Meet the producer - Sutton Hoo Chickenby Robert Gooch June 27 2016
We’ve worked closely with our friends at Sutton Hoo Chickens for many years and their chicken is always popular with our customers for good reason. Sutton Hoo is a small family business rearing traditionally free range chicken to unusually high welfare standards to produce chicken that is entirely natural and exceptionally tasty. The quality of the chicken has been recognised by many chefs and food writers including Tom Kerridge and Diana Henry.
We talk to Belinda Nash who founded Sutton Hoo Chicken with her late husband, Charles back in 1994.
What was the inspiration to start Sutton Hoo Chicken?
In the 1990s you could not buy a ‘free range’ chicken in the UK. My late husband, Charles, had always said you "could not buy a chicken that tasted like the ones my mother reared herself”. With a passion for farming and loving his food he saw a gap in the market – for a ‘real’ tasting chicken.
Charles and I started the business in 1994, supplying just a few farm shops and attending the local farmer’s markets. At this stage we did all the work ourselves from the feeding to the butchery. We reared our chickens more slowly than others, which meant they were more expensive than any other chicken on the market. Naturally we were worried that people would not want to spend this much on a chicken, but word spread, of ‘these delicious chickens which actually tasted of chicken’.
How has the business evolved since you started?
Led by the demand of customers we gradually increased production until we could employ someone to help on the farm. As things escalated we began to supply many local farm shops, butchers in East Anglia, London and the home counties. As time went on we even secured a spot in our local Waitrose stores.
After Charles passed away in 2009, I was determined to continue furthering our dream and his ‘real food’ legacy. Seven years on, I am lucky to have his godson William Waterer as general manager helping me carry the brand forward. We are super proud that our chicken is now affiliated with some of the best butchers and restaurants in London, such Burberry Café, Le Coq and Hennessy’s.
What breed are Sutton Hoo Chickens?
Sutton Hoo Chickens are a combination of specially selected old fashioned breeds, which allows us to grow them for twice as long as a conventional chicken.
How are Sutton Hoo Chickens reared?
They are grown slowly on 40 acres of meadows where they have the freedom to be themselves, scratching around, sitting on straw bales and feeling the sun on their backs.
We focus on high welfare; rearing the chickens in small groups in spacious mobile houses, with natural lighting and ventilation and 24 hour access to the meadows to graze. This ensures their natural slow growth as they roam freely, and have normal daylight hours. They have an additive-free diet and graze the wild grasses too.
Why do Sutton Hoo Chickens taste so good?
The combination of more exercise, a varied diet, and slow growth means our chickens have much more flavour than commercially reared chicken. It is our aim at Sutton Hoo to produce a chicken with a wonderful texture and full flavour, resulting in “chickens as they used to taste”.
How did Sutton Hoo Chicken sausages and Sutton Hoo Chicken burgers come about?
The inspiration came from having a lot of demand for breast fillets, leaving us with spare leg meat. We all know that the best flavour is in the leg meat, so we decided to use this meat to make sausages and burgers. Our sausages are 73% meat and are a healthy alternative for people who love sausages. We aim to have a new range of sausages in the near future, including working on a gluten free recipe, as we know they are people’s favourites (especially the kids!)
What’s your favourite way to cook and eat a Sutton Hoo Chicken?
Our favourite way to cook a Sutton Hoo Chicken is to simply roast it, ensuring it has a really crispy golden skin. Not too much fuss, served with yummy roast potatoes or fresh new potatoes with butter and salt. Depending on the season, I either serve with a nice big green salad or roasted winter vegetables or fresh courgettes out of the garden. I like to vary the ways I roast a chicken, sometimes with butter, sometimes with olive oil and I might put a lemon, onion or just some fresh herbs inside.
Do you have a favourite weekday supper recipe?
A simple weekday supper is our chicken thighs in a roasting dish with salt lemon juice, olive oil and a few sprigs of thyme, roasted for 30 minutes, served with new potatoes and salad.
Belinda’s tips for cooking Sutton Hoo Chicken:
My biggest tip – don’t limit roasting a chicken to Sundays! It is so easy to roast a chicken and anyone can do it. You then end up with all the lovely left overs for sandwiches and salads the next day and not forgetting the bones to make a delicious stock from, which is not only super healthy but makes perfect soup or broth.
Cooking is all about your mood- what you fancy, and what you have time for. The best thing about our chicken is that it tastes so good that you can just keep it simple – it doesn’t need dressing up, save the stuffing and sauce for high days and holidays.
Diana Henry’s ‘A Bird in The Hand’ cookbook and Nigel Slater’s chicken recipes are my personal favourites as they are simple, real and honest chicken recipes.