Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Are You a Poultry Racist?

McCormick Rosemary Chicken
Maybe it's just my pregnancy hormones, but I'm been craving dark meat chicken lately.  In general, I barely eat meat once a week, but when I do, I want it to taste good!

I used to only buy boneless, skinless chicken breast, but this year I started putting taste and simplicity before health (so I thought) and chose whole chicken or legs and thighs, skin on.  Now, I keep hearing about the benefits of dark meat, so I thought I'd share with you.

Why is dark meat dark?  The leg and thigh muscles of a chicken contain more of the protein myoglobin, which plays a key role in oxygen uptake within cells.  Myoglobin is high in iron.  It is necessary for sustained activity like walking.  Birds that fly, like ducks, have this tasty muscle through their chest.

Turkey and chicken dark meat has more B vitamins, iron, and zinc than their lighter counterparts, and dark meat is an excellent source of the antioxidant selenium. Ounce per ounce, dark meat has more nutritional value than white meat (source link).  White meat contains no iron.  The fat in dark meat may also aid in the absorption of nutrients in the chicken and your whole meal.

The calorie difference between white and dark meat is minimal, and both cuts are low in fat compared to other sources of protein.  In addition, most of the fat contained in the dark meat is actually heart-healthy fat.  The fat and protein in the dark meat of poultry has the effect of making you feel full longer, an excellent side effect if you are trying to reduce you calories, especially from snacking.

My take: How do you eat your white meat?  If you enjoy a plain grilled chicken breast, fine, enjoy.  But if you mostly eat white meat in mayonnaise filled chicken salad or fried into chicken fingers or schnitzel, take a step back.  If you are covering it in sweet sauce, or even olive oil, you might be better off starting with dark meat and adding less stuff.

Dark meat is naturally moister, and, in my opinion, tastier.  If you cook it with the skin on, it stays extra  moist and juicy.  That doesn't mean you have to eat the skin.  So next time you are choosing chicken, remember all those extra vitamins and good fat you can get from what is usually a cheaper cut of poultry.

Cooking tips: Whichever cut you choose, poaching and steaming are two of the healthiest ways to cook meat.  These methods add no calories and retain the maximum nutrition.  Check out my post on steamed aromatic chicken in the pressure cooker.  Grilling and baking are also low-fat cooking options.  Of course, it is much easier to reach "doneness-before-dryness" with legs and thighs on the bone than with boneless chicken breast.

Reminder: Always cook poultry thoroughly to kill common food-born illness like salmonella and S. aureus, which are often resistant to antibiotics.  Limit your kitchen's contact with raw meat.

Looking for a healthy, flavorful topping for your chicken?  Try chimichurri!  Here's my version.

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