Chicken tonight?

Nu­tri­tion­ist Drew Price in­ves­ti­gates the state of food on high street Bri­tain to find out what we’re ac­tu­ally eat­ing. This is­sue…

Men's Fitness - - Contents -

Just how un­healthy is the fried chicken from your lo­cal high street? Nu­tri­tion­ist Drew Price gets un­der the skin

Fried chicken is viewed dif­fer­ently around the world. In Ja­pan, thanks to a 1970s mar­ket­ing cam­paign, KFC

is a pop­u­lar Christ­mas meal. In the south­ern US, where the dish as we know it orig­i­nates, it’s seen as a treat, much as we’d look at a roast din­ner. Here in Bri­tain though, like so many take­aways, it’s a late-night post-pub grease-fest. But hey – it’s still chicken. It must be bet­ter for you than other fast-food op­tions, right?

Yes, chicken is a great source of lean, high-qual­ity pro­tein and es­sen­tial mi­cronu­tri­ents such as B3, B6 and se­le­nium. How­ever, you don’t al­ways know where that meat has come from. Big chains ex­er­cise more con­trol over their sup­pli­ers – KFC’s on-the-bone ‘orig­i­nal recipe’ chicken is from the UK and meets Red Trac­tor stan­dards, mean­ing it’s much the same qual­ity as what you buy from the su­per­mar­ket. The smaller chains, though, de­pend on var­i­ous in­dus­try sup­pli­ers whose stan­dards dif­fer.

More prob­lems come when you start cook­ing the chicken. The salt lev­els in some coat­ings are high, though the big­ger chains have made an ef­fort to re­duce this, and deep fry­ing ob­vi­ously adds calo­ries from fat. The cheap and ox­i­dised oils many out­lets use are highly in­flam­ma­tory and bad news for health. But there are ways to make your chicken health­ier.

How to do fried chicken right

If you’re look­ing for a de­cent trade-off be­tween pro­tein and calo­ries, stick to chicken pieces. Ask for “keel” when you or­der and check be­fore you pay: this is the prize piece, the top half of both breasts, and it pro­vides about 33g of pro­tein per por­tion – roughly the same as the rib sec­tion, but with 30% less calo­ries and just over half the fat. Be­cause cook­ing re­leases mois­ture as steam into the bat­ter, the meat can’t ab­sorb the fat, so if you lose the coat­ing then what you’re left with is as lean as if you’d grilled it at home.

The best ad­vice is to find a chicken place that you know serves re­li­ably well-cooked, well-sourced food. This can vary, even within the same chain. I find that KFC does fairly uni­form, moist meat with a thin coat­ing (no bad thing), but the dif­fer­ence be­tween two Dixy shops I tried in north Lon­don was marked. In one, the chicken was dry and taste­less, with a thick, dry and bland coat­ing. The other served me the mother of all chicken burg­ers con­sist­ing of two juicy breasts that had locked to­gether in the fryer.

The best I’ve had was at Joe’s in Covent Gar­den: sud­denly I could un­der­stand why South­ern­ers love their chicken. The bat­ter was crunchy, light, spicy and zesty, while the chicken it­self was soft and ten­der and tasted like chicken, but some­how more so – and cer­tainly with­out that hint of gami­ness that makes you won­der if you should call in sick for to­mor­row right then and there.

Find a trust­wor­thy chicken shop and you’re golden

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