Sunday, November 28, 2010

REVOLT! A Pox on Chicken Breasts!

There’s just no accounting for people’s tastes. That’s the only explanation I can come up with regarding the majority of ignorant diner’s obsession with breast meat when it comes to chicken consumption. It doesn’t matter if it’s broiled, grilled, roasted, stir-fried, or smoked; whatever form it takes is second-rate. All of the fried chicken joints charge extra for white meat; they are used to the demands of the dullard finger lickers. Most chefs and restaurant operators are afraid to use anything but chicken breast, because that’s what the customers crave. On top of that, these less than informed consumers want a skinless chicken breast. It’s not their fault, they just don’t know any better.

Here’s the problem with this scenario. Today’s processor-raised chicken breasts have absolutely no taste whatsoever, especially when the skin (which contains the precious schmaltz, or fat) is removed. As with all meats, fat equals flavor. These breasts also have a tendency towards toughness and stringiness, and they are prone to being overcooked. Most of the time, that skinless, portioned-controlled, nitrate-injected chicken breast arrived at the back door of your favorite restaurant as a chunk of frozen breast packed into a round indention on a plastic tray, a dozen to the tray, four trays to the case. To the casual observer they look like a pinkish-tan cylinder, an inch and a half tall, and three and a half inches across. Chefs call them hockey pucks, which is a good indicator of what they taste like.

With the typical Sysco/Tyson/Perdue/etc. puck, all of the tenderloin has been removed, along with part of the breast, to become chicken tenders for the fried chicken and fast food joints. The uneven edges of the breast are removed to be minced into oblivion, and reformed into pre-breaded fake chicken “tenders”, a misnomer, since they are actually breaded patties given quasi-natural tenderloin-like shapes. The tenders can be shaped and molded to resemble a portion of an actual chicken tender, or formed into patties which may or may not resemble anything that once clucked or had feathers. These are the frozen units that today’s youth are so addicted to; the easily microwaveable chicken-like unit that is every busy mom’s best friend. The fat content gets all jacked up with empty breading calories, and it’s pumped full of salt to give it some taste.

For a substantially cheaper price, the chef could instead order a boneless chicken thigh, preferably skin-on, but they could also order skinless. The big advantage to using boneless thighs, even skinless chicken thighs, is that they actually taste like chicken. They have residual fat content in the meat, which means they have rich flavor. Of course, a skin-on boneless thigh is blessed with even more fat, therefore even more flavor. Add the thigh bone, and it gets better still. A boneless thigh is tender and never stringy. It is much more forgiving when overcooked by some moronic fast food teen gastroworker. Since it comes with its own built-in flavor, it requires little salt to taste good, so it is healthier.

The only chicken breast that should ever be eaten is a bone-in, skin-on breast, hopefully from a bird that was raised frolicking in a verdant field full of bugs, worms, grains, and weeds. Barring frozen, “mechanically-pulled” white meat chicken, the hockey puck breast is the lowest form of chickendom, and frankly, we deserve better. Rise up chicken eaters! Demand flavor, tenderness, taste, and lower prices! Shake off the cloak of public shame and insist on eating chicken thighs. The next time you’re gnawing your way through a stringy, tough, tasteless hockey puck, imagine how good it could be if it were a rich, tender, flavorful chicken thigh with chickeny goodness that would make a Jewish grandmother proud. We deserve better.


  1. I agree! Chicken bores me. But I think it is because I have been trained to use/overuse the boneless, skinless blob. Don says Indian and many eastern cuisines only use thighs and legs. This must explain why I only really enjoy my chicken in those dishes. That and the wonderful flavoring. I am going to get out there and experiment with what you've said. Maybe chicken and I will be friends after all. Thanks.

  2. Cam: get some boneless thighs at your local HEB or Brooks Bros and cook them any way that you would normally cook a chix breast. You won't believe the difference, m