Wuliang black-bone chicken
Wuliang Mountains black-bone chicken
By He Tong
In his masterpiece Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, a martial arts fiction, the renowned Chinese writer Mr. Jin Yong depicted vividly the mysterious and vast Wuliang Mountains, which appeals to readers from all over China. As we drove off the county seat of Nanjian in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture along the road, we found ourselves surrounded by rows of mountains, about over 10km to 60km far away, in which black-bone chickens are commonly raised. If you ever get a bite of the delicious meat of black-bone chickens that can fly, you will definitely label Mount Wuliang as a place of “delicacy”.
Egg-picking on the mountain
“Unreachably lofty and unfathomably expansive” is the description of Wuliang Mountains. Distinct geographical position determines its complex and diversified natural environment. It is one of the regions exemplifying the canyon topology of the western part of the Hengduan Mountains with its biological variety. The abundant climatic and natural resources and optimal environment in Wuliang Mountains are favorable conditions conducive to the evolution and breeding of black-bone chickens, ensuring the fine quality their meat. In 2010, black-bone chicken was entered in China’s national list of livestock genetic resources.
Seemingly toweringly and unmeasurable, Mount Wuliang boasts complex and diversified natural environments for its unique geological position. Besides, it is one of the many typical examples of the western part of the Hengduan Mountain region for its vast biological variety. The abundant climatic and natural resources and optimal environment in Mount Wuliang offer satisfactory conditions for the growth and breeding of black-bone chickens and ensure their fine quality. In 2010, Mount Wuliang black bone chicken was listed in China’s national livestock genetic resources list.
The family of Min Yuewu has been breeding black bone chickens for a number of years on Huangtupo, Gonglang town of Nanjian County within the boundary of Wuliang Mountains. Every morning, Min is waken up by continual rooster crowing—some 6,000 chickens are bred by his family. Despite their initial ordinary appearance, a closer look makes a difference: every chicken looked commanding with bigger body, smaller head, broad muscular breast, and flat back .
One of Yue’s many daily chores is to pick up eggs all over the range. With a bamboo basket in his hand, Yue went out to do his job. He was followed by Rongrong, a black dog of large breed who never miss his escort duty every time Yue goes out with a basket. The dog is never hesitant to feast on eggs right in front of his owner, cautiously penetrating a small hole on the shell with the egg in his mouth, and takes his time to liberally enjoy the whole thing. The taste of the eggs has spoiled Rongrong who has become particular about food and won’t touch anything else, Yue said.
Egg-picking can be complicated. While some chickens lay eggs in a fixed locations, the majority of them do it randomly — under the trees or in the grass, and a casual pursuit may leave some eggs at large. The egg-picking is sometimes like playing hide-and-seek with black bone chickens who, after years of exercise in the mountain, have become hard-to-catch runners. With luck, Yue could score some 200 eggs in one day. In recent two years, parents in town would come in flocks with their children. Yue told us that he plans to prepare more baskets for the children to experience the fun of picking up eggs in the field.
Flying chickens all over the mountain
Soon, the scorching midday sunshine drove the chickens to gather under the trees. And here you will be astonished to see the seemingly common chickens literally flying up into the leaves of trees, which stood one to two meters high. Adult chickens quickly flew up and hide in trees to get shelter while smaller chicks managed to crawl up along the trunk of smaller reclining trees. “The flying chickens are called ‘black-bone chickens, in Wuliang Mountains by many people, but the local people here nicknamed them ‘flying chicken’”, chuckled Yue.
“Some of our buyers once called our chickens ‘lucky creatures’ after observing how they are raised,” Yue said. And he is telling the truth. To make the chickens healthier, Yue gives them spacious living environment so that they can find their own food everywhere inside the forest zone. Under the tree lies a plastic basin, with corn grits, bean pulps and wheat bran in it. And black bone chickens only drink the sparkling and clean spring water from the mountain. There were also two white geese lying around, whose role was to protect the chickens from mice, snakes and thieves, Yue told us.
It is rather difficult to catch the black bone chickens raised in such natural forest environment. It is said that once a breeder promised to give one of his friends as many chickens as he could catch in the mountain, but his friend returned empty-handed after struggling for hours. The chickens won’t return to their pen until night falls.
According to Yue, local government stipulated strict rules for breeding black-bone chickens in Wuliang Mountains to keep the pure bloodline of this breed. Besides, a specialized breeding base has been established. It takes 7 to 8 months for a black-bone chicken to fully grow and weigh 1.5 to 2 kg. In recent years, these black-bone chickens have made their way out of Yunnan and entered markets of large cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Yue’s black-bone chickens and eggs sell well all over the province, and the demand is also growing rapidly. Yue has introduced the technology of vacuum package to facilitate transportation.
Black-bone chickens in Wuliang Mountains can be made into light soup or in braised, boiled or spicy flavors. It is said that all these flavors are hailed as ‘ultimate’. And Su Juan, younger sister of Yue, is the most authoritative on cooking a black-bone chicken — she has been doing this for many years. A skilled chef as she is, Su Juan simply opened a local black-bone chicken-featured “happy farmhouse” (farmer-household tourism) restaurant right at the chicken farm, and many Nanjian locals bring their friends from elsewhere to have a taste of Su Juan’s cooking.
“We Nanjian people traditionally have an appetite for vinegar-fried chicken. And with the seasoning of local pawpaw vinegar, black-bone chickens in Wuliang Mountains are cooked with special flavor.” Su Juan told us. As a local product, sour pawpaw is made into vinegar by almost every household. And Su Juan makes a lot of pawpaw vinegar every year since her entire family loves the dish.
As she was talking, Su Juan had already cut the chicken into chunks — small chunks so that seasoning flavor can penetrate. The skin, meat and bones looked far darker than those of the black-bone chickens sold in the market. Black-bone chicken, white garlic and green scallion made a tempting picture in the pot.
Su Juan, a young girl with years of cooking experiences, is a dexterous hand. Soon, she had finished all preparations. We wanted to have a taste of local vinegar-fried chicken since it was a hot day and other ways of cooking are too common. As she heated the oil, she put in green scallion, ginger and garlic and fried them followed by chicken chunks to be fried together. The seemingly normal and easy process actually takes long-time learning for perfection, involving specified control of heating, quantity and timing. Su Juan added in brewed vinegar when the dish was almost done. And soon the room was filled with the wonderful aroma of chicken and fresh vinegar. We stared at the chicken in the pot, mouthwatering.
Yet we were a bit curious whether the cooked chicken would be too sour with the use of vinegar so sour. I then took a bite, only to find it was so delicious, chewy and juicy that the slight sour taste seemed to have cooled us down on the hot day. “The sourness has evaporated away during the cooking process. That’s why you smelled it all over the room but only tasted it only slightly when the dish was served.” Su Juan said, with a smile on her face.
Moreover, even local black-bone chicken rice noodles taste exceptionally delicious. No wonder Nanjian locals seldom have chicken in other places. They have a peculiar taste for chicken as their palates have been spoiled by the first-rate black-bone chicken of Wuliang Mountains.
It is said that the delicious taste of black-bone chicken of Wuliang Mountains is attributed to its species for one reason. The breed is highly adaptable and disease-resistant. They can grow perfectly healthy in mountain regions at the elevation of 1,000 to 3,000 meters. Black-bone chickens in Wuliang Mountains are analyzed to contain more protein, calcium, phosphorus and amino acid and less fat than other chicken species. Moreover, the black-bone chickens are raised free-ranging, which contributes to higher inosinic acid in the chicken. The growth period of 7 to 8 months provides perfect conditions for acid substance and enzyme to deposit, which makes the chicken tastier. From the perspective of nutritious value, black-bone chickens far surpasses all other species varieties of chickens and are hence hailed as “a valuable fowl for tonic food”.