There is not much new to say about the fascination of white meat chicken. By far, it is the most popular choice when dining out and eating in. It reigns supreme for the snack-set – chicken wings. It is the first choice for the weight conscious – boneless, skinless chicken breast. Even fast food restaurants are on board to attract patrons with “all white meat chicken” and “boneless chicken wings.” All that said, it would not be to far-fetched to find that the pendulum is bound to swing backwards for the love of the dark meat… chicken that is.
Dark meat chicken gets a really bad rap… and for very good reason. It is not as neat, or clean, or bright, as white meat. The color is not attractive; in fact, it looks like dirty white socks that went through the wash cycle without bleach added. On dark meat with the bone, the meat gets darker the closer you go to the bone… and just as you pull away from the bone, your teeth catch that nasty black vein. There is nothing pretty about dark meat.
Dark meat gets is color for the protein that moves oxygen through the body, myoglobin. Since chickens use their legs and thighs, more than their wings, the legs and thighs need more oxygen. More oxygen translates to more myoglobin, which translates to permanently staining dark meat.
However – not all hope is lost, dark meat is redeemable. Dark meat does not dry out as quickly as white meat during many cooking processes. Take roasting, for example. When roasting a whole bird, inevitably every recipe will go to extra lengths to explain how to keep the white meat juicy and succulent. One recipe suggests turning the bird upside down and cooking breast-side down so that the juices stay inside the white meat while cooking. Another involves a very methodical white-meat basting process that keeps the oven door open so much that the total time of cooking increases by 30 minutes. Then there is stuffing herb butters between the skin and the white meat to keep it flavorful and moist while the dark meat just roast to perfection without any extra protection.
The natural fat content in dark meat is higher, but so are the zinc, iron, magnesium, and niacin content. All of these trace minerals are important for cell reproduction, maintaining healthy skin and nails, and they aid in protein absorptions and digestion. Since the biggest culprit of fat in chicken comes from the skin, removing it from the dark meat is just as easy as it is with the white meat. Side by side, skinless dark meat has only 2 grams more fat in it than skinless white meat. Dark meat does not need its skin to protect it from drying out so pulling it off levels the fat playing field to white meat with the skin on.
The best redemption to dark meat, for me, is its ability to withstand a low, slow braise, and emerge from the pot gloriously succulent and decadent where it’s counterpart becomes stringy and dry. With a heavenly sauce that nicely cloaks that dingy color, the case for dark meat chicken is closed…deliciously.
My Recipe: CREOLE SMOTHERED CHICKEN serves 4
4 – chicken thighs, skin removed
4 – chicken legs, skin removed
2 T olive oil
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
2 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into strips
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 sprig thyme
4 T all-purpose flour
1 T kosher salt, more to taste
1 t cracked black pepper, more to taste
1 t cayenne pepper, more to taste
1 T Worcestershire sauce, optional
1 – 15oz can whole tomatoes, drained and crushed by hand
1 ½ c chicken stock, or water
Combine kosher salt, cracked black pepper, and cayenne pepper; use half of the spices to season the chicken and use the remaining to season the flour; set aside
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat; add olive oil
Dredge seasoned chicken into the seasoned flour; shaking off excess flour, brown the chicken in the hot olive oil until golden brown on all sides; about 4 minutes on each side; remove from pan
Work in batches to make sure that the chicken browns nicely
After all the chicken in browned, add the onions, peppers, celery, and garlic to the skillet; sauté until the vegetables become fragrant and translucent; about 6 minutes; add hand-crushed tomatoes; combine well
Return chicken to the skillet, nestled into the vegetables; cover with chicken stock, or water; add Worcestershire sauce and sprig of thyme; bring skillet to a boil
Reduce skillet to medium, cover, and simmer until chicken cooks through and sauce thickens; about 20 – 25 minutes; stirring occasionally to prevent sticking
Taste and adjust seasoning, to taste, before serving
Steamed brown rice and steamed okra round out a meal of Creole Smothered Chicken. Make sure to offer plenty of Louisiana-style Hot Sauce at the table… and something cool and sweet to wash it all down.
always in good T.A.S.T.E – cause you gottatastethis!