "A Grade A chicken is a Grade A chicken," though it's possible that a company will have higher specifications for its brand than the minimum set by the Department of Agriculture standards for Grade A. According to Dr. Kenneth May of Holly Farms, their chickens aren't any "better" than anyone else's except for basically sanitation.
"Grade A," Bray said, "means it can't be a skinny little thing and that there is a certain amount of fat. when you look at the chicken's skin you aren't supposed to see through the skin. The skin has an opaque appearance. It's sort of an arty thing."
Graders are trained to decipher the amount of meat or muscling; freedom from processing damage such as bruising or large clots of blood under the skin."
But Bray added, "We've never put a limit on the maximum amount of fat."
He said if he were going into the chicken business he would want to capitalize on the complaints about fat and sell chickens on the basis of how little extra fat they had.
The accompanying chart is based on a selection of one chicken from each of 10 different sources. the amount of loss before and after broiling ranged from a low of 27 per cent to a high of almost 42 per cent. The low was a freshly killed chicken sold at Country Cousins in the Farmer's Market. It carries the brand name Wilson Grade A and sold for 49 cents a pound last week. There were two highs: Holly Farms Grade A, which sold for 59 cents a pound last week, and Breeden Grade A, sold at Memco for 45 cents a pound.
Of course a study of one chicken from each source is not definitive.