Well, once again Las Vegas bucks a national trend - this time, toward higher consumption of dark-meat chicken.
Higher demand for dark meat has been reported nationally, even to the point of shortages in some cases.
And while many have attributed the shift to TV chefs touting the deeper flavor and softer texture of dark meat, Bill Mattos of the California Poultry Federation said some of it has been by design.
"The industry made a concerted effort over the past five years to promote dark meat," Mattos said, mainly through national recipe contests and other promotions, and to chefs as well as consumers.
Mattos, who said he didn't have statistics on the increase, noted that dark meat has always been more popular with Latinos.
"We have seen it take a turn with the general population," Mattos said. "Restaurants like Chipotle only serve dark meat. A year ago they had a problem finding enough dark meat in a price range that they wanted to pay."
White meat has long been more popular, and Mattos said to compensate, the industry has exported dark meat to markets in Mexico, South America and the Far East. Selling it locally, he said, increases profits.
The higher domestic demand also has increased prices, it seems. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the price of boneless, skinless chicken thighs has shifted in the past 10 years from about half that of boneless, skinless breasts to about equal. And a check of one supermarket chain with stores in Southern Nevada found boneless and skinless breasts and thighs identically priced.
But increased demand for dark meat hasn't been noticed in Southern Nevada. Marsha Gilford, spokeswoman for Smith's Food and Drug, said the chain has seen no change. Ron Lutz, owner of The Butcher Block on Rainbow Boulevard, and Tim Jensen, whose Village Meats and Wine is on Eastern Avenue, said they haven't seen a shift, either.
"The people who shop with me want the free-range chicken breast," Jensen said.
But maybe we're just behind the curve, because dark meat brings a lot to the table.
"It's going to hold its moisture," said Robert Kirchhoff, executive chef of Craftsteak at MGM Grand. "It has absolutely more flavor."
The reason, he said, is simple - and physical.
"It's because the muscles are worked more," Kirchhoff said. Using a steer as a comparison, he said, it's like comparing a filet to a shank.
"It's got a lot more flavor to it," he said. "But of course, everyone wants the tenderloin."
And that may be because dark meat still is considered to be of lesser quality.
"A restaurant like this couldn't sell something that's just dark meat," he said, although he added that Craftsteak does serve it as part of a half-chicken.
"Personally, I've always liked dark meat," Kirchhoff said. "My uncle used to come over for Thanksgiving dinner because he thought we were all idiots, eating the dark meat and leaving him the breast."
And if you worry that dark meat is less healthful for you, perhaps you shouldn't. Mary Wilson, a registered dietitian and extension nutrition specialist with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, said while a 3-ounce portion of skinless chicken breast contains about 140 calories, an equivalent amount of skinless thigh has about 178.
"Somebody would say that's not a whole lot and I would say that's probably true," Wilson said. "Over time it adds up, but I don't have a huge issue with that as long as their portion sizes are small. That would be my recommendation: Let's continue to keep our portion sizes small."
She added that it's important to remove the skin before cooking.
"Once it's cooked, people are more tempted to eat it," she said. Plus, she noted, cooking with the skin on and then removing it leaves more residual fat.
When asked for the best way to cook, say, boneless chicken thighs, Kirchhoff - who isn't in the business of worrying about saturated fat - didn't have to think before replying.
"I would cook it skin side down," he said. "Get the skin nice and crispy and turn it over to get the nonskin side.
"Dice it up, put it in a stir-fry and it's fantastic."
CEDAR-PLANKED CHICKEN THIGHS WITH SOY-GINGER GLAZE
¾ cup soy sauce
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup toasted sesame oil
10 skinless chicken thighs (with bone), each 5 to 6 ounces
Soak an untreated cedar plank (12 to 15 inches long, ½ to ¾ inch thick) for at least two hours.
In a small, nonreactive saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Cook until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes. Cool slightly and then whisk in the oil. Reserve ½ cup of the glaze for basting the chicken.
Put the thighs in a large glass or stainless steel bowl, pour in the glaze and toss to coat. Refrigerate until you are ready to grill.
Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees). Place the soaked plank over direct medium heat and close the lid. After 5 to 10 minutes, when the plank begins to smoke and char, turn the plank over.
Remove the thighs from the bowl and discard the glaze. Arrange the thighs on the smoking plank and cook over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, for 5 to 10 minutes. Then move the plank over indirect medium heat and continue cooking, with the lid closed as much as possible, until the juices run clear, 20 to 30 minutes, basting occasionally with the reserved glaze during the last 10 to 15 minutes of grilling time. Remove from the grill and baste with the glaze once more before serving.
Serves 4 to 6.
- Recipe adapted from Weber
INDIAN CASHEW CHICKEN
2/3 cup cashews, toasted
2/3 cup fat-free Greek-style yogurt
¼ cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1¼ teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon grated, peeled fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 14 ounces)
2 (8-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2¾ cups finely chopped onion (2 large)
2 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 cup organic tomato puree (such as Muir Glen Organic)
1 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons half-and-half
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Combine first nine ingredients in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Combine nut mixture and chicken in a large bowl; cover and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, cardamom and cinnamon stick to pan; cover and cook 10 minutes or until onion is golden, stirring often.
Add chicken mixture to pan; cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in broth, tomato puree, paprika and salt, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 1 hour or until thick. Stir in half-and-half; cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Discard cinnamon stick. Garnish with fresh cilantro, if desired.
- Recipe from Cooking Light
CHICKEN THIGHS STUFFED WITH PLANTAIN AND SERRANO HAM
½ cup ½-inch cubes peeled boniato (Cuban sweet potato) or tan-skinned sweet potato
1/3 cup (generous) chopped, peeled ripe plantain (yellow with black spots)
6 skinless boneless chicken thighs, pounded to ¼-inch thickness
6 thin slices Serrano ham or prosciutto
All-purpose flour (for dredging)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Place boniato and plantain in small saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain. Return to same pan. Mash boniato and plantain. Season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle both sides of chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Place one thigh on work surface. Top with one ham slice. Form 1 tablespoon of boniato mixture into 2-by-½-inch log. Place atop ham at one end of thigh. Roll up thigh and secure with toothpick. Repeat with remaining thighs, ham and boniato mixture. Dredge stuffed thighs in flour to coat.
Melt butter with olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken thighs to skillet and cook until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Add ¼ cup water to skillet; reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until chicken thighs are cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Transfer chicken thighs to platter. Remove toothpicks. Add lemon juice to drippings in skillet. Increase heat to high and stir 1 minute. Pour sauce over chicken thighs and serve.
- Recipe from Bon Appetit
MARGARITA-BRAISED CHICKEN THIGHS
½ cup flour (about 2¼ ounces)
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1½ pounds)
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced onion (about 1 medium)
5 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup dried tropical fruit
½ cup orange juice
¼ cup tequila
1 lime, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine first three ingredients in a small baking dish.
Sprinkle chicken with salt; dredge chicken in flour mixture.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Transfer chicken to an 11-by-7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.
Add onion to skillet; cook 3 minutes. Add garlic to pan and saute 1 minute.
Combine fruit, juice and tequila in a microwave-safe dish, and microwave at high (100 percent power) 2 minutes. Pour fruit mixture into pan; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 1 minute.
Pour onion mixture over chicken; top with lime slices. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until chicken is done.
- Recipe from Cooking Light
THAI CILANTRO CHICKEN
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup finely sliced scallions (white and light green parts only)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon miso (hot bean paste)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 whole chicken legs, each 8 to 10 ounces, trimmed of excess fat and skin
Combine the marinade ingredients (cilantro through kosher salt) in a medium bowl.
Place the chicken legs in a large, resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Press out the air and seal the bag tightly. Turn the bag to distribute the marinade, place the bag in a shallow dish and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours, turning occasionally.
Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees).
Remove the legs from the bag and discard the marinade. Brush the cooking grates clean and brush with oil. Grill the legs, skin side down first, over direct medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
Then move the chicken over indirect medium heat, close the lid and continue cooking until the juices run clear and the meat is no longer pink at the bone, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the grill and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve warm.
- Recipe adapted from Weber
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@review journal.com or 702-383-0474.