How do I know if a chicken is free of added hormones?

The Australian chicken industry no longer uses artificial hormones.
The Australian chicken industry no longer uses artificial hormones. Photo: Madison Rae

How do I know if a chicken is free of added hormones? L. Blakely

Artificial hormones have not been used in the Australian chicken industry for more than half a century. It's like unleaded petrol. In the olden days, we used to put lead in petrol and spew lead fumes over our kids, which made them sick and stupid. We don't do that anymore. Thankfully. Nor do we feed chooks hormones anymore. It's the beef and pork industry that uses hormones. Forty per cent of beef cattle are given hormone growth promotants (HGP), adding $210 million to the industry's value each year. When it comes to industrial pork, a hormone called reporcin is administered daily for 30 days before the pig is slaughtered using a gas-powered injection gun. According to Australian accreditation system Humane Choice, "there is no waiting time between the last injection and processing of the pig for human consumption". If you don't like the idea of eating added hormones in meat, look for "hormone free" or "HGP free" on the labelling, buy organic meat or buy online and ask the farmer. 

Can I put tomato sauce on a scallop pie? A. Mate

I was walking with a mate along the coast the other day. It was cold and wet, and we stopped at a pier-side cafe for a late morning tea and somehow talked each other into getting a scallop pie. Much to the horror of both of us, the pies were served with a side of tomato sauce. I had never even thought of having tomato sauce with a pie filled with a mornay sauce. I was trained almost 40 years ago by the chef at the Merricks General Store to never, ever serve tomato sauce with a chicken in white sauce pie. Even if the customer wanted it. I called Carl Crosby from Ross Bakery in Tasmania, home of the scallop pie, and asked him the question. Not a man of many words, I could hear him shaking his head on the other end of the phone. "Tomato sauce and mornay?" he said in a questioning tone. "No. No way. No." But I love an experiment. I ripped apart my pie to reveal little discs of white scallop sitting in a thick, steaming creamy sauce. I squirted a little sauce onto the pie. The sweetness and acidity of the sauce completely outstripped the unctuous, velvety texture of the pie's filling, which was all about mouthfeel. Milk-based sauces don't handle acid too well as the acid tends to make the proteins in the milk coagulate and the mornay sauce split. Top notes in white sauce dishes tend to come from sweet spice such as nutmeg and mace, not from the tang of acid. There was a hit of umami from the tomato sauce but the dish tasted about as balanced as an elephant on a see-saw.

Letters

A few weeks back, we were talking about cooking mushrooms. A now-retired chef who wishes to remain anonymous wrote, "This seems counter-intuitive but has great results. Soak open button mushrooms in warm water overnight. Keep them submerged with a plate. The next day, drain and cook in a lidded pan with a little olive oil over light heat till they release all their absorbed moisture. Take off the lid and slowly reduce the now dark liquid till they are nearly dry. Season. They will be dark, nearly black, with a concentrated fungi flavour."

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