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Eat Mor Chikin: A Comprehensive Guide
A chicken is a thing with parts. Now, this shouldn’t have to be said, but when a majority of people get most of their chicken delivered to them through “nuggets” and “fingers” and “tenders” (which are not actual parts of a chicken but rather some sort of liquified goop squirted into breading), it behooves us to consider just how the Good Lord made the noble bird and why the original, unmechanically engineered bits are better consumed on their own terms.
I suppose that, in theory, most are familiar with the main components of the yard bird (which, incidentally, are also the main components of the family buckets at KFC and Popeyes): the breasts, wings, thighs, and legs. Presenting in both white and dark meat, they are able to satisfy any mood. Once scalded, plucked, and ran through a broiler or a hot vat of grease, these anatomical delicacies sing their own praises.
These should always be cooked intact and gnawed at for maximum enjoyment. There’s a lot of flavor trapped in the sinews nestled against the bone that are only released through a rigorous process of mastication. Few things are as pleasurable as having stripped down a pair of drumsticks like they were a set of shiny hubcaps on a Cadillac DeVille left under a streetlight in Detroit.
I have no desire to diminish the peculiar glories of these familiar pieces of poultry, but I would like to point out that there are more edible parts to a chicken than those that usually come with a biscuit and two sides. For a chicken is a thing with many parts. They may not be large, but they still contain multitudes. Thus, I am advocating for a comprehensive approach to chicken consumption.
The deeper one digs into a chicken, the more treasures one will find. And the flavors are rich too. Livers, gizzards, lights, melts, hearts, and sweetbreads. These are what our forebears referred to as “pluck,” the mysterious source of inner fortitude. Too many modern diners want to forget that the food they eat was once alive and had the constituent parts necessary to sustain life. It is an odd bit of thinking that goes something like, “Yuck! I would never dream of eating a liver! I just eat the bits that held the guts in place, through which gallons of blood coursed, and walked around hip deep in poop.” As if there is any such thing as a clean part of a chicken.
Of course it may be better if people didn’t think too much about how chickens live and move and have their being. With free range chickens, even those puddles that eventually become “nuggets” once flitted around pecking at June bugs and kitchen scraps and the rear ends of the hens of the birds in front of them. But that is still better than the mass-market, sterilized alternative. Factory chickens don’t tend to taste like anything because they’ve never tasted anything. And if chicken loses its savor, wherewith shall we flavor profile the world? Follow my logic here: if so many things taste like chicken, and chicken tastes like nothing, then our tongues lie in perpetual ignorance.
All that to say that one shouldn’t be put off by the innermost parts of the chicken. Livers are hearty and healthy, natural “nuggets.” And since most chickens don’t drink a lot of gin, you don’t have to worry about secondhand cirrhosis.
My folks are also big fans of gizzards. Gizzards are what chickens have instead of teeth. So when you are chewing a gizzard you are chewing what chews. Tell me, where else are you going to get a culinary experience like that? At the risk of overselling them, I will also say that gizzards are the perfect diet food. They are low in calories and carbs and will burn up virtually all of those as you chew (and chew and chew) them.
Still, it seems that, despite their diminutive size, lights, melts, hearts, and sweetbreads are the hardest for people to swallow. Lights are the lungs. Melts are spleens. Hearts are self-explanatory. And sweetbreads are whatever is plural for the pancreas. All of these basically taste like the liver. Which is to say that all internal organs basically taste fine. Offal isn't awful. People simply have a difficult time with the idea. And, I suppose, the feel of the unprepared meat. It is quite slimy. But then again, you aren’t required to drink them. I recommend frying them up, grinding them, and mixing them with seasoned rice. In Louisiana, this is what’s called “Dirty Rice.” Don’t knock it until you try it.
Chickens have skinny little feet, almost reptilian (that is, if reptiles had feet at all). This may explain why chickens are great at picking at seed ticks and no-seeums but are just no good at picking guitars. But there are still some who recommend eating chicken feet. However, I think that offers more enjoyment for the ones watching a person try to eat them.
Chicken feet are mostly cartilage. If you are simply wanting to avoid waste you could use them like chewing gum. But if you try blowing bubbles you will likely get a walloping case of hemorrhoids. Chicken feet don’t have to be eaten. They are literally just props.
Even so, there’s scarcely an unnibblable bit on a chicken. And you really should sample a wider array of poultry parts than what’s on offer at McDonald’s and the boneless-skinless section of the supermarket. Those products are 2% chicken and 98% slick marketing.