As the Nichi Bei Foundation embarks on a new journey as a non-profit whose primary mission is
to keep the community entwined via a newspaper, I have visions of that fabled Phoenix
consumed in flames and reduced to ashes simply arising again as a young Phoenix or Phoenix egg
to perpetuate the cycle once again. 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 simply 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 may conjure a wide range of emotions for you. 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 who’s 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
3:00 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 emotions with 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 simply was chicken soup with a kreplach or two. Or for those
accustomed to fast foods, maybe it was just those 11 herbs and spices in the fried version.
As most of you are well aware, boneless skinless chicken breast is a great source 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 goes, 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 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 live 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 food borne 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 food borne 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 serve (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 okay 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. Savory enough that I might even have it when it’s not my birthday, a holiday or
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
6 chicken thighs, boneless s 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 rest of the ingredients then bring up to simmer and cover pan. Simmer for 15-20
minutes until chicken pieces 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 Rising of the Phoenix… or the Egg?