While varieties of Japanese wagyu beef are now familiar in America (Kobe being the best known), traveling through Japan I've been surprised to learn about the different breeds of jidori -- heirloom "local chicken" raised across the country. From Hinai birds in the far north to Satsuma ones in the deep south, these chickens inspire as much devotion as a Bresse does in France. (I met a Hinai chicken farmer who serenades his birds 24 x 7 with Mozart pumped through outdoor speakers, so, he explained, they feel calmer, and hence, become tastier!) So when Tadashi and I passed through Nagoya on our recent hot pot hunt, we decided to check out the city's famed chicken.
Tadashi and I dropped in a local joint for a multi-course Nagoya Cochin extravaganza.
First course: chicken sashimi (pictured above), raw heart, gizzard, liver, breast and tenderloin. The breast was lightly poached, I guess to kill any surface bacteria. That was the extent of the cooking. The meat was tender and delicious, the liver delicate and, well, intensely liver-like, and the bright red gizzard very crunchy, a textural more than a flavor experience, Tadashi explained. We dipped bites into mixtures of sesame oil and salt, and soy sauce, ginger and sliced scallions.
Eating raw chicken, of course, is disdained in America with an almost religious fervor (Salmonella! You'll die!), but the birds destined for the sashimi plate here, I've learned, are naturally raised to the highest and most pristine standards, freshly slaughtered right before consumption (in Kagoshima, where I also sampled chicken sashimi, they call their chicken "asa dori" -- morning chicken, that is, slaughtered that morning). To me, it's another expression of the Japanese reverence for the highest quality of ingredients.
(Not only in Japan. When explained chicken sashimi to an organic chicken farmer I met in Connecticut this past summer, he told me that he occasionally liked to down raw liver when slaughtering his birds because the liver is so tasty.)
Besides the sashimi, we sampled tskune (chicken meat balls) we dipped in the brightest orange yolks I've ever seen, neck meat accented with white pepper, grilled skin and other parts (the skin caramelized and sweet), and intensely flavorful "white liver", a rare, naturally occurring liver that becomes as rich as foie gras. What struck me about all these dishes were how much they really did "taste like chicken," flavors impossible to imagine from store-bought birds.
Please check out the photos below, too. I've included a picture of the restaurant's business card if you want to stop by. It's not fancy, just a local place, but the patrons and staff were lovely, welcoming people.