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The Fat Diaries: Getting Our Poultry Off Drugs

June 25th, 2010 at 10:19 am | 15 Comments |

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I was a teenager in the 90’s and it was one of the hardest decades for me to live in as a fat teenager. This was because the 90’s (specifically the later half) was the decade of LOW FAT. Remember the explosion of the chemical not-quite foods that flooded the market? Dry, horrible rice cakes in aspartame flavors, chips that gave you diarrhea, cookies that tasted of plastic. It was as delicious as a Styrofoam sandwich, but it was all “guilt free.” No wonder, really, that I preferred to eat regular chips that didn’t affect my bowels.

The poison icing on the incredibly bland cake was that the movement was led by a food item that wasn’t made out of chemicals: Chicken Breasts. Humans took the LEAST flavorful part of the chicken, grilled the hell out of it and plopped it on a bed of iceberg lettuce.

Now I’m not much of a meat person to begin with. I like small cuts of very tender meat, usually in pasta or soup or curry. I don’t like big chunks of muscle tissue on my plate, and very rarely do I want it grilled. I like chicken. Chicken soup, chicken curry, drumsticks and thighs – all good – but I HATE white meat chicken. It sure sucked to be me in 1996 then, because white meat chicken had become an epidemic. Every menu, every entrée that wasn’t steak; no matter where you went, chicken breasts were every where. Dry, choking, stringy, slabs of chalky poultry were unavoidable in the 90’s like their low-cal, low-fat, low-sugar, counterparts.

But in the 2000s something remarkable happened: it went away. There was that horrible Atkins renaissance that breached its ugly head, but then America began to realize that nature had given us lots of delicious and good for us food that we didn’t need to “eff” with. Sweet potatoes, corn, lentils, whole grains, real yogurt. All of this stuff is good for you, and moreover TASTY, without being subjected to laboratories and synthetic sweeteners.

So WHY then are we still following the white meat chicken craze? Sure we’ve all read that white meat is healthier than dark meat, but by how much, really?  Demand for white meat in everything from processed food to haute cuisine has saturated the market.  It doesn’t matter how many tons of butter or sodium is pumped into it, companies want it to push their “healthy image”, and it’s pushing chicken breeding out of whack. Chickens are pumped full of steroids and hormones to make six-pound birdzillas that can’t walk under their own power. When I discovered the treatment of chickens on standard chicken farms I began to suspect that their genetically inflated, penned meat might be what makes white meat taste so horrible to me.

I decided to try different kids of white meat, from differently raised and slaughtered chickens to see if it was my tastebuds, or something else that was amiss. For the last few years I’ve learned to roast a whole chicken. It’s easy, pretty tasty and it feeds my whole family through two meals. I only hate that you get so many dishes dirty and that you have to handle raw chicken like it was made of anthrax. Still, I figured this was my best bet for comparisons since it had both white and dark meat and I had a control recipe. I’d get the whole “spectrum” as it were.

I tried both organic and regular birds, both about 4 lbs.  With the regular “control” chicken I didn’t like the white meat. It was dry, bland and generally pretty gross, like every other piece of white meat I’d eaten in restaurants and at home. The organic chicken wasn’t much better. The white meat was a little moister and certainly not as “inflated” but it had a bizarre after taste, like I was eating it out of a garden hose. A few of my friends who had eaten organic chicken confirmed this was sometimes the case.  I figured I was at a dead end. It must be that I just don’t like white meat and I’d have to live with it.

Then this last weekend, at the Leesburg Farmer’s Market, we saw a rare sight (for our area). A free-range no-chemical no-hormone chicken farm was selling chickens and eggs.  Joe and I decided to give it a try, Father’s Day was almost upon us and a really nice dinner was in order.

“How’s the white meat on a farm-fresh chicken?” I asked the poulterer.

“Like steak,” he said, emphatically.

I was dubious. I cringed at the price: $20 for a 4 lb bird was more than my frugal mind wanted to spend, but we did. I took it home and immediately brined it for supper. As I did so, I had a strange revelation. This is going to sound silly, but the chicken FELT different. I’d handled a fair amount of raw chickens so I was struck by how smooth and silky the skin was on this free-ranger, like a baby’s.

Later that evening I cooked it according to my recipe. Reluctantly, I portioned myself a helping of white meat. I took a bite, chewed and mulled it over. It was actually pretty good. It wasn’t fantastic, but it was the best white meat I’d ever tasted. It was still fairly lean, but it wasn’t dry. It wasn’t easy to chew, but it wasn’t stringy or bland. It was a very nice cut of white meat. Then I ate some of the dark meat. OH. MY. GOD.

It was like no dark meat I’d ever tasted before. It was flavorful and juicy, but unlike the drumsticks on a standard chicken, it wasn’t greasy and gristly. It was lean and soft and melted like butter in my mouth. So, yeah. I don’t like white meat very much. I prefer dark meat. BUT I found out that white meat can be prepared so that I’ll eat it, I just need to plonk down $20 when I do it.

So here’s the big question: is it worth it? Is it worth the few extra calories I’ll save by getting something that I like less and that costs more? I really don’t want to go back to that 90’s mentality of quantity over taste. It was maddening and just plain unsatisfying to eat healthy things that I didn’t much care for. I think I’d much rather buy the package of 6 free-range chicken thighs at next week’s market. It’s cheaper, healthier than standard chicken and I’ll actually want to eat it.


Monica’s Chicken Recipe:

Brine:

Water to cover chicken,

¼ cup orange juice,

peppercorns,

vinegar from one 8 oz. jar of pickles.

¼ cup of kosher salt

Rinse and submerge a 4-5 lb chicken in brine for 4-6 in refrigerator prior to cooking.

Pre-cooking

Preheat oven to 425º

Remove Chicken from the brine. Rinse under cold water and dry chicken with paper towels

In 1/8 cup olive oil mix the following into a runny paste:

Sage

Pepper

Thyme

Parsley

Rosemary

Coriander

Paprika

Garlic powder

Onion powder

Cut slits in the chicken skin and pour small amounts of the paste into the holes. Concentrate on the breast and the thighs, these have the loosest skin and get very dry when cooking. Give your chicken a “massage” with the rest of the paste, don’t’ forget the inside.

Cut one Clementine or orange in half and squeeze the juice over the chicken. Put the empty halves in the chicken cavity.

Lastly, take large spoon’s worth of marmalade and coat your chicken with it.

Cook covered UPSIDE DOWN for 25 minutes. Then remove cover and turn your chicken over before cooking another 25 minutes or until internal temp is over 145º.

Recent Posts by Monica Marier



15 Comments so far ↓

  • sinz54

    Monica Marier: I think I’d much rather buy the package of 6 free-range chicken thighs at next week’s market. It’s cheaper, healthier than standard chicken
    AFAIK, there is no scientific evidence that free-range chicken is healthier than standard chicken.

    In fact, some studies suggest the reverse.

    http://tinyurl.com/8mla92

  • TerryF98

    Eating Factory chicken is the only way I can afford antibiotics!

  • florishes

    Thanks TerryF98 – your comment turned my smile into a big burst of laughter.

    Thanks, Monica – great article – delicious recipe!

  • ktward

    Our personal taste preferences in food are entirely subjective, and highly informed by our familial, sub-cultural upbringing, further influenced by our respective experiences.

    Quick illustration:
    I grew up with the southern staple of home-made fried chicken (the darker the meat, the better), but at the age of 27 and 8 weeks pregnant, I curiously found I could not tolerate the most basic Turkey prep to which I was charged for our family Thanksgiving feast, much less consume it. It was 6+ years later before I could entertain even BL/SL chicken breast. Two decades+ later, I’m relieved to note that I’m long back to my old dark-meat poultry-lovin’ self.

    That said, today I can make a moist, tasty meal from any commercial chicken breast.
    What inevitably sabotages the most elaborate prep is over-cooking: in the age of poultry-borne salmonella concern, over-cooking is SOP. We cook/grill the crap out of our chicken, and the lean breasts are particularly hyper-sensitive to such abuse. So we’re left with dry rubber on our plates. Chicken breasts, like shrimp, require careful cooking. Period.

    Quick primer on fats:
    Not all fats are created equal. Ms. Marier’s column seems to demonstrate that she has not learned the lesson from our collective ignorance of the ’90s– an ignorance on the role of fats in healthy diets that served only to spur mass food manufactures to new exploitative heights: ‘fats bad, eat our diarrhea-inducing chemical alternatives’.

    Here’s what we learned, in general: unsaturated fats are good for us in myriad ways, and saturated/trans fats are bad for us in myriad ways. But equally true is that all fats are high in calories, and those of us that are weight conscious are, necessarily, counting calories. So it seems a no-brainer, then, that the calorie counters among us might deliberately swap out saturated fat-laden dark meat with leaner white meat. OTOH, if dark meat happens to be a quality-of-life issue (which I totally get), then cut calories elsewhere.

    Whatever. Do the math and figure it out according to your own preferences and needs.

    The ‘real meat’ that this article spurs, in terms of dialogue, has nothing to do with calorie counters and taste preference. It has to do with Big Ag.

    As my 80yo mother often reminisces, they used to pick their daily summer meals from their well-tended gardens in Kenilworth, and buy their meats from local butcheries.

    Enter Big Ag.
    Unlike our traditional farmers of old, Big Ag has never been interested in humane practices, environmental impact or consumer health. Big Ag was, and is, concerned only with profit margins: less cost, more profit. It’s really that simple, thought the ramifications are quite complex and far-ranging.

    As consumers and capitalists, we are most effective when we are knowledgeable. To wit:
    ‘Free Range’ is a marketing term, with zero oversight or regulation. ‘Organic’ is a designation that mandates specific criteria and is actively regulated by government oversight.

    Today, in a world of extremist memes, it sometimes seems like we must either choose to be unconscionable carnivores or PETA vegans.

    That’s a bullshit choice, and one I’ve profoundly rejected for years. But to reject such a choice does not release us from responsible consumerism.

    For example:
    A grocery store local to me in Chicago, Jewel, offers a higher-priced ‘Wild Harvest’ brand that, in the case of some produce, means organically grown. I did some digging where the meats were concerned. Nothing about the raising/slaughtering processes of their suppliers were documented as humane or environmentally sustainable on any level. The cattle were Angus, which seemed to be the selling point.

    Conversely, another grocery store local to me, Meijer, sells Naturewell. Not only are their raising and processing standards both environmentally sound and recognizably healthy for consumers, they have actively adopted humane processing standards recommended by Dr. Temple Grandin.

    Our food choices have become complicated, on many levels. To some consumers, prohibitively so. But if your wherewithal allows, do your homework: ‘Good for you’ is no longer limited to base nutritional aspects and taste, but equally includes both the environmental impact and humane aspect. Where we can, those of us with the wherewithal must advocate for the beneficial evolution of sustainable, responsible agriculture.

    A couple of the best, get-you-started informational resources …

    Jill Richardson: http://www.alternet.org/authors/9738/
    http://www.foodincmovie.com/

  • sinz54

    ktward: We cook/grill the crap out of our chicken, and the lean breasts are particularly hyper-sensitive to such abuse. So we’re left with dry rubber on our plates. Chicken breasts, like shrimp, require careful cooking.
    The mode of cooking you choose is more critical to your health than which type of chicken you buy.

    Grilling and broiling, particularly when the meats are brushed with sauces or marinades containing sugars, generates toxins that are known (real scientific evidence) to be dangerous.

    http://cjasn.asnjournals.org/cgi/content/full/1/6/1293

    Frying is even worse.

    The safest modes of cooking are steaming, boiling, and microwaving.

  • ktward

    The mode of cooking you choose is more critical to your health than which type of chicken you buy.

    Nonsense. I’m unaware of any studies that make such a comparison, or that even suggest anything remotely corollary. Such a statement is the typical kind of bullshit that people use to further their own ideo bent. I realize that you have specific dietary needs, for which only you and your health professionals can speak to. But your comparative assertion is baseless as applied to the general population.

    The safest modes of cooking are steaming, boiling, and microwaving.

    Sounds dee-lish.

    How we each cook our own food is a personal choice. No matter the cooking method, chicken breasts that are overcooked will be dry and rubbery– and in the case of steaming, boiling or ‘waving, tasteless to boot.

    I’ve little interest in how people choose to cook their food, beyond offering a helpful tip or two. I’ve every interest in the availability of healthy food to all, and an environmentally responsible and sustainable food chain.

  • Sunny

    “How we each cook our own food is a personal choice.”

    I prefer to wrap mine in tinfoil and bury it next to some enriched uranium.

  • ktward

    I prefer to wrap mine in tinfoil and bury it next to some enriched uranium.

    Mmmm. I bet it turns out both tender and tingly.
    And a bonus if it makes the kids easier to round up in the dark.

  • sinz54

    kwtward: Such a statement is the typical kind of bullshit that people use to further their own ideo bent. I realize that you have specific dietary needs, for which only you and your health professionals can speak to.
    No, this has nothing to do with me.

    Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, cataracts, etc.; even in previously healthy people.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_glycation_end_product

    You don’t have to believe me. Ask your own physician–if he’s a physician who keeps up with the latest medical research.

  • ktward

    Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, cataracts, etc.; even in previously healthy people.

    But where are the studies that demonstrate, as you asserted, that “cooking mode is more critical to [our] health” than the quality of the food?

    There are various health risks/benefits associated with nearly every single thing we do every single day. To make a point of any single one of them out of context is a silly exercise. We all run our own health management show, according to our own needs; so you cook your food however you want. And I’ll do the same.

    The critical issues are that we have available to us healthy food to begin with, and that our farming practices are humane, environmentally responsible and ecologically sustainable.

    Studies on the direct health effects of hormone/steroid-laden chicken are, at present, not conclusive. And as I’ve already mentioned, our taste experience is both experiential and subjective.

    But factory farming–particularly with its requisite chemicals–unquestionably produces a hugely challenging negative environmental impact:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factory_farming

    Some of us, as well, consider equally important the humane aspect in raising slaughter feed. On principle, I’d become a vegetarian in a New York minute. But I’m a type O, and I embrace a responsible, quality-of-life ethos– if I’m ever stranded on that proverbial desert island, I will have an unlimited supply of Kobe beef. Cooked rare, bordering on blue.

  • JeninCT

    It’s apparent that you’re just as easily swayed by the pedigree of your chicken as you are by television commercials designed to make you feel inferior about your weight.

    The fact is, any good cook can make any chicken cutlet, thigh or whole chicken taste great, just as easily as a bad cook can make them taste awful.

    And an internal temperature of 145F? Huh?

  • LFC

    Sunny said… I prefer to wrap mine in tinfoil and bury it next to some enriched uranium.

    I think after the Chernobyl incident, this was known as “Chicken Kiev”.

  • RealCheapFood

    I know it’s fashionable to hate prosperity and an excellent food system, but popularity has never been based on truth, has it? The often mindlessly parroted assertion that “chickens are pumped full of hormones” is false. It is illegal to give chickens hormones.

    According to the USDA:

    No hormones are used in the raising of chickens.

    Antibiotics may be given to prevent disease and increase feed efficiency. A “withdrawal” period is required from the time antibiotics are administered before the bird can be slaughtered. This ensures that no residues are present in the bird’s system.

    Additives are not allowed on fresh chicken. If chicken is processed, however, additives such as MSG, salt, or sodium erythorbate may be added but must be listed on the label.

    I don’t expect that reality will trump the thrill of dystopian whining, but for those with an interest in food safety and chickens, here’s a nice page of information:
    http://origin-www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Chicken_Food_Safety_Focus/index.asp

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