I recently went to Kikiriki, a poultry market in Bushwick, and bought a live chicken for dinner. I wanted to answer a burning question: was it cheaper and tastier than a grocery store chicken?
Opened in 1912 at 334 Linden St., Kikiriki is one of a few live poultry places in the neighborhood. I used to live around the corner and sometimes I would walk by and think, “Maybe I’ll try it one day.” Sometimes I would catch a whiff of it on the wind and think, “Maybe I won’t.”
When I was asked if I’d give the experience a spin for Bushwick Daily I thought, “Yea, why not.”
The smell of dozens, maybe hundreds of animals (Kikiriki stocks ducks and rabbits, as well) is both notable and strong. Strangely, the smell is stronger out on the sidewalk than inside the actual market. Once across the threshold, the smell is more like a butcher’s.
There was a surprising variety of poultry to select from. Probably about half a dozen different chicken breeds, from the standard broiler chicken to Silkies, a breed with very fluffy feathers and, most notably, black skin and flesh (more common in Asia than America).
One thing I was surprised to find out is that each section of cages was equipped with food trays, filled with what appeared to be dried corn. While all the animals had access to food, I didn’t notice any water supply.
For this visit I opted for a standard white broiler, the same type you’d get pre-butchered and packaged at a grocery store.
I asked for one that was about seven pounds. The gentleman on the floor scanned the cages, picked one, weighed it. “This one is eight pounds. Ok?” Close enough.
At $2 a pound, my chicken ran me $16. I paid at a small booth, was told my chicken would be ready in 10 minutes, and sat in the adjoining waiting area. Five minutes later and my number was called.
I handed over my ticket and received my chicken in a heavy red plastic bag. It was still warm, surprisingly hefty, and weighed heavily on my lap on the train ride back to my place.
At home I unbagged my chicken— by then I had started referring to it as “her.” She had been defeathered and gutted, just as a chicken is when purchased from a supermarket. The main difference was that my chicken still had her head and feet attached. Her eyes were closed and evidence that her demise was quick—one clean slash across her neck—was plainly visible.
Also included, which I admit I hadn’t thought about, were the heart, liver, and some sort of textured, yellowish-green gland-like organ that I couldn’t identify. It was potentially an un-trimmed gizzard, a sort of pre-stomach, but it seemed awfully thin for a gizzard to me. Americans are notoriously squeamish about offal, but the fact is they’re commonly eaten basically everywhere else in the world.
Cleaned and trimmed, I prepared the chicken in a pretty classic style, stuffing her cavity with citrus, aromatics, and a few carrots. I seasoned her with a mix of salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, and chipotle powder. After a quick pan sear on her front and back, I put her in a preheated oven and left her to roast over a bed of potatoes and carrots.
And then we ate.
Now for the truth about that burning question you’ve been pondering: “Was it better than grocery store chicken?” And the honest answer is … no, it really wasn’t. I couldn’t taste any difference in quality, either taste or texture, when compared to a supermarket-bought chicken.
If your next question is, “Was the price better?” then my answer to that is also no.
The US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the nationwide average whole chicken cost at $1.48 per pound, so at $2 per pound Kikiriki charges above average in that sense. At Food Bazaar, the supermarket closest to Kikiriki, a whole chicken will run you about the same, depending on what sales are running. Nearer to my home a few blocks up the street in Ridgewood, grocery stores price whole chickens in a range of $0.99 for store brand to $4.30 for the fancy, free-range ones per pound.
So that’s that. I’m a realist about food, and I know full well where a chicken breast comes from. But the experience of picking my own chicken, looking it in the eye before it was slaughtered, was neither rewarding nor pleasurable. She didn’t taste any better, and she wasn’t any cheaper either.
I did, however, feel a little closer to her, a little more responsible for her, than I would a supermarket chicken.