The world of food consciousness is as much about the pleasure and refinement of the dining experience as it is about indulgent and frivolous trends. For every one step towards real culinary innovation there are countless stumbles and staggers in the direction of foodie faddism (example: the Krispy Kreme cheese burger). It is a case of the foodie world recycling the old to make it seem unique and effectively eating its own tail to keep things feeling fresh and lively. In this case, it is less about eating its own tail and more about eating its own skin – chicken skin to be exact.
Chicken skin, not to be confused with keratosis pilaris, the topical skin condition resulting in unsightly bumps on the back of your arms, but actual chicken skin, well cooked and crispy, is seemingly the new “it” ingredient. Previously known as a repository for fat and little nutrition (anywhere from 45 – 75% of chicken fat resides in the skin) chicken skin is being celebrated as the new snack, ingredient, and indulgence in many restaurants across this country, so says The New York Times. Historically chicken skin has been consumed, not only in American fried chicken, but also in a number of cultures in the form of gribenes, yakitori kawa or simply cracklings. But in recent nutritional history, chicken skin (largely because of its high fat content) has been shunned as something to avoid if possible. Many chicken recipes caution the fat conscious eater to avoid eating the skin, and focus on the meat of the matter. But largely because of the high fat content chicken skin has become a sought after ingredient, so much so that there has been a shortage of recent. The Times reports, “It can be tricky to find a steady supply because the skins left over from chicken processing, like that from the boneless, skinless breasts that dominate the market, usually go into products like chicken sausages and nuggets, or are rendered for animal feed.”
But the shortage is hardly serious, and plenty of chefs exploit the skin for as much as it is worth. Jesse Schenker, the chef and owner of Recette in the West Village, serves deep-fried, chicken-skin-wrapped gravy, a crunchy parcel with a molten interior. The dish, served with roast foie gras and a black pepper biscuit, is one of the richest in New York and is the only item on Recette’s menu that routinely elicits loud, happy cursing. Some refer to the crispy fatty qualities of chicken skin as being akin to bacon (another “it” ingredient of years past), and others just find the guilty pleasure aspect of it alluring enough.
For me, I could understand the appeal, but absolutely do not share the enthusiasm. For many of you, eating the flesh of the animal is bad enough; the skin (especially on a chicken) would seem downright inedible (not to mention unhealthy). What could possibly be next? Rendering bacon fat and using it as a nacho topping? Deep fried cheese rinds? Feel free to weigh in on the chicken skin trend or offer up your own timely culinary trend?