But as my friend Mark Bittman, author of the excellent book "Food Matters," recently pointed out regarding the vilification of pork during the swine flue hysteria: it's not the animal, it's the industrial agriculture that is to blame for dangerous farmed meat. Same goes for chicken: they didn't do anything to humans. We did something to them.
And yet, during the recent Oprah-KFC debacle, which was sad to me but which a lot of people seemed to find amusing (click here), we loaded the poor little chickens down with too much of our own personal baggage.
Oh, how we attach our sensibilities, our politics, our opinions, our obsessions to our food. Never mind that it helps keeps people alive, or that some people can't afford much and will take what they can get. It's all about us, us, us.
But how about this? How about we all use the KFC-Oprah thing to remind us to be more thoughtful next time anyone tries to give everyone in America a free chicken dinner, via coupons.
I will, however, allow myself a final word(s), because this is my blog. I tend to forgive anyone who offers free food, even if the giveaway is a marketing ploy. I'd rather it not be factory raised food that is destroying the planet, but I don't think truly hungry people are offended by that sort of thing. I have a lot of tangled thoughts on this, which I'll keep to myself until those thoughts get straightened out, which should be never.
I will use this opportunity to say this one more time: learning to cook is becoming more and more essential to eating well in the world we live in. The more we cook at home, the less we end up to eating food that has an unseemly provenance. It's cheaper, in general, and it gives the power back to the consumer, if you shop wisely.
And this: Some people don't have much access to fresh food (much less organic, local, non-factory farmed, etc.). Some people wouldn't know what to do with it if they did have easy access. Some people are too poor to buy food, be it fresh frozen fast factory farmed or fried. Some people have never eaten a fresh tomato. Some people are starving. Some people starve themselves because they want to be skinny. Some people eat too much because they want to be happier. Some people just really like to eat, and spend all their disposable income doing so. Some people don't, and use food only for fuel. Some people eat organic fudge but are mean to dogs. It's a crazy world, difficult to judge, but I'm glad that we're changing directions, away from fast food.
See, I can't keep my mouth shut.
Back to the cooking part: here at my house, there's a person who really likes fried chicken--a lot. She likes fried chicken fingers, specifically, and I have seen her eat one of these contraptions (served at a now defunct, thank god, hot-dog stand, so it wasn't even their specialty) that looked like a deep fried, ossified dinosaur claw. The chicken inside was like rope. And three of these fingers together weighed about 5 pounds.
There is absolutely no reason to ingest that sort of thing if you can avoid it. And, of course, making your own chicken fingers is easy, fun for the chicken-finger set, and you don't have to fry them. If you can get organic vegetarian fed minimally processed free range chicken that has not been tortured on the way to your table, of course, do that. Sorry to bring it up before merrily offering you this recipe, but if you're still averting your eyes to the harsh realities of factory farmed food: wake up.
These are finger licking good, but I'd rather you use a napkin and finish all your broccoli.
Chicken Fingers You Can Live With
Serves 4-6 kids
2 cups panko (these Japanese bread crumbs are available in the grocery store, in the imported food section, but you can also use crushed saltines or crushed cornflakes)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
6 tablespoons butter, melted (you can also use canola or olive oil here)
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- Preheat oven to 425. Mix panko, Parmesan, salt and pepper together and spread on a plate or shallow bowl. Melt butter and pour into another.
- Place breasts between waxed paper or plastic wrap and pound with a rolling pin to about 1/2 inch thickness. Lay the breasts on a cutting board and cut into lengthwise strips, a half inch or so wide. You can cut them in half is they're too long.
- Take each strip, coat in the butter, then roll over in the panko, pressing to make sure the crumbs adhere.
- Place strips on an ungreased baking sheet; bake in the middle rack for 15 minutes or so, until cooked through, moving the pan around occasionally to make sure they don't brown too fast. Cool for a few minutes before serving.
At my house, these are eaten with ketchup, which is probably full of poison. But we rarely eat ketchup. Dijon mustard with a little honey mixed in is good, too.