Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
Americans roast plenty of whole chickens, but they cook even more chicken breasts. The lean white meat portions account for 60 percent of the chicken sold in stores, and the vast majority of those are the boneless, skinless variety. For that reason, we decided to follow up our whole chicken tasting with an evaluation of the most popular cut.
As it happened, we recommended only one of the eight breasts we sampled without reservations, and it was the only brand to track closely with its whole chicken counterpart. What’s more, tasters’ comments made clear that while flavor is paramount in whole birds, chicken breasts (which we tasted lightly salted and baked to 165 degrees) are all about texture. In fact, tasters deemed the flavor of this blandest part of the bird more or less the same across the board.
Our investigation homed in on processing. And it was only when we asked the manufacturer of our winner to walk us through its methods that we uncovered a good, albeit peculiar, lead for our findings: Once a whole chicken is broken down into parts, the breasts are “aged” on the bone in chilled containers for as long as 12 hours before the bones (and skin) are removed. This aging period, it turns out, actually improves tenderness.
“When you bone [too soon], the meat will be tough because there is still energy in the muscle,” said Casey Owens, associate professor of poultry processing at the University of Arkansas. “Cutting it can cause the muscle to contract, and a shorter, contracted muscle is related to tougher meat.” Owens also explained that while four to six hours of chilling before boning is effective—and 12 hours is ideal—many companies skip the aging process altogether. Why? Building time into the process costs money. Instead, some opt for shortcut tenderizing methods like electrical stimulation of the carcass, which forces the breast muscle to contract and relax, releasing its energy.
Tasters noticed the difference, lauding our winner for being “mega-juicy and tender” (not to mention praising their “clean, chicken-y” flavor) and deeming the texture of breasts that came from an electrically stimulated carcass “unremarkable.” Its $6.99 per pound price tag makes it the second priciest brand in our lineup, but we think the premium results more than justify the premium expense.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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