The official season for white meat/dark meat debates ends as soon as the last Thanksgiving leftover is eaten, but the topic surfaced in our newsroom again this week after managing editor Caleb Hannan had an apparently traumatic experience at Skillet Diner involving a chicken thigh.
Hannan and his fiancee this weekend ordered a couple of fried chicken sammies, taking care not to order the chicken and waffles, which the menu clarifies is made with dark meat. But the sandwiches turned out to be thigh vehicles too, causing the white meat fans to gag on what Hannan calls "gaminess." "When a menu says chicken, don't you assume it's the breast?," he asked me.
I don't. I figure the chef will use whichever part of the chicken is best suited for the dish. While that's frequently a breast, chefs who prize flavor aren't adverse to working with legs and thighs. If I received an unanticipated thigh, I'd be pretty psyched.
But the vast majority of Americans would be aghast, according to a spokesman for the National Chicken Council. Although "most of the world prefers the back quarter, white meat is certainly the preferred choice in the U.S.," Tom Super says.
The domestic preference for white meat is considerable. White meat beats out dark by a 2-1 margin, a statistic boosted by queasiness about eating meat on the bone and the false belief that white meat is healthier. Since the 1950s, when chicken processers began packaging meat so buyers wouldn't be stuck with whole birds, white meat's reigned as the default definition of chicken.
Although the USDA's "standards of identity," which parse exactly what's meant by various food terms used in labeling, don't apply to menus, Super says most eaters would be saddened to be served a thigh when they asked for a sandwich.
"Usually, menus will indicate 'Grilled Chicken Breast Sandwich,' for example," he says. "I would find it highly probable that if someone ordered a "chicken sandwich" and received dark meat, as did your editor, they would be surprised as well."