THE GOCHISO GOURMET: The Rising of the Phoenix…or the Egg?

As the Nichi Bei Foundation embarks on a new journey as a nonprofit aiming to keep the community entwined with a newspaper, I have visions of that fabled Phoenix consumed in flames and reduced to ashes rising. Then again, maybe it wasn’t visions of the fabled Phoenix but simply of its common domesticated cousin, Gallus gallus domesticus. And it probably wasn’t the flaming myrrh twigs that I envisioned, but glowing Binchotan charcoal nicely caramelizing poultry skin. In any case, food also unites people and communities, so my delusional visions may have merit after all.

Here Chickie, Chickie

Visions of the common domesticated chicken conjure a wide range of emotions. If you reside in the suburbs as I do, then somewhere past 2 a.m., that emotion would be anger and disgust at that crowing rooster whose internal alarm clock is set just a wee bit early. “It’s a streetlight, dimwit, NOT the sun!!” “I would attempt to catch you, but I don’t move too fast at three in the morning… and you’re probably past the stewing stage.” Cock-a-doodle-to-you!

Or it could be those warm, fuzzy emotions associated with playing with newly hatched chicks as a child which may have turned to disgust right after they pooped on your hand. Or it could be cheerfulness recalling a Bill Cosby skit from ages ago when he stated that a “chicken is so dumb, it don’t even know when it’s dead… cut the head off and it keeps running… You know you don’t have a head?… Yeah, but I ain’t dead yet.”

Of course, most of our emotional connection to chickens usually involve them as guests of the dining table. Obaachan’s teriyaki chicken or Okaasan’s roasted chicken. Those yakitori chicken skewers you had many years ago (or maybe just a week ago) at that hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant. Or maybe it was chicken soup with a kreplach or two. Or for those accustomed to fast food, maybe it was those 11 herbs and spices in the fried version.

Chicken Nutrition

As most of you are well aware, boneless, skinless chicken breast is a great source of very low-fat protein. It’s also a great source of uninspired, bordering on bland, cuisine if not cooked properly. Overcooking renders it just as tasteless as a simple protein shake. That’s why I usually marinate it with loads of herbs, and pre-brine the breast if employing dry cooking (roasting and grilling) to prevent the final product from resembling a hockey puck. Otherwise, reserve your chicken breasts for stewing, braising or quick pan frying.

Chicken thighs do remain succulent during dry cooking methods (more so than breasts, but you can’t ignore them either) but they also carry their fair share of fat. Saturated fat, the type that tends to clog those internal pipes. One way to reduce the fat is to carefully trim all visible fat and remove the skin. However, even I realize that your final chicken thigh may resemble road kill more than something palatable after dissecting all visible fat out of each chicken thigh since there are many crevices where the schmaltz resides. Therefore, I recommend portion controlling your consumption of thigh meat.

And as far as chicken skin, chicken wings and fried chicken go, avoid if possible. Unless it’s your birthday, a holiday or if you’re on vacation when cholesterol and calories don’t count!

No Taste for Veal or Lamb?

I know there are many out there with a disdain and no taste for lamb or veal because they are slaughtered in youth and supposedly penned in the dark to keep their flesh light and tender. The average cow lives roughly 25 years and veal is processed at 18 to 20 weeks of age. Lamb is usually processed at 3 to 5 months and can live roughly 10 years if not sacrificed in youth. The average chicken is processed at about 6 weeks of age and on average lives for 8 years or so. That means that the average chicken at market has only lived 1.4% of its lifespan, the average veal calf 1.5% of its lifespan and the average lamb a little over 3% of its lifespan. And while calves and lamb may be penned, have you seen commercial chickens crammed into a single coop – literally wing to wing? I guess we only associate poultry youth with chicks. Maybe it’s because they often mistake the streetlight or moon for the rising sun. Their bad, I guess.

The Alternate Rising Sun

As the Phoenix rises from the ashes, so does a new day with the sun. A gleaming golden orb, just like the perfect egg yolk. Okay, I digress again, but at times, the perfect sunny side egg does seem like the daily sunrise. I know what just popped into your head: runny yolks put you at risk for salmonella. Yes, I’ve also seen the disclaimers on many a breakfast menu that boldly state that undercooked eggs and meat put you at risk for foodborne illnesses. I wear my seat belt every day, drive (mostly) at the speed limit and eat healthy and get regular exercise most of the time. Therefore I’ll risk foodborne illness with the perfect sunny side egg (plus, that’s what antibiotics are for). I concur with Tony Bourdain when he stated that he was the “total egg slut.” Runny egg that is.

I might have it better than all of you who reside in the states because it seems that salmonella-infected chicken (infected ovaries at least) seem to dwell mainly in the central and eastern states. That’s why their eggs harbor salmonella from the get go (another reason to purchase locally produced eggs). In fact, there are chickens that don’t harbor any salmonella. That’s why certain areas in Japan and consume raw eggs and chicken meat. I’ll chance the local eggs, not the flesh.

In any case, chicken diets and breeding have produced hens that produce eggs with less cholesterol than previous generations. It may be that we’re now measuring the correct sterol molecule; it may be that they actually are lower in cholesterol, but in any case, 2 to 3 eggs per week are OK for most of us (consult with your physician or dietician if you’re at high risk for heart disease). There also are eggs produced from hen diets fortified with “healthy” omega-3 fatty acids that give you the same “healthy” fats as salmon and mackerel. So consume guilt free… or at least on your birthday, holidays or vacations.

The Best of Both Worlds

As the Phoenix or Phoenix egg rises from the ashes, you too can have the best of both worlds. The chicken and the egg – no need to ponder which came first. And Japanese cuisine combines both with the luscious Oyako Donburi. Soy-based broth to simmer tender morsels of chicken, onions, green onions and takenoko slices. Then quickly simmer roughly beaten eggs and serve over hot rice.

And though the Phoenix can rise from the ashes, the Nichi Bei Foundation does need your help and support to perpetuate the dream of keeping the Asian American community connected and informed. Onegai shimasu.

The Gochiso Gourmet’s Oyako Donburi

Gourmet

Gochiso Gourmet’s Oyako Donburi, photo by Ryan Tatsumoto/Gochiso

6 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless with visible fat trimmed then chopped to bite-size pieces

1 bunch green onions cut to 2-inch lengths

1 medium round onion with ends trimmed, sliced ¼ inch from end to end

1 can bamboo shoots sliced to ¼ inch

6 or 7 rehydrated dried shiitake thinly sliced

1 can reduced sodium chicken broth

2 tbsp shoyu

1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and scored

1 tbsp sake

1 tbsp mirin

6 to 8 eggs

Heat non-stick pan with non-stick spray to medium heat, then sauté chicken until cooked (don’t brown). Add the rest of the ingredients, then bring to a simmer and cover pan. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until chicken pieces are very tender. Remove cover and add roughly beaten eggs (can do half roughly beaten and half intact if desired – my personal choice). Serve over hot rice in donburi bowl. Serve with hearty sake if desired (again, my personal choice).

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and the University of California at San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kaneohe, Hawai‘i and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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