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So where's the **%$!!* Dark Meat?

I knew that our culture was circling the drain the day we were in a Southern Cooking establishment in Nashville, Tennessee, and we wanted fried chicken. "Just dark meat, please," said my wife. "I'm sorry, ma'am," the waitress replied, "but all's we got is the breasts." We were beyond flabbergasted. This wasn't Connecticut, dammit, this here's NASHVILLE. "What on earth do you do with the dark pieces?" we gasped. "Oh, we don't get those, we jes' buy the breasts. Thass what everone wants anyways." "Everyone? How about you?" "Oh, yeah...I'm sorry, but I think dark meat's jes' gross."

And then one of the local food writers, a woman whose reviews we followed every week, allowed as how she'd been grossed out - that word again - by being served some chicken salad that had (Ugh! Shudder!) dark meat mixed right in there. Of course we put the offending establishment on our list of must-tries, and wondered just what the hell had gotten into everybody.

We still wonder. Of course, Mrs. O and I both come from families whose tastes run towards flavor rather than delicacy, especially when it's fowl we're talking about. Except for the ever-popular wishbone (popular for the bone, that is), breast meat was always what was left over from any chicken dinner. Mrs. O's family unanimously regards breast meat as good only for sandwiches, or chicken salad (with LOTS of mayonnaise). The Thanksgiving turkey is always cooked with two extra whole legs.

Living in SoCal as we do now, we have lots of Latinos and Asians whose dietary customs value legs and thighs, so it's much easier to come by such wonderful items as boned thigh meat around here. Still, I wonder what the rest of the country is doing...

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  1. Well Will, seeing as how I hail from the great state of CT, I have to say that my family and I are big fans of the dark meat over white. When I buy chicken pieces, it is usually thighs and legs rather than breasts. Just thought you might want to know that not all CT residents are white-meat only.

    1. In olden days, chicken wings were a near throw away. Then Hooters caught on, and I thought there would be a need to genetically-engineer a 4 winged chicken, sort of like a biplane with feathers. Everybody was eating wings. And now you want a 4 legged turkey? Challenging times for the geneticists...:)

      2 Replies
      1. re: Veggo

        Didn't Buffalo wings come before Hooter's? Frank's had to be first, right?

        1. re: KTinNYC

          The Anchor Bar similarly claims to have been first. But Hooters with so many high volume stores initially changed the demand for the mix of chicken parts.
          I'm not sure if it's urban myth, but I read decades ago that a reason McDonalds did not get into the chicken business earlier was due in part to a lack of production capacity -in the whole country.

      2. Billy Baby, Jfood sitting in CT as another chicken thigh/leg lover.

        Jfood agrees that in order of preference for fried chix;

        1 - wings
        2 - legs
        3 - thighs
        7 - breasts

        1. HERE, HERE!
          Avid dark meat fan as well! It's all about the flavor, not about how it looksl LOVE me some thighs! I've noticed, however, that boneless skinless thighs are becoming as pricey as boneless skinless breasts here. B/S Breasts run around 2.00 /lb, and B/S thighs are up to 1.79 / lb normally. Kind of like skirt steak used to be "garbage" - now, finally folks are catching on, and moving in on my prized thigh meat.

          Keep it down! Let the others pay up for breasts - kinda like filet mignon with beef. Let THEM pay up for it while the rest of us enjoy the good stuff! SHHH!

          2 Replies
          1. re: gordeaux

            "Keep it down! Let the others pay up for breasts - kinda like filet mignon with beef. Let THEM pay up for it while the rest of us enjoy the good stuff! SHHH!"

            Smart man.... that is my stand as well. If I can get 4 free range drumsticks for $1.59 at Trader Joe's then I raise a copa of Corzo Blanco to the dumbasses that bid up the breasts! O yeah... when I go to Whole Foods and leave with a $4 package of perfectly purple-pink oxtails... I almost feel like I need to speed away from the parking lot before the dumb foodies realize their stupidty and try to mob me for them!

            Viva Pottery Barn! Viva the Escalade! Vivan los Pen D...s!

            1. re: gordeaux

              gordeaux, you are so spot on were- thighs are poultry's best.

            2. Ye gads, Willie. When the Colombia-US trade act was being debated, the Colombian poultry lobby outraged me by posting full page ads in the newspaper saying that Americans only eat breast meat and that all the rest--supposedly otherwise dumped by Americans--would be dumped in Colombia. Maybe I shoudn't have been quite so enraged!

              1. Oh yes! Dark meat! Preferably thighs. I will trade five legs for one thigh any day of the week! In sit-down restaurants that feature "half a broiled chicken' on the menu, if they won't guarantee me the BACK half, I don't order unless someone else at the table is ordering and willing to trade. At fast food establishments, I always order all thighs, even when ordering a box of ten or more pieces. No legs, no breasts, no wings, JUST thighs! To date, I've never been refused.

                While we do have Church's Chicken here in the Dallas metroplex, I truly miss the Church's of El Paso. Rumor was that they had their chicken specially raised at a chicken farm in Mexico. Wherever the truth lies, it requires at least two thighs here to equal one thigh there. And the flavor was richer too.

                But there is one more chicken part I wish I could find, either to cook at home or to order already cooked. Chicken necks! Rich dark flavorful meat with a fantastic ratio of skin to meat. Where have all the chicken necks gone? <sigh>

                1 Reply
                1. re: Caroline1

                  Our Whole Foods in SF just started putting chicken necks out, for pretty cheap. IIRC.
                  Being a big fan of the chicken neck I buy a pound whenever I see them.
                  They make a rich stock and I just love knawing on the tender meat.

                2. "some chicken salad that had (Ugh! Shudder!) dark meat mixed right in there"

                  Dark meat chicken's wonderful for a lot of things, but chicken salad in the south does not traditionally contain it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: xanadude

                    "Dark meat chicken's wonderful for a lot of things, but chicken salad in the south does not traditionally contain it."

                    See that sums it up for me. Chicken breast is for recipes that will have a lot of added fat - like mayonnaise in chicken salad, or gravy in chicken and dumpling casserole.

                    Give me a thigh anyday...

                  2. My brother and I actually had a discussion about this - we're asian, grew up in Asia and both prefer dark meat. My BF who is from the US and his family all prefer white meat and chicken breasts (which is one of the reasons why I dislike eating chicken in the states...cause I always get stuck with white meat). Have you ever wondered why this is so?? I know this is a generalization, but MOST Americans I meet prefer white and most non-Americans (mostly Asians) I meet prefer dark..

                    My BF listed some answers - white meat, more healthy. They grew up eating white meat, so that's what they're accustomed to...

                    any thoughts?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: relativeways1

                      That's funny, I always thought it was a male/female thing, since growing up, my father liked white meat and my mother liked dark meat. So, my brother and I follow suit. My husband also prefers white meat, so I have always secretly thought men = white meat, women = dark meat. Silly, of course.

                      I have convinced my husband that braised dishes are best with dark meat. I think it works because I do most of the cooking, and he likes to eat, but also because I remove the skin and the obvious fat when I serve braised thighs. I think the reason all the men in my life dislike dark meat is that they are all fanatic against eating globs of animal fat. My father's mother used to nag him to "eat his fat". Ironic how things change. I remember reading from the Lewis-Clark diaries that as they crossed the prairies they were low on food. There was a debate about turning back to hunt a buffalo herd they had seen the previous day, but decided against it because they were too lean, and it wouldn't be worth the calories to go back to get lean meat.

                      One man's meat is another man's poison.

                    2. I've grown up eating fried chicken and traditional Mexican preparations and honestly, I can't tell _much_ difference between white and dark meat. However, when eating chicken from the bone (i.e. fried) I think that some folks just find breasts easier to eat--less fiddly bits, no veins, higher meat to skin ratio, etc. I love to nibble on wings, legs, thighs, or breasts, but I can see the white meat preference to those hollow souls who don't want to engage with their food. In things like tacos or chicken salad, or any dish in which the meat is shredded and mixed with something else, I don't see the point in making a differentiation. It's all pretty mild anyway--even the dark meat.

                      1. I love a chicken drumstick and thigh--the best part of the bird, imo. I think that in some parts of the US, dark meat is considered low class.

                        1. My nephew recently became engaged. His love passed the family test--she liked white meat which means more dark meat for the rest of us at Thanksgiving....

                          1. Dang it I sure do miss the halcyon days when a 10 lb bag of leq quarters was .39 a pound, and often went on sale for .09 as a loss leader. Those were the nights of making schmaltz and stock and chicken'n'dumplins and fricassee and makin's for chicken salad and chicken soup, all frozen as use-ahead dishes for the freezer. The final pile of handpicked scraps and cartilage were, after a triple grinding, offered to my neighbor's 3 Chihuahuas.

                            Dark meat is indeed less available in the US today because the dollar is falling and other countries have a preference for dark parts over breast meat and they buy it. Chicken is a global commodity, and that pressure raises the price of the dark at home. We're bidding for thighs, guys.

                            There's probably a web ref that puts it into crystal clarity, but if you want to peck and scratch thru these four, the data emerges:

                            http://hotdocs.usitc.gov/docs/pubs/re...

                            http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/...

                            http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/...

                            http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Poul...

                            1. I'm gunna have to say that I don't see the problem with a preference for white meat. I love dark meat in braised and stewed dishes (and of course fried) but I like white meat in my chicken salad and grilled. I can understand why Will is annoyed with the lack of dark meat options (I mean come on, no fried thighs!) but I don't think that it means white meat loves are bland or boring. Different recipes call for different cuts of an animal. For example,you would throw a porterhouse in a slow cooker or quick grill a chuck shoulder.... and chicken is no different. I don't discriminate on color, give me dark and white please!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: seedove17

                                I like both, too. I don't think I could live without one or the other. I'm not one of those people who would toss a filet mignon in favor of a ribeye, either. Give me everything!

                              2. Out where I live in LaSalle County, Illinois(70 miles sw of Chicago), it is the fried chicken capitol of Illinois. All bars/taverns still serve 1/4, or 1/2 fried chicken, dark, ligh, or mixed.

                                I get the 1/2 light, so my wife can have the wings off my order, and she orders the 1/4 dark so I can have a leg.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: swsidejim

                                  "BREAST: A set of heavy frontal muscles that evolved to prevent domestic chickens and turkeys from falling over and bruising those body parts that are actually edible, namely, the dark meat. No other use for this portion of the bird has ever been discovered."

                                  1. re: Barry Foy

                                    >> Still, I wonder what the rest of the country is doing.

                                    I don't buy whole chickens anymore. I get thighs, legs and breasts in the giant 'family' packs.

                                    The dog loves chicken breasts.

                                2. I'm a thigh and leg man myself. Glad to see perpetual specials on those parts in these parts (Toronto). Never did understand the fascination with turkey, aside from the fact that they are grotesquely huge, tasteless, and can serve a battalion. Give me duck any day. But I digress ...

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: mrbozo

                                    I love duck. But turkey.... there is turkey and then there is turkey. You need to get down to Southern Mexico and try turkey there (some of those birds are barely bigger than fat, commercial, steroid laden U.S. chickens)... ah the magical flavor of those birds.

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      Hey, I love me some turkey thighs - far from tasteless, I say, even from those giant ranchers. And since my pa-in-law loves'em too, and drives so little nowadays he goes to only two markets that usually DON'T have the thighs, I'm always careful to pick up a couple for him, too.

                                      I do mostly braise them, usually with a little white wine and a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes with chiles. Delicious hot, with thin-skinned white potatoes cooked alongside, or as a cold dish in the summertime with a salad.

                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                        My most memorable turkey thighs: bone them, but leave the (best part) skin on and cut each in two pieces and flatten a bit. Marinate in oil, lemon, garlic and oregano. Put on the weber and grill until done. Best turkey I ever cooked.

                                      2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                        Try the famous turkey in Coban, Guatemala--each bird has about as much meat as a dove, but very flavorful!

                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                          Oh, I wish we could find those, as wild turkeys are indigenous to much of North America - I'm not sure how far south they range, through Central and South America.... I do wish some organic or artisanal producer here would raise turkeys closer to the wild birds.

                                          Unless I want to roast a whole chicken, I always buy thighs - great Argentine butcher's round the corner, much of the clientele Latin American or Italian.

                                      3. If it's fried or roasted chicken off the bone, give me a chicken breast please. For stirfries, thighs are irreplaceable, and for everything else, legs and wings are best.