The word on rotisserie bird

By Debra Samuels
Globe Correspondent / March 25, 2009

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The aromas from five rotisserie chickens, purchased just before the tasters arrived, were so enticing that the group of six sat at the table, forks at the ready, and let out a collective "Mmm." All of the birds had come out of their ovens between 4 and 5 p.m., timed perfectly for shoppers on their way home from work.

Many markets have the birds on view doing their slow pirouettes on spits behind glass-door ovens. When done, the chickens are packed and placed under warming lights. We chose the plain flavor each store had to offer but only one bird was truly plain. Others were roasted with spices. Shaw's supermarket, Market Basket, and Roche Bros. list ingredients that include a solution of water, salt, sodium phosphates, and sundry other items (some up to 20 percent).

The winner was Shaw's Sea Salt and Pepper chicken, chosen by four tasters, labeled Culinary Circle. A friendly staff person at Shaw's told me they cook chickens every three hours (all the stores are on similar schedules) and if you're willing to take home a cold bird, it's $2 less. "It's not old, its just cold," she said. Boston Market did not list ingredients on its package; if it did, salt would be at the top. It garnered one best vote but was deemed way too salty for the others. The only bird without spices was Whole Foods Market's, which got four least favorite votes; most found it dry and tasteless.

Prices range from $4 to $10 for a whole chicken regardless of weight. Not bad for feeding a family, considering there will probably be leftovers for a sandwich or at the very least bones for a tasty chicken soup.

Culinary Circle, a Shaw's brand ($6.99)

Packaged in a domed plastic container.

This chicken with sea salt and black pepper received consistently high scores across the categories. On appearance: "Looks appetizing, color is good." "Browned just right." "Best color - evenly roasted." Taste: "Breast is moist and delicious. Thigh is moist and tasty." "Juicy thigh; juicy breast." " Skin looks appetizing and is tasty too." "Not overcooked." Aroma: "Smells delicious." Only one didn't join the love fest: "Why no flavor? High marks for being moist, low marks for flavor."

Boston Market ($8.29)

Packaged on an aluminum tray in a lined hot bag.

The overwhelming consensus: way too salty. "More salt than could possibly be healthy. The chef must have stock in Morton's," said one. Chosen best by our resident salt lover and worst by another who found the "legs salty, and the back not done." Someone else found "thigh somewhat moist and very salty." The appearance received low marks from two for uneven coloration. "Bird doesn't look appetizing, burned markings are uneven." "Color is not attractive - too pale." As to size, "Puny," sniffed one as she examined this bird. Some found the meat and texture good. "Moist white meat, moist dark meat." "White meat is very tasty, but the skin is soft." And finally the only comment about the aroma: "There is none."

Whole Foods Market

Plain Rotisserie Chicken ($9.99)

Packaged in a domed plastic container.

Apparently chicken being the only ingredient isn't enough. And the skin wasn't appealing either. "Doesn't look done enough." "Not browned enough. Pale and on the small side." "Looks like cardboard, tastes like chalk." The texture was indeed dismissed by all with one word: "Dry." If other birds were too salty, this one lacked it entirely. "Thigh: no salt! Breast: no salt!" "It's flavorless," announced one. But another said, "Dark meat is tastier" if she had to choose between white and dark. Then this: "Tiny wings and tiny legs." As the Borscht Belt line goes: "It tasted terrible - and there wasn't enough."

Roche Bros.

The Kitchen's Rotisserie Chicken ($6.99)

Packaged in a domed plastic container.

One person was very enthusiastic and picked it as a favorite. "Most inviting, visually dark. The taste is very moist and balanced." Another echoed that. "Looked good and the breast is plump." "Dark and white meat tasty and moist." "Not too salty - good!" One liked the way it looked. "Color is good, looks appetizing." But two others thought it looked burnt. One person thought the bird "isn't easy to cut." And in spite of the chicken being carried home in the domed container, with moisture collecting inside, two tasters commented that "the skin is crispy" and "somewhat crispy."

Market Basket

Perdue Rotisserie Chicken ($3.99)

Packaged on a foam black tray wrapped with plastic wrap.

This bird received relatively good marks for appearance. "Very even color; darkest of the five." "Color is OK but looks dry." On looks and texture: "Dry, crisp outside. Moist inside." One found it to have "a mushy texture overall." But many found the "white meat dry and the dark moist." "It seems overcooked but whatever is on the coating makes it feel moist," said another. Taste drew these remarks: "It tastes good, enough salt." "The flavor is OK not spicy." "Missing a spice or two or three."