Tag Archives: Chicken (food)

Sea Robins and Boneless Chicken

Eastern Sea Robin [Image: www.danasrig.top]

Eastern Sea Robin [Image: www.danasrig.top/]

The boneless chicken breast, a formless glob of translucent meat usually found under a window of cellophane, is a terrifying thing. It is the perfect representation of the American palate: Cheap, industrial, and nearly flavorless.

The meat’s formlessness leaves you unaware and unconcerned that it was once part of an animal, a small flightless bird that lived its entire life in a small cage without much natural light. It is completely lacking in anatomical markers beyond the word “breast.” You trust that it is a breast and not something else. Whatever it is, it seems to come from a limitless supply because it’s always there when you want it.

The boneless breast cannot be used creatively because creativity works though limitation and obstacle. With boneless meat the obstacles are already overcome. Being perfectly bland, it can accommodate a limitless variety of spices and condiments. It lacks the very things—blood, bone, marrow, skin, and fat—that would give it flavor and texture through the transformative act of cooking. The boneless breast is a ready-made object that is used in conjunction with other ready-made additives to become a meal. It is everything that is wrong about the industrial food apparatus.

A sea robin is the exact opposite. Being nearly all bone and covered in mildly poisonous spines, this ugly northeastern trash fish is the palatal antichrist to boneless chicken. In New England, it’s considered an overabundant nuisance fish that poaches bait meant for stripers. In fact, the robin is considered so unworthy a fish that fishermen refuse to acknowledge them in their catch. A Long Islander who catches 10 sea robins and one bluefish will tell you he didn’t get into the striper.

When my fishing buddy reeled in a huge robin, I plucked it out of the surf in excitement and got a half-inch spine lodged in my thumb. The wound hurt, but I was proud of it.  We were no doubt the only Long Island fishermen that day happily leaving the surf with a bucket of robins.

The first time I had sea robin was on a party boat out of Sheepshead Bay. It was fried and served on white bread with spicy mayonnaise and tomato. It was delicious. I couldn’t believe that this was the ugly red fish with the oversized head and bat wings that everybody scoffed at. When the captain decided to move the boat from our current location because we were hooking too many robins, my friend and I looked at each other in mild disappointment.

There are two paths available to us going forward this century: The sea robin and the boneless chicken breast. The path of the sea robin is about embracing what it is ugly, precarious, labor-intensive, and near; the path of the boneless breast embraces what is cheap, easy, and removed from the reality of our food practices. The robin, like any freshly caught fish, reminds you of the pleasure of standing on the beach and casting into the surf. Eating boneless chicken is a completely forgettable experience unless you get salmonella. The path of the sea robin is sustainable and forces us to partake in death and manage waste; the path of boneless chicken breasts leads to oblivion.

The Way of All Flesh

By Jack Kredell

The difference between store-bought meat and wild game is that the latter, even when it’s sitting in your freezer, is never really dead.

The pheasant bones in the stock I made are from the same pheasant that slashed my palm as I wrung its neck. The episode replays itself whenever I ladle out a bowl of soup. It’s a strange thing to be able to connect the food on your plate to the living animal whose life you took for this purpose. The pheasant persists in my memory of the hunt, and later, in the satisfaction of having had a delicious meal.

That feeling of ‘knowing’ the animal lingers long after you make the kill. By taking its life, you assume a responsibility to see the hunt all the way through-literally down to the last bite. You are both executor and inheritor of its flesh. You take on a debt to the animal that can only be repaid by eating it-or giving it away to friends.

Dead hen pheasant by rifle in field [Image Credit: Jack Kredell]

Image Credit: Jack Kredell

But while wild game is never really dead, store-bought meat can seem like it was never really alive. I’ll catch myself behaving under this assumption when I throw out store-bought leftovers that, had it been from a pheasant or deer, I would wrap up and put back in the fridge.

The fundamentals don’t really change with store-bought meat; while you are alienated from that animal’s death and all that follows, it was nonetheless done for you because you paid. Money assumes intention. The only difference between the pheasant and the factory-farmed chicken, when I really examine it, is that I “knew” the pheasant. I caused both to die, but the pheasant left its mark on my palm.

It’s a privilege to be able to have that perspective, one that doesn’t grant you the moral authority to call somebody a hypocrite for not shooting his or her own dinner. Even that deboned chicken breast comes from a place as real as the pheasant in my soup. The mark on my hand tells me that.