Ariane Daguin Dishes on Old Hens

If chicken shopping isn't complicated enough, (organic, natural, heritage, free-range, grain-fed, kosher, blue foot, etc.) perhaps you should also consider the age of your bird.

In neighborhoods like Jackson Heights and Flushing, where food shopping generally feels a little closer to what it might have been like in the olden days—before everything was trimmed, shrink-wrapped, and delivered directly to your door—butchers categorize their chicken by consistency: Soft, Medium, or Hard.

A hard chicken is older, tougher, and more flavorful than a "soft" or young one, and needs slow, wet cooking. "If you want to make soup, this is the only way," Arian Daguin, Owner of D'Artagnan, told us. "These chickens can stand a lot of cooking without falling apart or losing their flavor."

Daguin also explained that a hard chicken, or what the French call a stewing hen, can be up to two years old. A regular industrial chicken is usually about 45 days old, and an organic one can be 85 days old.

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"You have to know where you're buying these from—what farm they were raised on. You don't want a hen that's been laying eggs in some tiny cage for two years, eating nasty stuff," she warned. Stewing chickens used to be a common item in butcher shops in New York, but they've become a specialty item in American butcher shops. They can usually be ordered a few days ahead.

So, this winter, bring home an old hen for some pot au feu.

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