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