Why does everything taste of chicken, except chicken?

I’ve always had an interest in discovering the secrets of the universe – you know, does dark matter exist, why we can’t have antigravity – and why every weird steak from crocodile to ocelot always has to taste of chicken.

Gallus gallus domesticus on Rarotonga, looking very much like the Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus).
Gallus gallus domesticus on Rarotonga, looking very much like the original Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus).

This last has been puzzling me a lot. Not least because even chicken doesn’t taste of chicken. I found that out in 2012 when I spent a few days in Rarotonga. Over there, chickens run wild – as in, not just free range. Wild. We had one perching on our breakfast table several days in a row, hoping to be fed. They don’t get soaked in antibiotics. They don’t get imprisoned in horrible conditions before being lightly killed, dropped through a macerator, and re-constituted into Chicken Niblets. They are entirely natural. And when anybody wants chicken – let’s say to add to the khorma I bought in an Indian restaurant in Awarua – they go out and catch one.

That natural living means that Rarotongan chickens don’t taste like battery chickens. Actually, they don’t even look like battery chickens. They look more like what they actually were before humans got at them, Red Jungle Fowls, which – like every other bird – are actually a variety of flying dinosaur. Recently a geneticist even found out how to switch on the gene that makes chickens grow dino-jaws instead of a beak, a discovery welcomed by other geneticists with loud cries of ‘nooooooo!’ and similar endorsements.

Here's the diorama - Velicoraptor mongoliensis, Dilong paradoxus, and, off to the right - yup, their close relative, Gallus Gallus. A chicken.
Think birds aren’t dinosaurs? Here’s Velicoraptor mongoliensis, Dilong paradoxus, and, off to the right – yup, their close relative, our friend Gallus Gallus domesticus.

I conclude from all of this that (a) what we call ‘chicken’ doesn’t actually taste of chicken; and (b) if I’m to define ‘tastes of chicken’, I should be thinking of Rarotongan chickens. And I have to say that of all the unusual stuff I’ve eaten over the years, few of them taste of it. For instance:

1. Snail (restaurant in Paris, Rue de Lafayette). These don’t taste of chicken. They taste of garlic flavoured rubber bands.
2. Ostrich (dinner to mark release of one of my books). Definitely not chicken, but could have been confused for filet steak.
3. Something unidentifiable in rice (riverside in Kanchanburi) I know it was meat. It didn’t taste of chicken or, in fact, anything else. I ate it anyway.
4. Goat (my house). Absolutely not chicken. More like a sort of super-strong mutton.
5. Venison (my house). Reminiscent of liver.
6. Duck (my house). Bingo! Yes, this actually did taste of Rarotongan chicken. And duck.

I can only conclude, on this highly – er – scientific analysis, that very little actually tastes of chicken, including chicken. But I may be wrong. Have you ever eaten anything that was meant to taste of chicken – but didn’t?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


16 thoughts on “Why does everything taste of chicken, except chicken?

  1. Ostrich, yum, and definitely not chicken. Same with goat and venison (though the latter can vary greatly in taste depending on which type of buck it came from). I can also state for the record that porcupine tastes nothing like chicken. The guy who gave it to me tried to pass it off as mutton, but no sheep has ever tasted as good as that little spine-covered rodent.

    1. Correction: quill-covered. Remembered the right word milliseconds after I clicked “Post Comment”. Hate it when that happens. And now I’m going to go look up the difference between quill and spine. Gonna kick myself if they’re synonyms.

      1. I knew what you meant! 🙂 I think technically porcupines do have quills, whereas hedgehogs have spines…but in any practical sense they’re the same thing.

    2. It’s intriguing how varied all these different meats actually taste. One type I’ve never eaten is kangaroo – it’s offered in Australia, and I have seen it there on odd occasions but never quite been game to check it out.

      A lot depends, I guess, on what the original animal ate. I gather that grass-fed NZ beef tastes very different from grain-fed US varieties. (On that note, it’s sad but true that NZ domestic consumers also don’t get the best of what NZ produces – it’s exported and our local table receives the second grade stuff. I’ve occasionally had the chance to eat our export quality stuff, and it really is superb.)

      1. The diet thing is really noticeable with mutton over here. Specifically, sheep reared in the Karoo, a semi-desert region, eat mainly the shrubs which are all that grows there, and their taste surpasses grass and grain fed sheep to the point that you know if you’re eating a Karoo sheep.

    3. The only time I have had ostrich, I suspect it had started to “turn”. It didn’t taste chicken, tasted weird, and that evening, I was rather ill.

      While I’m sure its good, that event was sufficient to deter me from trying it again.

      1. The ostrich I had was curious: more like a delicately flavoured filet steak than anything bird like. It was coloured like red meat. Sounds like you might have encountered an ‘off’ piece.

  2. In Hawaii there are quite a few wild chickens, at least on Maui. They’re everywhere. They don’t really look like chickens, and according tom something I read in their local paper, they don’t taste too good.

    I’ve wondered about that, and your article here is the only indication I’ve had as to what they actually taste like. Here, we have a wild grouse called sometimes a “sage chicken”, which we get a few of during the season. They neither look like, nor taste, like chicken even remotely. I’ve always thought they were tasty, but most people find them too “gamey”.

    1. The Rarotongan chickens were definitely ‘gamey’ by ‘supermarket chicken’ standards. My take is that the disgraceful way most chickens are battery farmed – including selection for speed of growth – also removes most of the flavour of the original bird.

  3. Love this, Matthew! Chicken nuggets from McD’s don’t taste of chicken much, in my opinion.

    Now I really want to taste a wild chicken. I’ve had venison and rabbit; neither tasted of chicken to me (maybe the rabbit a little bit).

  4. I always thought venison was more like a lighter version of beef. I prefer having the whole deer done in ground meat. Frankly, I don’t think chicken tastes much like chicken any more.

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