Come To The Dark Side Of The Chicken; It's Tastier

Most American shoppers prefer white meat — and the surplus legs and thighs are often shipped to Russia. i i

Most American shoppers prefer white meat — and the surplus legs and thighs are often shipped to Russia. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com
Most American shoppers prefer white meat — and the surplus legs and thighs are often shipped to Russia.

Most American shoppers prefer white meat — and the surplus legs and thighs are often shipped to Russia.

iStockphoto.com
Food writer Nadia Arumugam recommends a simple stir-fry for diners looking to try dark meat. i i

Food writer Nadia Arumugam recommends a simple stir-fry for diners looking to try dark meat. Maya Smend hide caption

itoggle caption Maya Smend
Food writer Nadia Arumugam recommends a simple stir-fry for diners looking to try dark meat.

Food writer Nadia Arumugam recommends a simple stir-fry for diners looking to try dark meat.

Maya Smend

When average American shoppers go down the meat aisle, they take a look at the packages of chicken and almost always reach for the white meat.

That means a whole lot of leftover legs for U.S. chicken producers to walk off. Why do we like chicken breasts so much — and how can we cross over to the dark side?

That first question is pretty easy. "People don't like to be reminded that when they eat meat, it's actually part of an animal," food writer Nadia Arumugam tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. "When you have a chicken leg in front of you, there's no denying that's an animal limb."

Shoppers may also perceive dark meat as fattier and less healthy. There is a little more fat in legs, Arumugam says, but only a few calories worth.

On the plus side, dark meat is rich in nutrients like iron and vitamin B, Arumugam says, "so you're really getting a good nutritional boost with dark meat."

Arumugam says Americans are missing out on a tasty treat, too. "I'm Malaysian myself, and so I really grew up on dark meat. In our house, when we were young, we would always fight for the chicken legs, and the breasts would sit there looking sad and paltry."

"There's a whole rest of the world that loves dark meat," she says. That includes Russia, where, until recently, America's unloved chicken legs were being sent. "I think of this as a sort of yin-yang of cultural predilections," Arumugam says.

Now Russia wants to wean itself off imported American chicken and boost its own poultry market, which leaves American chicken producers with a dilemma: how to make dark meat more appealing to finicky consumers.

For diners who want to give dark meat a try, Arumugam recommends starting with a stir-fry. "The real advantage is, it really stays nice and moist," she says. "It's a great starting point for someone who wants to start cooking with dark meat."

Stir-Fried Chili Chicken With Peanuts

Stir-fried Chili Chicken with Peanuts i i
Maya Smend
Stir-fried Chili Chicken with Peanuts
Maya Smend

Makes 2 servings

4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces

For The Marinade

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry (optional)

1 teaspoon corn flour

1 large garlic clove, well crushed

1 teaspoon finely grated ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

For The Sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

3 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth or water

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons corn flour

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/2 tablespoon shredded ginger

2 long, dried red chili peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces with the seeds shaken out

2 teaspoons store-bought Asian chili and garlic paste, or chili paste

3 scallions, white parts cut into 1/8-inch lengths and green parts thinly sliced on the diagonal

3 tablespoons dry-roasted, salted peanuts, lightly crushed

1. Place the chicken pieces in a medium bowl and add the marinade ingredients. Stir well and leave to marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, place all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl, stir and set aside until ready to use.

3. Heat the peanut or vegetable oil in a large wok or saute pan until very hot, then add the chicken pieces. Stir-fry briskly over high heat for about 5 minutes, until the chicken is browned all over. Transfer to a clean bowl, and set aside.

4. Add the sliced onion and the white parts of the scallion to the wok or pan, cook for 2 minutes until softened, then add the garlic, shredded ginger, dried chili and chili paste and cook for a further 2 minutes.

5. Return the chicken to the wok or pan and stir well to combine. Add the sauce ingredients to the wok or pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer until the sauce is thickened and glossy.

6. Throw in the crushed peanuts, and toss well. Transfer everything from the wok or pan into a serving dish and garnish with the remaining scallion greens. Serve immediately with rice and sauteed greens, if desired.

Tip: For a complete one-bowl meal, add trimmed broccoli florets that have been cooked in boiling, salted water until just tender to the wok with the browned chicken in step 5.

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