Do you think chicken is just chicken — pretty much the same no matter where it comes from? That is a notion of which you should quickly disabuse yourself, as there are scores of breeds of the bird that are prized for various reasons. A French chef may extol the virtues of poulet Bresse, and they wouldn't be wrong, given the breed produces profoundly rich and deeply flavored meat. But there is another breed — one even more rare — that is so prized it has been referred to as the "Lamborghini of poultry."
Ayam Cemani chickens are a sight to behold, jet black from beak to tail feathers due to the selective breeding that results in hyperpigmentation. The black coloration is so prominent on the birds that it runs to the bone, making the meat much darker than regular chicken. Ayam Cemani chickens are even (erroneously) thought to have black blood, which is prized in their native Indonesia for use in rituals — particularly those inviting in good luck, wealth, or enhanced spirit communication abilities. The meat from the birds is also said to have similarly mystical benefits, especially for men looking to rejuvenate their vitality. Of course, in the larger culinary world, the meat of Ayam Cemani chickens has other delicious uses — if you can get your hands on it.
What Are Ayam Cemani?
Ayam Cemani chickens trace their roots back to the villages of Java, Indonesia. The breed's history is intertwined with the island's indigenous Javanese people, who revered these birds for their spiritual symbolism; the name "Cemani" itself is derived from the Javanese word for "completely black." Of course, what sets Ayam Cemani apart from the average chicken is their complete melanistic coloration. Their feathers, beaks, wattles, combs, bones, meat, and even their internal organs are all intensely black. This genetic trait, known as fibromelanosis, results in their remarkable appearance.
Ayam Cemani are highly sought after and prized for several reasons. Their rarity is a significant factor: They are considered one of the rarest chicken breeds globally, making them a symbol of prestige among poultry enthusiasts and gourmands looking to taste something unique. Their striking aesthetic also contributes to their allure, as they stand out in any flock of chickens. However, breeding Ayam Cemani chickens can be a challenge due to their unique genetic makeup, which can make maintaining their all-black appearance a delicate task. This rarity has also driven up their market value significantly, with some buyers paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a single chicken — though if you're able to make the trip to Java, you might find them for less than $100.
What Do Ayam Cemani Taste Like?
Ayam Cemani chickens aren't just revered for their striking appearance. The flavor of their meat is generally not commented on much, though some say it has a slightly gamey flavor, if otherwise unremarkable. But the meat's dark color adds a sense of mystique to the dining experience, and the power of visual suggestion leads some diners to insist it has a more savory taste than you'd expect.
Of course, regular chickens, such as the common broiler or heritage breeds like Rhode Island Reds, offer a more familiar flavor profile. These chickens are known for their mild and versatile taste, making them a staple in cuisines worldwide. The meat is often described as tender, juicy, and mild, allowing it to adapt well to various cooking styles and flavorings.
When it comes to flavor, the choice between Ayam Cemani and regular chickens ultimately boils down to personal preference and culinary goals. Ayam Cemani meat potentially offers a unique flavor experience, making it a standout choice for special occasions and adventurous palates. Regular chickens, on the other hand, provide a versatile and familiar taste that works well in a wide range of dishes, from simple weeknight dinners to elaborate feasts.
How To Cook Ayam Cemani
Ayam Cemani clearly have a rich cultural significance and have inspired a range of delectable dishes that elevate the dining experience to new heights. Unsurprisingly, many of the recipes you'll find specifically for Ayam Cemani reflect the flavors and ingredients of their native Indonesia and Asia at large.
The New York Times suggests slow-cooking Ayam Cemani in coconut sauce flavored with ginger, garlic, onion, five-spice powder, and wine. The result is a heady concoction of strong flavors and aromas that will balance any gaminess that the Ayam Cemani may have. Another slow-cooked Ayam Cemani recipe is black chicken soup, a popular dish in China. Here, the chicken is steeped in broth, dried shiitake mushrooms, jujubes, and dried scallops; the flavors range from sweet to earthy, and the finished soup has a strong umami backbone thanks to the chicken and dried scallops.
If you'd rather try a twist on a classic Indonesian dish, Ayam Cemani satay features tender pieces of the black chicken marinated in a flavorful blend of spices, coconut milk, and turmeric before being skewered and grilled to perfection, then served with a peanut sauce. Similarly, Sate Lilit — a Balinese specialty — involves finely minced chicken blended with grated coconut, coconut milk, lime leaves, and a variety of herbs and spices. Ayam Cemani's dark meat adds a captivating visual contrast to this flavorful dish, which is typically wrapped around bamboo sticks and grilled.
Where To Buy Ayam Cemani
Purchasing Ayam Cemani chickens isn't impossible, but it certainly isn't as easy as strolling into your local market for a chicken. As we've mentioned, they're quite sought after, and that, in turn, affects the price.
If it's just the meat of the Ayam Cemani you're after, there are sites online that offer a variety of options. The Exotic Meat Market, for instance, will ship you a whole Ayam Cemani bird, slaughtered and dressed, for $299.99. If that seems a bit steep for a chicken, you can buy Ayam Cemani Rocky Mountain Oysters — that's the testicles — at the relatively low price of $19.99 for an eight-ounce package.
If you think you have what it takes to dispatch the Ayam Cemani yourself, then another option is buying chicks. Sent through the mail, you can purchase Ayam Cemani at various stages of their lifecycle, from a fertilized egg to a fully feathered bird. Prices range wildly, but eggs are clearly the cheapest option with prices around $15. Hatched chicks can come in at $45 on the lower end of the price spectrum up to nearly $100.
Are Ayam Cemani worth it? That's highly subjective. The meat is probably much like any other chicken you've had, if a bit gamier, and there are more flavorful chickens that are more readily available in the U.S. But for the novelty of chicken with such distinct coloration and a mystical reputation, some people will gladly pony up the dough.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.