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Test Kitchen | Chlorination Chicken

January 11, 2021

As part of our current research project Brexit Banquet, the Center is exploring how farmers, chefs, policy-makers and eaters will adapt to changing realities and flavours of a disrupted food system post-Brexit. 

In order to pre-enact a disrupted food system and preemptively—explore, experience and taste—these changes, we have devised 5 dishes that start to sample a future where every aspect of food culture, soil health and agricultural biodiversity will need to be reconsidered, and will be contested in real time. 

How the US cleans up.

During October 2020 Eileen Reiner (Brexit Banquet lead researcher) has been hands-deep in lamb lung, and knee-deep in farmland exploring the boundaries of her own personal culinary norms, getting over some squeamishness, and getting in touch with the current and future food system of Great Britain.

Farm visits, test kitchens and ingredient procurement at local retail outlets have each been opportunities to explore culinary biodiversity – the abundance and distribution of ingredients in and around where I live.


FROM EILEEN’S KITCHEN: CHLORINATION CHICKEN

The fourth dish on the Brexit Banquet test kitchen menu is Chlorination Chicken. The US cleans up in a future where coronation becomes chlorination chicken. UK farmers compete with cheaper chlorine washed US Chicken that chill in the fridges of British supermarkets as part of a US/UK trade deal. 

Speculating on food futures as they simultaneously unfold is a somewhat untidy and ironically unpredictable endeavor. As I gather the photographs and reflect on my experience of this week’s Test Kitchen cook, I realise that the chlorinated chicken is another perfect example of this.

With the new move to put food standards into primary legislation and media headlines such as  ‘UK will not import chlorinated chicken from US, or negotiate to remove ban on hormone-fed beef’ it seems that the values of a Farm to Fork, safety first and an animal welfare approach to agriculture has prevailed over ‘cheap and cheerful’ so far. There is a reported move to make the government’s new trade and agriculture commission a statutory body, advising on future trade deals. 

The following is a documentation of a possible future dish at a time where the prospect of chlorination chicken was very much on the table…

The motive: 

For decades coronation chicken was glorified in Britain as our Sovereign’s dish. Coronation chicken symbolised the taste of place for the British Empire and Commonwealth. How ironic it seems that this very dish may be directly compromised by imported chlorinated chicken post Brexit. With its mix of flavours and mild British take on Indian spices, it was originally created as an answer to what to serve 350 foreign dignitaries attending a banquet following the Queen’s coronation in 1953. At the time, it could also have been speculated to reflect Britain’s stiff upper lip, as it was still living with post-war rations and the ingredients were not easy to come by. Likewise as post-brexit chicken prices from the UK and the rest of Europe may seem less alluring in comparison, will we turn to the cheaper alternative: chicken from the US, bathed in chlorine to kill potentially harmful bacteria? In a future where US chickens chill in between EU chicken and British chickens, will it be up to the consumer to ultimately decide? Food standards, animal welfare, or price? The battle of the values may commence as Coronation Chicken is still served in traditional cafes and found in the occasional sandwich on our convenience store shelves, but will it be as popular as it once was? Will the British public be forced to reflect on the dismantling of previous laws and farming standards as they stomach a cold, chlorinated serving of our compromising times? 

The procurement:

Although arguably an acquired taste, I am guessing that the practicality of this dish has played a part in enabling its long lived popularity Since the 50s. Found in all sorts of forms from sandwich filler to salad topper and even starring on buffet spreads, this usually cold dish is quick to prepare and can easily transform last night’s chicken leftovers. Timed accordingly, this dish’s chicken was portioned off from the chicken satay I had cooked the night before.

I found a British chicken in my local supermarket – Sainsbury’s (the second largest British supermarket chain) and the herbs, nuts and spices came from my a store called Taaj with the tagline: ‘the very best ingredients the world has to offer’.

(Of Course the true procurement for this dish would involve me reaching for the chicken branding a US flag and pre-bathed in chlorine. Most probably found laying side by side with British-produced, although cheaper in price. Given my current circumstances however, the chicken I purchased was labelled British free range – ‘Our free range chickens are slow growing & free to roam in fields’. This gave me some indication that it was also raised adhering to certain living standards currently set by EU law on issues such as space, ammonia levels, and even lighting. The fear of the prospect of a chlorine wash does not seem to concern the chlorine itself, but rather its ability to cover up other poor agricultural practices.)

The cook

Deciding to fry two different versions of the chicken as a taste experiment, I marinated one portion of raw chicken with olive oil, lemon zest and a mix of paprika, turmeric and cumin and the other with olive oil and lemon zest, salt and pepper before setting it aside. 

I then turned my attention to the highlight of the coronation sauce – the curry dressing. I simply sauteed shallots, chillies, curry powder, tomato puree, white wine, jam and chicken stock in a pan. Once cooled I mixed the curry dressing in with a bowl of mayonnaise and creme fresh, folding in lemon juice, spring onions and coriander as I mixed. Voila, the coronation sauce.

Time to fry the chicken! After the chicken was fried I simply mixed it into the bowl of sauce, topping the cold curry with sprinkled almonds and apricots and served it on a bed of lettuce leaves. 

The outcome

Coronation becomes chlorination chicken in a future where we are forced to reflect on our agricultural values as we accept chlorine washed chicken from the US as a condition of a UK US trade agreement, and stomach a cold serving of our compromising times. 

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