Why are the free-range chickens I buy so...stiff?

I buy free range chickens from a local farm, frozen. They taste good enough: lots of flavor, though tough.

When the chickens are fully defrosted (uncooked) they are INCREDIBLY stiff - like I've never seen before. Almost like they're in rigor mortis. It's very disconcerting.

I've asked the farmer if the chickens are just old, but he's told me they aren't. I believe him because he does sell his old chickens, separately.

Roasting these birds is out of the question. Way too tough - but poaching and braising they come out delicious. Farmer tells met his is because they are "free range"... but I've roasted many free range chickens and they come out quite tender.

Would love some info on this!

  • Posted by: marmar
  • January 24, 2017


Greenstuff January 25, 2017
A lot of heritage chickens, including France's famed poultry de Bresse are bred and raised to be tougher but more flavorful than what most of us are used to. They have to be cooked low and slow, but once you make that adjustment, they're delicious.
sydney January 24, 2017
I answered before I saw your own answer pop up right there, marmar. Interesting information!
sydney January 24, 2017
My offhand guess is that any free-range meat source was getting more exercise and as a result has stronger bones, more muscles, and tougher connecting tissue than industrial animals that were kept caged and unable to develop properly. That's my guess. Too bad the farmer wasn't able to explain. We buy as much organic and free-range meat as we can afford. Industrially raised meat receives loads of drugs and inferior feed.

Take a look at wild turkeys, or really good-quality organic or free-range turkeys versus the industrial 'Butterball' turkeys: they're nothing alike, and neither is the flavour of their meat.
marmar January 24, 2017
Well, I think I answered my own question after some more in depth Googling. If anyone else is interested, I found this link helpful: https://cluelessfarmer.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/the-secrets-to-succulent-pastured-chicken/

This passage in particular explains some things, I think:
"Many producers do not know this, but rigormortis affects chickens, too. Freezing the bird directly after processing means the rigormortis chemicals are frozen right along with the meat. This is why some customers complain that their pastured poultry is tough! But it’s expensive keeping birds on ice for a day or two, not to mention inconvenient if you have to run to the store for ice. We invested a considerable sum in an ice machine so that we can ensure we never sell a tough bird. So if you buy your bird fresh from the farm on processing day, wait a day or two before freezing it! Keep it nicely chilled but not frozen so it can “rest,” and the rigor mortis chemicals can break down a bit. No need to brine!"
Kathi January 25, 2017
Hi Marmar. I recently bought fresh chickens from my local farmer, who told me if I was going to freeze them I keep them refrigerated for a few days before moving them to the freezer. Even suggested if I wasn't going to freeze, I should give them a few days in the fridge before cooking, allowing them to cure. Who knew? Thanks for posting your "clueless farmer" find.
Nancy January 26, 2017
This is, I know, a serious food question, one of those unintended consequences life brings along in the wake of a good decision (small batch, free range chicken farming).
But it also suggests a fun, silly element that could be used in one of those murder mysteries that feature chefs or that unfold in a rural setting.
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