When it comes to chicken, some people prefer the taste and texture of white meat; others like the richer flavour and juiciness of dark meat. But is there a nutritional difference between the two? Does the processing method affect the quality of the chicken?
The answer to both questions is yes.
According to the Chicken Farmers of Canada website, chicken.ca, both white and dark chicken meat are nutritious and excellent sources of protein, niacin, phosphorous, B6, B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc. However, the concentration of those good things can vary in white meat and dark meat.
Myoglobin is the oxygencarrying protein that fuels a chicken's muscles with the energy they need to work. It also gives parts of the bird a darker, reddish colour.
Because a chicken uses its legs to get around, they contain more myoglobin. This makes the meat darker than the less-active breast area. It also makes it richer in some of nutrients noted above, such as iron and zinc.
However, those harderworking legs do contain more fat than white meat, but the Chicken Farmers of Canada website says it's not as much as you think and that extra fat gives it its juicy texture. A 100-gram skinless chicken thigh, baked or grilled, has seven grams of fat. A skinless 130gram chicken breast contains 2.9 grams of fat.
Of course, that information excludes the chicken skin, which I love. The skin is high in fat, which is why it tastes so good when crisply cooked. If that fat concerns you, you can buy skinless chicken pieces in stores; you could also choose not to eat the skin after cooking.
When processing chicken that's sold fresh in stores, two methods are used.
Some companies use a technique called air-chilling, where after the birds are cleaned, they are cooled in refrigerated air.
This method retains the chicken's natural flavour and colour. Companies using the air-chilled method often note that on the packaging.
Another method is waterchilling, where after cleaning, the birds are cooled in large, cold - chlorinated - water baths. The downside with this method is that the birds retain some of that water and its flesh turns a paler, less natural colour.
In a recent McDonald's television ad for its McBistro chicken sandwich, you'll see a type of processed white chicken meat. In the ad they suggest they use the same "seasoned" chicken people at home have been using for years. They even cut to an old recipe card box filled with chicken recipes that someone, such as the grandmother doing the chicken dance in the ad, would use to cook up that chicken.
Unfortunately, what the ad doesn't mention is what the commercial term "seasoned" chicken means.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website, inspection.gc.ca, the Food and Drug Regulations and labelling requirements were amended in 1996 for solid cut meat, including poultry, to which phosphate salts and/or water have been added. The website says the term "seasoned" in conjunction with the product's name is acceptable as a descriptor when phosphate salts, phosphate salts and water, or spices and/or salt and water have been added.
Seasoned chicken, thanks to being pumped up with water and salt, is less expensive and used by many fast-food restaurants. Seasoned chicken, including cuts such as breast and wings, is also sold at food stores, often frozen.
While fresh, raw chicken contains only its natural sodium content, seasoned chicken is a much different story. According to M&M Meats Shops' website, mmmeatshops.com, 125 grams of its boneless, skinless seasoned chicken breast contains 650 grams of sodium - 27 per cent of your daily recommend intake.
Because the water and salt is mechanically massaged into the meat, seasoned chicken also has an odd spongy texture, where the grain of the meat no longer seems to exist.
Thankfully, none of today's tasty chicken recipes call for that type of chicken my grandmother would have never used.
CHICKEN WINGS WITH SAGE, MUSTARD AND HONEY
Dijon mustard and sageflavoured wings, coated in bread crumbs, drizzled with honey, and baked until golden and delicious.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: About 28 minutes
Makes: 4 servings (5 to 6 wings each)
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried sage leaves (see note)
20 to 24 plump chicken drumettes or wingettes, or a mix of both (see Note)
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
3 to 4 Tbsp liquid honey, or to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven 400 F. Get out a large non-stick baking sheet. Combine the mustard and sage in a bowl large enough to hold the wings. Add the wings and toss to coat. Spread the breadcrumbs out on a shallow-sided plate. Coat each wing in breadcrumbs, gently pressing them on to help them adhere. Set the coated wings on the baking sheet.
Use a small spoon to drizzle each piece of chicken with some honey. Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Bake the wings in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Turn the oven to broil. Broil wings until richly golden brown, about 2 minutes. When broiling, be sure to keep an eye on the wings so they don't overly darken.
Note: Dried sage leaves are crumbled leaves with discernible pieces. Do not substitute ground sage, which is a finely ground powder and much more intense in flavor. Most supermarkets sell chicken wingettes, the middle part of the wing, and drumettes, the meatier portion of the wing. If you can't find them, buy whole wings and cut them yourself.
CHICKEN BREAST BURGERS WITH PROVOLONE, MUSHROOMS AND ARUGULA
Italian-style chicken in a bun with tangy provolone cheese, spicy arugula and pesto-flavoured mushrooms.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: About 20 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 (6 oz.) boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 lb. white or brown mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp homemade or storebought pesto
4 to 8 (depending on size and shape) provolone cheese slices 4 panini or hamburger buns, split and warmed
mayonnaise to taste
1 1/2 cups baby arugula 8 thin ripe tomato slices (optional)
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat oil in a large skillet set over medium-high. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken until golden brown on both sides, but not quite cooked through, about 3 minutes per side, then remove from the heat. Set chicken on the baking sheet.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Set the skillet you cooked the chicken in back over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and then stir in the pesto and salt and pepper to taste.
Top each chicken breast with 1 or 2 slices of the cheese and 1/4 of the mushrooms. Set the pan in the oven and bake the chicken until the cheese is melted and the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Spread buns with mayonnaise. Divide and top bottom halves of the buns with the arugula and tomatoes, if using. Set chicken on bottom buns, add top buns and serve.
Note: Baby arugula is sold at some supermarkets. If you can't find it, you could try baby salad greens or baby spinach in this recipe.
GREEK-STYLE ROAST CHICKEN THIGHS
Lemon, garlic, olives and feta give the roast chicken a rich Greek-style taste.
Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus marinating time
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp finely grated zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
8 bone-in chicken thighs
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 to 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup coarsely crumbled feta cheese, or to taste
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Combine the first 6 ingredients in a bowl large enough to hold the chicken. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover, refrigerate and marinate the chicken for 4 hours, or overnight, turning occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place chicken in a baking dish. Spoon any marinade in the bowl over the chicken, then season with salt and pepper. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and baste chicken with pan juices. Top and surround chicken with the olives and feta. Bake 15 minutes more, or until the chicken is cooked through (juices should run clear if you insert a paring knife into a thigh). Sprinkle chicken with parsley, if desired, and serve.
Eric Akis is the author of the bestselling Everyone Can Cook series of cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.