Why you should care
Because eating this peculiar poultry is said to clear your conscience — which you might need after spending more than $2,000 on it.
What’s the new black? Well, if you’re a chicken fancier — or a fancy chicken consumer — and have more than a few bucks to spend, the answer is: black. All black. Right to the core.
Indonesia’s rare, all-black ayam cemani chicken, known as “the Lamborghini of poultry,” is sought after not only because it’s exotic but also because it’s considered a vessel of good fortune. However, you need a small fortune to buy one, and probably a special occasion: The asking price is $2,500 a pop.
These bizarre birds are completely black, from comb to tailfeather — including the meat.
Ayam is Indonesian for “chicken,” while cemani is Javanese for “all-black.” The birds get their unique coloring from a natural generic dermal hyperpigmentation known as fibromelanosis, which promotes the proliferation of black pigment cells. They’ve existed in Asia for more than 800 years.
But, really, how black are these chickens? You know the old line about the blackest thing in the world being a black cat in a coal cellar at midnight? That cat would look like a shining beacon alongside these bizarre birds, each weighing 4 to 5 pounds. They’re completely black, from comb to tailfeather, including the meat. Their eyes, beaks, tongues and claws are all jet black, as are their bones, marrow and organs. There is some debate about the color of their blood, which some say is black, too, or at least very dark.
The only part of this bird that isn’t black is the egg, dropping at a rate of about 80 per year. Those are latte-colored, with a hint of pink. Alas, the hens aren’t very good moms; most eggs must be removed from their nests and incubated in order to hatch.“The reason they’re so expensive is that they’re believed to give health benefits, due to which many are exported to China, Malaysia and other Asian countries,” says Vindex Tengker, executive chef of Jakarta’s Dharmawangsa Hotel and a judge on Masterchef Indonesia. The meat is thought to be higher in iron and beneficial to women before and after giving birth.
However, many believe that the curious ayam cemani also holds mystical powers. Some Asians say that eating them eases their conscience. Sometimes the chickens are sacrificed during childbirth in the belief that good fortune will come to the mother. Hearing the birds crow is also said to bring good luck.
The meat tastes a little gamier than regular chicken and more like the “Mercedes of chickens” from France’s Bresse region, which cost a mere $70 each (if you happen to be knocking around the Rhone Valley). The birds are commonly found in recipes from Malaysia in dishes such as Hainan-style chicken.
Tengker cooks the chickens in Chinese-style porridge, or he slow-cooks them in light soya. “Ayam cemani chickens cook like regular free-range birds but [are] not usually used for frying. They need a slow, wet cooking method to extract their best flavor. Compared with a regular chicken, they have little meat, but like many other free-range chickens in Indonesia, they’re skinny but have more flavor,” he says.
But these exotic black birds are hard to come by, he says: “They’re rarely found at normal chicken suppliers and in much of Central Java are kept as pets.”
According to its website, Florida’s Greenfire Farms started selling legal ayam cemani chickens this year “despite the current USDA export ban on importing live chickens from Indonesia.”
If this is all a bit rich for your finances, the three-Michelin-starred Epicure restaurant in the five-star Le Bristol Hotel in Paris, will offer you a whole Bresse chicken poached in a bladder with wine. Brought to the table looking like a giant, inflated, translucent globe and served as two courses, it’s a snip at $345.