Global chicken parts

plate of chicken

(photo credit: The fabulous Robyn aka roboppy)

Chicken is eaten all around the world, but which parts are more in demand differs from region to region. This difference makes writing about recipes from a place where most reader's aren't, a bit of an issue.

Many Japanese recipes that use the white or breast meat of chicken are almost apologetic about doing so. They are often accompanied by comments like "It's a cheap cut but.." or "it's tasteless but you can jazz it up like this..." and so on. In Japan, it's the dark meat that comes from the leg and wings that is valued more.

For example, 'torihamu' or chicken ham is a recipe that first circulated on the Japanese forum 2ch. It was originally conceived as a very cheap protein dish that students could make. There are of course many recipes that call for white meat. But when you want full flavor, you usually use dark meat, in karaage for instance, or something like this simmered chicken wing dish. Dark meat is more expensive than white meat in Japan. This preference for dark meat is seen in China and Korea too.

This probably seems strange to you if you live in the U.S. for instance, where white meat is the favored part of the chicken. It costs a lot more than dark meat. People think it's much healthier (which is ironic when that 'healthy' meat is served in a salad with lots of mayonnaise).

The most ironic thing to me is that while white meat is cheap and dark meat is a bit more expensive but still quite inexpensive in Japan, a whole bird is very expensive. This is probably because a whole bird is only served on special occasions in Japan (usually Christmas dinner). Cooking a whole bird is not part of traditional Japanese cuisine. So, because it still has an exotic, expensive image, buying a whole bird costs more than buying its parts. This doesn't make any sense in terms of labor costs involved and things like that - it's just a matter of supply and demand and what the market perceives.

In France, a whole bird is eaten all the time, and is really cheap. We try to buy birds that have been raised under reasonably good conditions, which means we avoid the really cheap ones of dubious origin that can be bought for a couple of euros per kilo. So we usually get domestically produced 'label rouge' birds, which on sale cost maybe 5 to 6 euros for a 1.5 kilo bird, plenty enough to serve 2 people plus leftovers. Breast meat is the most expensive part and is usually sold boneless. Legs are cheaper, and are not available as boneless parts. It was the same in Switzerland, so I've become very good at boning a chicken since many Japanese recipes call for boneless chicken. In Japan, all parts are available boned, except for the wings, but you can buy wings in parts (e.g. the 'drumettes' and the mid-section).

What parts of a chicken are most favored where you live? Do you eat whole birds, only chicken parts, boned, boneless?

(This is part 1 of a mini-series. Next time I'll ponder on the different cuts of beef and pork.)

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