Jul 13, 2017

Let’s Talk About Chicken

By MaryAnn Miano

Chickens are such a universal food source that we often forget they were once wild creatures. The main ancestor of today’s chicken is called the Red Jungle Fowl, belonging to the genus “Gallus.” Originating in the southeastern part of Asia, the Red Jungle Fowl was tamed to form our hens. More than likely, these chickens may have first been tamed for the cruel sport of cockfighting, now thankfully forbidden by law. But soon the value of their eggs was realized, and ever since, our chicken friends have been carefully bred, down through the ages, to make them larger and better to eat, and especially to encourage bigger and more eggs to be laid.

In China, there is a written record telling how chickens were brought into that country “from the west” about 3,300 years ago. They came in from India, of course, where they were raised long before. In all the breeding we have done since that day, we have created many different kinds of chickens. We now have them in various sizes, shapes, and colors, all good in their many ways. We have fowls that weigh less than two pounds and others that go over 15 pounds. In Japan, there is a Yokomama fowl with a tail 20 feet long, and another fowl without any tail at all. Some of our own fowls have large, feathery crests on their heads, and others have no feathers at all on their necks. Most of our fowls have four toes, but the English Dorking and the French Housan rejoice in five. And the various kinds are different in many ways. In all, we have produced hundreds of different kinds of chickens.

Ancient Romans believed chickens were divine animals. Roosters were able to announce daybreak, so it was believed they could predict the future. And yes, chickens can indeed fly, although they are not very good at it. They can fly short distances to avoid a predator.

Interestingly, by studying the chicken genome, scientists were able to discover that the chicken was the very first domesticated animal, the first bird, and the first descendant of the dinosaur! Breeds that have become plumper are due to certain mutations in genes that regulate glucose metabolism, which has helped in selective breeding to produce meatier chickens. We are also able to encourage chickens to lay eggs all year long by selectively breeding those that have mutations in the thyroid-stimulating hormone receptor gene.

Although today chickens are farmed and mass produced in factory-type settings, many consumers are aware of the organic, free-range chickens offered for sale at grocery stores. Chicken has now surpassed beef as America’s most popular meat. As a source of protein, a skinless breast has about 31 grams of protein, and as a low-sodium source, chicken is naturally low in sodium, with only 74 mg of sodium to a three-and-a-half ounce portion of chicken.

To give chicken its due, July 6 is National Fried Chicken Day. Fried chicken is, of course, a favorite classic dish of Americans for its great taste and portability. Scottish immigrants brought the tradition of deep-frying chicken with them to the southern portion of the United States. Seasonings and spices made the dish vary and enriched its taste, already made delicious by being fried in fat. Most recipes begin with chicken pieces being coated with flour to create a crispy coating.

We may not know why the chicken crossed the road, but we know why we do when we smell chicken frying in a pot: to get to the other side to enjoy a piece!

 

SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN

Recipe courtesy of Paula Deen

 

Ingredients

Oil, for frying (try peanut oil)

3 eggs

1 cup hot red pepper sauce

2 cups self-rising flour

2 ½ pound chicken, cut into pieces

House Seasoning (recipe follows)

 

House Seasoning: To make the House Seasoning, mix the ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

1 cup salt

¼ cup pepper

¼ cup garlic powder

 

Directions

Heat the oil to 350 degrees F in a deep pot. Do not fill the pot more than ½ full with oil.

In a medium size bowl, beat the eggs. Add enough hot sauce so the egg mixture is bright orange (about 1 cup). Season the chicken with the House Seasoning. Dip the seasoned chicken in the egg, then coat well in the flour. Place the chicken in the preheated oil and fry the chicken in the oil until brown and crisp. Dark meat takes longer than white meat. Approximate cooking time is 13 to 14 minutes for dark meat and 8 to 10 minutes for white meat.