The Alt-Bird Migration
The U.K.’s Zeal for New Poultry and Beak-to-Claw Dining Is Daring U.S. Foodies to Be Bolder at the Dinner Table
A two-day brine. A proper roast finished over a charcoal grill. Livers whipped into velvety mousse. Hearts, perfect grilled and perfectly bite-sized. Doesn’t sound like just another chicken dinner does it? That’s because it’s not. It’s actually so much more—and the British were the first to do it.
The last year or so has seen a groundswell of quality-casual to upscale U.K. eateries take a whole-bird approach, serve uncommon fowl, or make creative use of offal. Diners in England have eagerly become the earliest adopters of this new adventurous approach to chicken—and duck and turkey and goose. You might call it New Poultry, a trend that owes a great deal to the Old World even as it seems to be spurred on by modern customs. What was once the last thing a foodie would ever order while eating out—chicken and its feathered ilk—is, increasingly on both sides of the pond, now the stuff everyone’s talking about.
London’s Michelin-starred Clove Club is one of the movement’s pioneers, and, since shortly after opening its doors, has been busy spawning imitators. “We’re the first to do the puffed chicken feet,” says head chef Isaac McHale of his popular bar bite, which involves separating skin from foot bone and frying it up, then seasoning it, like a potato chip. “Now we’ve got guys from The Fat Duck asking about them.” That’s no casual namedrop—that U.K. hub for molecular gastronomy ranks among the world's best restaurants.
“Chefs are looking to be ever more creative,” says McHale. “These days that means forgotten ways of doing things rather than scientific technique. You might call it a return to peasant cooking.”
explore the guide
The Michelin-starred Shoreditch eatery’s puffed chicken feet, created by Chef Isaac McHale, are their buzziest menu item and one of the dishes to launch the beak-to-claw movement.
Manhattan’s Lower East Side is home to Le Turtle, whose Sasso Chicken for Two is first brought to the table to be admired, then sent back to the kitchen for “disassembly.” Executive Chef Greg Proechel is pioneering the beak-to-claw movement stateside.
Strut & Cluck
Another Shoreditch hot spot, Strut & Cluck turned turkey, a holiday-only staple in the U.K., into an everyday adventure. Founders Amir and Limor Chen’s menu stars Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-inspired dishes, from charcoaled drumsticks paired with pomegranate molasses to turkey shwarmas with dates.
Le Coq Rico
If it’s not enough that Le Coq Rico’s Chef Antoine Westermann has six “whole bird” variations on the menu, he’s also dubbed the New York outpost of the Parisian poultry restaurant “The Bistro of Beautiful Birds.” There’s also an entire section of the menu dedicated to eggs.
“It’s certainly a trend we speak to,” says Stephen Tozer, cofounder of Le Bab, a London kebab house revitalizing the form with guinea fowl and (coming soon) skewered grouse. His most intriguing offering, though, is a fried Turkish pastry (imagine a brioche-like doughnut hole) filled with a very special parfait: chicken liver. “We celebrate the huge variety of flavor and texture you get by using every possible part of our animals and vegetables. We hate to waste anything.”
One of the London’s most hotly tipped new openings in trendy Shoreditch, Strut & Cluck, also draws from tradition. Cofounder Amir Chen touts the simplicity and freshness of his Mediterranean-inspired turkey legs and wings—imagine the vibrant hues and zest of famed British chef Yotam Ottolenghi, but using a meat that Britons only ate on Christmas until now. All the same, he's no Luddite when it comes to what’s driving business.
“People today are much more open to new flavors and ingredients, and they want to spend money on experiences as opposed to purchases,” says Chen. “Now it's all about, ‘I went to this place and I went to that place,’ and restaurants are a big part of that. Social media is an important player in this trend.”
In a sense, the Instagramming and Yelpifying of our culinary adventures is simply the exponentially growing end of globalization—of recipes passed down, of seeds spread by shipping channels, of human migration. After all, it was an English chef, Fergus Henderson, father of the nose-to-tail movement, who opened modern American mouths up to the odds and ends of livestock—say, the apricot-accompanied veal brains at Animal in Los Angeles, or the crispy hog's ear salad at The Spotted Pig in New York. Henderson’s influence is massive. Atlanta veggie guru Steven Satterfield released his Root to Leaf book last year.
What was once the last thing a foodie would ever order while eating out—chicken and its feathered ilk—is, increasingly on both sides of the pond, now the stuff everyone’s talking about.”
New York chef Greg Proechel of Manhattan’s Le Turtle, who has one of the most buzzed-about chickens in New York fine dining, isn’t the first to suggest the next volume’s theme: beak-to-claw.
“Any good restaurant, that’s the way you cook,” Proechel says. “If you get a full animal, you use all of it because it’s the right thing to do. But in terms of seeing the ‘throwaway’ ingredients on the menu, it’s tough to sell people on the unknown. … In my lifetime, we’ve made leaps and bounds. Used to be if a place opens serving chicken gizzards, they’re not going to do well. Now they might.”
So, back to that chicken: Proechels’ bronze bird is presented whole, on a flaming bed of rough hay and frilly greens, head resting on the flora, feet in the air and toes curled, as if the thing simply slipped out of its plumage for a nap in a sunlit meadow. The dish looks like fine art. “It’s our job as chefs to take ordinary things and make something special—to make people rethink it,” he says.
To that end, the whole roast bird may be the perfect gateway grub. The NoMad in Manhattan is famous for its chicken for two, made freakishly moist by squeezing black truffle-enhanced foie gras into the space between the meat and the skin. At his last post, Blanca, Proechel made a whole squab that incorporated the liver and heart (two other Blanca alums garnered recent headlines for bringing gussied up fowl to Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Seattle, respectively), and the way he sees it, he’s “part of a renaissance.” Lately, he’s getting calls from chef friends about the type of chicken he uses—the Sasso, a long-legged, slow-growing, well-fatted hen. When asked about his favorite part of the animal, Proechel can’t choose just one bite. It’s the “pope’s nose,” the neck, the back fat, and the “oyster.”
Similarly, chef Antoine Westermann calls fowl “a world unto itself.” His Le Coq Rico opened in Manhattan this year (three months after Le Turtle), and its concept celebrates the “diverse flavors of wild and noble American birds.” The menu revolves almost entirely around poultry—even the lobster is cooked in stock—but Westermann’s pride is the “Whole Bird” section, which currently offers six varieties.
“They are all so different,” he says. “The Brune Landaise has an elegant flavor, very subtle. The Plymouth is more toothsome and juicy. The New Hampshire is very delicate. When a bird lives a good life, you can feel it in its meat.”
He also notes that New Yorkers are having no trouble stomaching the giblets–his offal platter is “very successful,” thank you very much. Is there any part of the bird Westermann hasn’t yet used that he hopes to? “The feathers,” he answers. “We are discussing giving them out to customers at our bar. Or … maybe we’ll make a pillow?”
Behold, a feast for your eyes. Click on any dish to explore the menu.
Layers of pureed chicken thigh, chopped chicken breast and some fat make for a dish that is decadent, delicate and complete with a hardboiled egg in the center.
Consommé Pattes de Poulet
A traditional broth with a twist, chicken feet are tossed with tomato, caramelized, and simmered.
Rubbed with chili powder, paprika, cardamom and more, slow-roasted turkey wings pair with chutneys of the spicy-mango or cooling-yogurt varieties.
Foie Gras Donut Holes
An unexpected starter, fried, fluffy dough is filled with savory duck liver mousse and sour cherry preserves, then dusted with sugar and sea salt.
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