Light Meat And Dark Meat

Poultry is not divided into as many small cuts as are meats. Chicken and turkey,however, are usually thought of as consisting of two kinds of parts, depending on the color of the meat.These color differences reflect other differences:

"Light meat"—breast and wings Less fat

Less connective tissue Cooks faster

"Dark meat"—legs (drumsticks and thighs) More fat

More connective tissue Takes longer to cook

Duck,goose,and squab have all dark meat,but the same differences in connective tissue hold true.

The dark color of dark meat is due to a protein called myoglobin. This protein stores oxygen for muscles to use during periods of great activity. The breast muscles of birds are used for flying, and because chickens and turkeys rarely, if ever, fly, these muscles don't need a great deal of myoglobin. In flying birds, such as ducks, the breast muscles have more myoglobin and thus are darker. Active muscles, in addition to being darker, also have more connective tissue.

The cook must observe these differences when preparing poultry.

1. Cooking whole birds.

Everyone has tasted chicken or turkey breast so dry it was difficult to swallow. In fact, light meat is overcooked more often than not because it cooks faster than the legs and is done first. In addition, the breast has less fat than the legs, so it tastes much drier when cooked (or overcooked).

A major problem in roasting poultry is cooking the legs to doneness without overcooking the breast. Chefs have devised many techniques to help solve this problem. Here are some of them.

• Roasting breast down for part of the roasting period. Gravity draws moisture and fat to the breast rather than away from it.

• Basting with fat only, not with water or stock. Fat protects against drying, but moisture washes away protective fat.

• Barding, or covering the breast with a thin layer of pork fat.This is usually done with lean game birds.

• Separating breast from leg sections and roasting each for a different time. This is often done with large turkeys.

2. Cooking poultry parts.

Many recipes have been devised especially for certain poultry parts, such as wings, drumsticks, and boneless chicken breasts.These recipes take into account the different cooking characteristics of each part. For example, flattened boneless chicken breasts can be quickly sauteed and remain juicy and tender.Turkey wings, when braised,release enough gelatin to help make a rich sauce.

Many of these items have especially high customer appeal, especially boneless chicken breast, and are served in the most elegant restaurants.

Several of the chicken and turkey recipes in Chapter 13 are for specific parts. Those that use cut-up whole chickens can easily be adapted for specific parts. For example, you may want to buy whole chickens, braise the leg sections, and reserve the breasts for other preparations.

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