The urban legends abound. Do they really migrate all the way to Brazil each year from the North Pole? Do they really gorge on hormone-laced feed? Do they even have heads?
So much mystery shrouds a poultry staple on Brazilian dinner tables that geneticists, science writers and cooks all find themselves grappling with the same vexing question: What is a Chester, anyway?
Some say the bird is an aberration created by crossing turkeys with ostriches. Others contend that they are fathered by three-foot-tall roosters. Some go as far as to ask whether they are grown on trees in a lab. Photos and video images of living Chesters are intriguingly scarce, encouraging fanciful speculation.
BRF, the food processing conglomerate that sells the Chester, offers some clues about the bird’s true origins. Perdigão, a company that BRF later absorbed in a merger, sent researchers to the United States in 1979 in search of a bird large and meaty enough to compete with the turkey at Christmastime. They brought home the breeding stock ancestors of the Chester.
Working at a secret location to prevent genetic mixing with other birds, the Perdigão team developed a “super-chicken” that was about 70 percent breast and thigh by weight, compared with 45 percent for typical chickens. They named it the Chester, a pseudo-Englishism meant to evoke the bird’s outsize physique.
BRF prefers to describe its proud creation in the same breath as mythical animals like “the majestic phoenix and the mysterious Bigfoot.”
“The Chester is just a chicken,” BRF says, “in the same way that Pelé is just a soccer player.”
Why are photos of live Chesters so rare? Roberto Tenório, a BRF spokesman, chalked that up to legal complications. But it also fits in with the air of mystery the company likes to maintain around the bird. Mr. Tenório did clarify one point: He said Chesters are not fed antibiotics or hormones to spur their growth.
Brazilians may be perplexed by the Chester’s origins, but not by what to do with it. Chesters are coveted around the holidays; popular recipes include serving the bird with Portuguese chestnuts or wrapping it in bacon. Sommeliers recommend pairing it with a chardonnay or a brut sparkling wine.
Bigger than most other chickens but not quite as large as a full-size turkey, the Chester has another crucial advantage: It fits into the small refrigerators and ovens that are common in Brazilian kitchens.