Thursday, September 24, 2009

Zoe's Kitchen and a rant about BS chicken breasts

Zoe's Kitchen

Zoe's Kitchen is a chain with over 25 locations across the South. They have two in Houston: Washington Ave. and S. Shepherd near 59.

The chain's "philosophy" is "simple, close-to-the-garden ingredients."

Great idea, right?

On my first two visits, I read the menu and left. Nothing sounded interesting. It was filled with chicken salad, chicken salad and fruit plate, grilled chicken kabobs, grilled chicken pita, grilled chicken dinner, and "protein power plate" (with grilled chicken).

Finally, a friend drug me here, and I found something I liked well enough -- grilled chicken breast with sides of grilled vegetables and white beans.

It is rare to find fast-food white beans. These were full of flavor -- garlic, rosemary. But the beans had been cooked too long. Imagine the texture of runny mashed potatoes. Still, they tasted pretty darn good.

The grilled vegetables had a smoky flavor and an al dente texture. They had not been cooked too long.

The center of the dish was Zoe's "power protein" -- a grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast. Or as I call it, BS chicken. It was coated with olive oil and some flavorful herbs. As BS chicken goes, it isn't bad.

The problem with BS chicken breasts

This dish left me wondering: why do so many Americans prefer BS chicken breasts?

If you care about flavor, and you have cooked many chickens, you learn a few things:

1 - Dark meat has more flavor. Ok, I understand that the world is divided between white meat fans and dark meat fans. But it is beyond dispute that dark meat have more concentrated chicken flavor. If you want to get "close to the garden," that is what chicken tastes like.

2 - Chicken tastes better when cooked on the bone with skin. Even if you don't eat the skin, cooking with skin and bone improves flavor. They add meatiness, protect the meat, and prevent drying. If you take off the skin, then you need to compensate with a lot of oil.

In short, BS chicken breast is chicken without all the flavor.

Why BS chicken?

Sure, a lot of people argue that BS chicken breasts are healthier. But I doubt the difference is very significant. I also think there are two other real reasons Americans prefer BS chicken:

1 - BS chicken fans are afraid of meat. They are the same people who don't eat a fish with the head. They fear body parts like skin and bone.

2 - Many BS chicken fans think of meat as "Protein Power" -- a industrially-produced substance divorced from the animal that created it. These are often the same people who drink protein shakes. The blander the better. For them, food's sole value is nutrition -- not enjoyment, not art.

BS chicken fans might as well be eating soylent green.

End of my rant

For a chain, Zoe's isn't bad. Some side dishes are pretty tasty.

I only wish that more restaurants would at least give us a choice:

Can't you at least offer dark meat?

And can't you serve some chicken that isn't BS?


Rubiao said...

I went to Zoe's a couple times and don't really have anything to say about it. Fairly innocuous. If I worked next door to one, I would probably eat lunch there. Definitely better than the competition, if any exists.

If I were the old Soviet Union, I would censor your BS Chicken posts. As long as people are fawning over boneless skinless chicken breasts, the bone-in skin-on thighs stay dirt cheap (and winter is fast approaching, coq au vin, fricasees!). I am still not over the none too subtle price hike of flank steaks that took place about 7 years ago.

The reason it is popular is fairly obvious. It tastes like nothing and is quick and easy. People feed it to their children and don't have to worry about bones or gristle, plus they have the added bonus of being able to make it taste like anything they want. They are told it is healthy, and they can put it on a sandwich. The more children are fed this, the more strange and frightening bones and texture become. Simply put, it is so convenient.

Most people would rather have a perfectly cooked pasta dish, but that Olive Garden is right there, and its late, and you're tired, and FREE BREADSTICKS!...

KnittingReader said...

I love your characterization of BS chicken. Dark meat is 100 times more delicious. I ordered the same plate--loved the veggies and beans (even though they were runny), but ended up not eating much of the chicken because it was dry.

I eat at Zoe's fairly often because it is near my work. I'm glad for the healthy-ish options. The sides are the best part, and I've enjoyed some of the sandwiches.

grg said...

I follow your rant with a paraphrasing of Michael Pollan :
BS Chicken fans have fallen prey to the cult of Nutritionism, wherein food is merely a nutrient delivery system (Chicken is a lean protein, therefore a better choice than beef, pork, lamb, etc. Flavor is irrelevant.)
They rushed out to discover how they could increase their licopene intake the moment they were told it was something they wanted...same with flavinols and several other micro-nutrients-of-the-week.

tshu said...


Here's my theory, and it works for multiple things so follow me for a minute.

BS chicken is for people who don't like chicken.

Folgers coffee is for people who don't like coffee.

Well done steaks are for people who don't like steaks.

I'm sure there's more that I forgot. But seriously, you really need to look in the mirror and just admit to yourself that you really don't like what you're eating.

Tom C. said...

If you hafta do BS chicken breast, I'll take the kebabs at Aladdin's, all slathered in colorful, spicy, tasty marinade. Yum!

anonymouseater said...

And frozen food is for people who don't like food.

These are some great comments. I expected to get rabid responses by BS chicken fans, but haven't so far. I'm glad some people agree with me.

I have to admit that a few bs chicken breast dishes can be good, such as chicken kebobs and stir-fried chicken with cucumber. That's all I can think of now.

Anonymous said...

When I was pregnant the first time, I developed an aversion to poultry and especially BS chicken. There was just something about that slab of meat that didn't appeal. It got worse with the second pregnancy. Here's the weird part. Seven years later, I still can't abide BS chicken. The only poultry that appeals to me is dark meat chicken, turkey on the bone and game birds. I will eat BS chicken only if it's covered up with something really good. I'm a total oddity, though -- almost everyone else is the opposite. I'd rather have a vegetarian meal than eat BS chicken, which is why I'm not a Zoe's fan.

Jennifer said...

I'm certainly not a rabid fan of BS chicken, but it has it's uses when you work 12 hours and need to get dinner on the table quickly with minimal prep work.

I'll do a quick marinade with lime juice, olive oil, minced jalapenos, garlic, cilantro and a little sugar to promote carmelization then grill them up. Pretty tasty for a weeknight meal.

Or quick spring rolls. Poach the BS chicken in water with a knob of ginger, a couple halved hot peppers, a carrot, etc. Slice thinly then roll in rice paper with all the usual fixings.

Anonymous said...

I felt the same way about Zoe's. Nothing popped out on the menu - it all sort of made me shrug. I had the ruben, and it was good, but I never find myself "craving" it. And I really wanted to.

As for the chicken, I don't care if I never see another "boneless, skinless chicken breast." Most of them are so dense and dry, I almost choke. I prefer to gnaw on the legs! I know that's not lady-like.

cdnsteelman said...

BS chicken - the ultimate delievery mechanism for EVO, oregano and grill marks ;)

Jac said...

Funny to read this today, as I spent the weekend at my in-laws. My father-in-law is a butcher who forever surprises and *disgusts* me with his meat selections. But these comments are probably right. In truth, I'm not sure I really enjoy eating meat, and so I'm pretty selective about what I will eat.

As child I grew to dislike pork and especially the smell of cooked pork. We were not terribly wealthy so our meat choices were ground beef and stew meat on most nights. Special occasions called for beef ribs and chicken drumsticks (picking meat off the bone bored me to tears). We ate a fair amount of fish but no shell fish.

I once attempted to cut up a whole chicken, a process that almost rendered me unable to eat chicken ever. I'm a sap, but I couldn't hold it's tiny kidney in my hand. I concluded that I was better off not knowing too much about where all this was coming from. I'm also pretty bad at cooking meat and learned to eat it dry and crispy as my mother served it.

As a generic rule I will eat, and I can list it as it is so short of a list: chicken and turkey breast, new york strip steak, sirloin, ground beef, ground lamb, and all fish but catfish and tuna. Dark meat poultry and finer cuts of beef like prime rib upset my texture requirements for meat. I am sure I'm cheating myself, but I also can't be bothered to care too much.

phi s t y l e said...

The above comment makes me sad. And also confirms your BS Chicken Theory.

I've never understood why Americans praised chicken breast so much (praises of NOW ALL WHITE MEAT; white meat being more expensive). It's just....not good.

I like the cole slaw at Zoe's. It's not really cole slaw as there is no mayo, but has a really refreshing Mediterranean flavor. Also, their chocolate cake is simple and good. said...

Pretty effective data, thanks so much for your article.