Monthly Archives: September 2015

Is our perception of ideal food ruining us?…just say no to chicken legs

My mother grew up in the 1930’s, she would regale my brother and I with stories of hardship and how she and her siblings would have garments made of old cotton flour bags, soap was handmade and staples were hard to come by.

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As I grew through my school years and into my teens, we rarely seemed to be without anything. Yes, there were shortages of certain products because we grew up in an era of sanctions bound colonial secession and we didn’t keep alcohol, fizzy drinks or cigarettes and we also lived far from any significant oceans or lakes, but our needs were largely met.

Visits to other countries or locales revealed delicacies like different flavoured potato crisps, sweeties and foodstuffs and the bread was divine. Our bread at home was supplemented with corn flour and consequently made great French Toast and hot buttered toast but made miserable dry hard sandwiches.

The hardships that my mother lived through translated into hearty, tasty, nutritious and considered meals based on what was available and as the grande dame of the house Mother would do what mothers do, she would serve us our meals. Meals were held around a round table in the evening and at the kitchen breakfast table in the mornings and sometimes at lunch time. If there were 4 or more of us in attendance meals would be at the round table.

A table cloth was laid, cutlery was placed and for hot meals piping hot plates would be used to serve meals up. A heating plate near the table was used to keep the food warm and there was always water and the option of toast as an addition for lunch times or breakfast time available.

The expectation from my mother’s side was that we would eat every scrap of food on our plate and meals were orchestrated in such a way that there was pretty much always at least two green vegetables, a starch and a yellow or white vegetable to accompany every meal that involved a cooked meat. Balanced nutrition was aspired to at almost every meal. Cooked oatmeal or cornmeal breakfasts in Winter, cereal or fruits in the Summer and occasionally a fry up especially on Sundays, all year around.

Fish Friday

Fish was a rare visitor to the table but Mother would make an effort to try and secure something appropriate for a Friday even though we were neither C of E nor Catholic. Two starches were never served simultaneously so being served pasta and potatoes or potatoes and rice never happened and was considered terribly infradig.

If you ate everything and there were left overs you could likely have some more but a lot depended on the type of meal and whether mother felt more would be gluttonous.

wingsAlthough in my tween years I shied away from eating the hard sought fish, my Mother seemed to understand and for some years I remember having something different from everyone else. It was only in later years that I came to respect a nice piece of fish cooked in an appealing way  – not necessarily batter dipped and deep fried, but grilled, poached, simmered and baked as well as pan fried and of course crispy beer batter dipped!

Lamb and beef appeared occasionally, as did pork and a frequent visitor was chicken – we lived near a poultry farm and hatchery and part of the Saturday ritual involved picking up eggs and at least a broiler every time we visited. The poultry farm was the last visit we would make on a Staurday grocery expedition before returning home.

I don’t believe we ever bought chicken pieces. I daresay they were available, but I don’t remember ever seeing them in the refrigerator or served up at home. What I would occasionally see is walkies and talkies or heads and feet, in the refrigerator that we kept in the laundry as an overflow from the kitchen fridge which by today’s standards would probably be considered incredibly tiny.

Media tells you what you should eat

The TV and media notion of chicken drumsticks was unknown to us, a novelty, a quirk of consumerist society where the white meat of the chicken was considered dry and dull and only good for making chicken mayonnaise sandwiches or chicken a la king. If chicken was to be had, it would be delivered as a whole chicken. It would be roasted whole and perhaps be dissected for inclusion in some other dish like a curry or for barbequing but I don’t recall ever seeing a pan of drumsticks or a pot of drumsticks being cooked in the kitchen and I spent a considerable amount of time in there for it was considered the heart of the house even though my mother delegated much of the cooking and baking to our cook.

So imagine a fast forward thirty years, to a 1st world country where you can buy pretty much anything you want as long as you are prepared to pay the price. Well, a trip to the grocery store offers up a great many choices to the cook – you can buy pre seasoned raw whole chickens and pieces, pieces pre categorized for you, fresh, frozen or even cooked. You can buy packages of just wing tips, just thighs, just drumsticks, just breasts and even drummettes, the top part of the wings.  You can buy not just chicken in this format but turkey, duck and a flock of other fowls too.

I am a breast man

My preference is to buy breasts for curries and stir fries and thighs for almost everything else. I will occasionally buy a whole chicken but when the cost differential per kilo is miniscule between pieces and whole, my preference is to go for the pieces because I feel such a waster by buying whole chicken and then not converting the carcass to stock. So to assuage my guilt I avoid having to throw out carcasses by simply rarely encountering them.

Although there is little cost difference between drumsticks and thighs, thighs are the better deal. With little or no bone, you get the advantage of the dark meat flavor without the handy but hassling aspect of drumstick ‘meat on a stick’. One of the reason I draw attention to this, is the inclination to always cook drumsticks with the skin on. For the most succulent meal, the skin should be kept in situ to avoid drying out the meat in the cooking process. Cook it insufficiently and the meat still clings a little to the bone, overcook it and the meat falls to bits and becomes difficult to serve. With  chicken thigh you have the same possibility, but ordinarily there is no likelihood of landing in that zone of cooked but not cleanly falling off the bone – or at least in my experience that is a rare problem.

chick filetThe inability to remove all the flesh from a drumstick however is a challenge especially if the gourmand refuses to pick up the bone and pick the remaining pieces off. This is the challenge we live with. Given the choice of drumstick or thigh, tweens will almost always choose the drumstick. Is this because it is the piece they most recognize or is it genuinely because they prefer it over the thigh. I think it is the former, it is recognizable and has been set up on the pedestal of ideal chicken portioning.

I would be ok with this predisposition towards the drumstick if I could be confident that all that would be left behind on the plate would be naked bones, but alas that is not the way it works, no, fussy eaters will eat the easy parts but leave the bone littered with perfectly good pickings. Returning to where I started this piece, my Mother would turn in her grave at the site of suc disrespect and abuse of the chicken and perfectly good food.

If you have a similar challenge, here’s my proposal, simply stop buying drumsticks. There are only two of them per chicken and they are the most sought after premium pieces and they are not worth it. While I don’t actively avoid them I certainly don’t actively buy them and don’t plan to change this habit any time soon.