Nagoya Cochin: Chicken of Choice for the Distinguishing Gourmet


Misodaki with Nagoya Cochin is a mouth-watering stew that can be enjoyed year-roud.
(Photos by Noritoshi Iwanaga)

Nagoya is known as the home of a much prized breed of chicken known as Nagoya Cochin. Restaurants specializing in Cochin can be found throughout the city, offering stews, grilled yakitori, and even raw slices of chicken breast.

The Nagoya Cochin was developed in the Meiji era (1868-1912) as a cross between the local breed and a Chinese variety. At the time, many farming households raised chickens for eggs and sometimes for meat; Cochins soon became popular because of the large number of eggs the hens laid, the tastiness of their meat, and simple feeding requirements.

After World War II, new breeds of chicken were introduced into Japan and the mass production of chickens and eggs got underway. Faced with a shrinking market, the Poultry Institute of the Aichi Agricultural Research Center developed improved strains, helping boost Cochin's share as people came to recognize the high quality, flavor, and low fat content of the meat. Demand expanded further during the gourmet boom of the early 1990s.

The Nagoya Cochin differs from mass-bred chickens in two important ways. First, most are not caged but roam freely. Second, they take an average of 100 days to mature, more than twice the time chickens normally take. They also weigh less, with adult hens averaging 2.2 kilograms and cocks 2.5 kg. As a result Nagoya Cochins cost four times more than their mass-bred counterparts.

Japanese-style cooking techniques are especially suited to the preparation of the Nagoya Cochin because they accent rather than mask the flavor of the ingredients. At one traditional Cochin restaurant, more than a dozen distinctive dishes grace the menu, from elaborate stews prepared at the table and the Aichi version of sukiyaki--made with chicken rather than beef--to deep-fried neck skins, liver grilled with teriyaki sauce, and slices of raw chicken breast and gizzards.

According to the proprietor, the Cochins bought by the restaurant are between 60 and 80 days old and weigh a little less than a kilogram. She notes that chicken over 100 days old is the tastiest, but it is also somewhat tough.

The most popular dish at the restaurant is misodaki, an exquisite stew that brings together two local flavors--Nagoya Cochin and Hatcho miso. The meat and vegetables are simmered in a large pot at the table, and guests take what they want as soon as the ingredients are cooked. Kishimen noodles, another Aichi specialty, can be added to the remaining broth and served as the final course.

The secret to good-tasting misodaki is in the quality of the chicken, the length of time the stock is simmered, and the taste of the miso paste used to flavor the broth, which must be stirred constantly for two hours over low heat.

Misodaki
(chicken and vegetables cooked in a miso-flavored broth)

Ingredients

1. Sliced onions and scallions or leeks
2. Enoki and shiitake mushrooms
3. Carrots cut into the shape of leaves
4. Ito konnyaku (devil's tongue noodles)
5. Broiled tofu
6. Mitsuba (parsley-like trefoil)
7. Hatcho miso
8. Sake, mirin (sweet sake), and sugar
9. Chicken thighs, breast, and wing with skin, cut into bite-sized pieces;
chicken liver
10. Ground chicken thighs, breast, and wing
11. Egg white
12. Egg yolks

Preparation

1. Make chicken stock by simmering chicken parts in water for half a day.
2. Combine miso and small amounts of sake, mirin, and sugar and stir over low heat for two hours until thickened.
3. Combine ground chicken and egg white; shape into balls.
4. Melt chicken fat in an iron skillet.
5. Briefly fry onions, scallions, and ito konnyaku.
6. Add chicken stock and miso paste.
7. Add about half of the vegetables, meat, and egg yolks.
8. Add remaining vegetables, meat, and egg yolks, mixing chicken stock and miso paste as needed.

Tips

1. Green leafy vegetables like Chinese cabbage should not be used because they water down the broth.
2. Be sure not to overcook the chicken or vegetables.