One of the enduring mysteries through decades of eating out is the affection restaurants show for white meat -- specifically, the chicken breast. It's often bland, dried out and little more than filler, but you just can't escape it. What happens to all those bone-in pieces -- glorious drum sticks, delectable thighs and doubly good leg quarters -- oozing juices and flavor?
The chicken breast is not only served just about everywhere, but it is almost always raised with antibiotics, so you rarely get moist breast meat. It's hard to overcook dark meat and the taste is well worth it, despite the extra fat and cholesterol. Last night, we made jerk chicken drum sticks that were terrific right down to the bone.
In an Italian restaurant, the breast meat is pounded thin and flavored with lemon, cheese and tomato sauce, and other preparations that preserve some flavor. But in too many restaurants, dry chicken breast is added to salads, the easiest way to ruin a healthy meal. Even marinating a chicken, such as the one served in Pollos El Chevere, the great Peruvian restaurant in Passaic, can't prevent the awful taste of dried-out breast meat.
Yesterday, I met a friend for a lunch of soup and salad bar at the Coach House in Hackensack. He chose a hearty bean soup, but I made the mistake of ordering chicken "gumbo." Not only was it nothing like gumbo, it was filled with tasteless chunks of overcooked breast meat.
Boneless thigh meat is juicy and feels great in your mouth, but you'll be hard put to find it on a menu. I only know of one place, BBQ Chicken & Beer, a Korean fried-chicken restaurant in Cliffside Park, that serves broiled boneless thighs. Last week, we cooked up boneless and skinless thighs at home, coated in chili spices, and my wife raved. If we roast a whole chicken, or prepare it on a rotisserie, we ensure moist breast meat for sandwiches by buying drug-free or organic birds.
Of course, you'll find lots of greasy drum sticks and thighs at American fried chicken restaurants, but it's usually a cheap brand, such as the Tyson poultry used by KFC.
I suspect many restaurants have skinless and boneless breast meat delivered in sanitary packages for not much money by food distributors. Sysco offers restaurants chicken breast portions that only have to be warmed in a convection oven, such as one done Kiev-style. No muss, no fuss. They're ready to go, cook up fast and are profitable -- great for the restaurant but not for the customer.