Dong Tao chicken

In Defence of Chicken Thighs

I live in a town that was originally populated by people enamoured with the status quo. Many current citizens are retired and also long more for the past than for the future. The university here, where I work, has been accused of being “on the cutting edge of tradition” as well. So it is no surprise that this town has food issues.

The plethora of sushi places to serve the students notwithstanding, there are some foods that are difficult to find. I have given up on trying to find sorbet; I started making my own. Despite one entrepreneur’s great success in starting 6 high quality Cambodian restaurants, the Chinese food here is inedible. What gets labelled as spicy is barely seasoned with black pepper.

But the biggest frustration I have is with chicken thighs, as this is clearly a breast town.

I have had to beg my butcher — a butcher! — to carry thighs on a regular basis. To be fair, he did have them for a while but stopped because no one bought them. The grocery stores seem to have thighs once a week, but which day is a mystery. No one is ever out of breasts.

So here I present my defence of chicken thighs. I am probably screaming in a vacuum, but the urge to scream is stronger than my desire to avoid futility.

1. Hands down, all chefs (but not all cooks) know that thighs are superior to breasts. They are more succulent and just plum taste better.

2. Why do they taste better? Myoglobin. The breast is an unused muscle, just hanging off the front of a chicken’s body like a home plate umpire. Thighs work hard, extra hard with all of that weight to carry, and so have the extra ingredient myoglobin found in any meat that comes from muscle that has performed its function. Even duck breasts are tasty because of myoglobin. In fact, when people say something tastes like chicken, they mean chicken thighs, they mean myoglobin.

3. Because we have bred grotesque breast monsters, whole roasting chicken ruins the thighs. The time and temperature needed to cook through the tasteless rubbery mass of breast far exceeds what is optimal for the thighs. I tried looking for chickens that may have been bred for thighs instead of breasts, but could not find any. Instead, what I found was the Vietnamese Dong Tao chicken, also known as a dragon chicken, which has grotesque, massive legs and is so rare that buying just one is about $1250 US dollars. Not going to find that one any time soon at my butcher store.

4. The ascendancy of breasts can be tied to the long-standing fear of red meat. But decades of science has not borne out the low protein, low fat diet. The food pyramid is upside down. Humans manifest diseases from an absence of protein and fats in their diet, yet there is no disease that emerges from a carbohydrate deficiency. We simply don’t need them. But that is another post. The point here is that the argument for breasts as healthier is based on the attempt to limit fat intake. Thighs have slightly more fat than breasts, so the diet-conscious choice promoted for years has been breasts. Chalk is low fat too and tastes just as good as chicken breast.

So begins my crusade. I am calling for a rebellion, a movement to increase demand for chicken thighs and eschew chicken breasts. When your hosts offer chicken breast at their table, decline and chew on your napkin instead. When your waiter describes the special that has chicken breast, wrinkle your nose in disgust. When your grocery store has no thighs, ask for them, every time. Demand will drive supply. If we can breed away ability for plants to reproduce, clone sheep, and grow a human ear on a rat then we can breed chickens that have a greater proportion of tasty meat.

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