When it comes to fast-food, South Africa stands united in an all-consuming preference for chicken. Abattoirs operate 24/7 killing, plucking and chopping-up millions of birds annually to meet the demands of a nation besotted with chicken meat, organs, limbs and protrusions. And when it comes to eating on the trot, chicken joints rule the roost from Klapmuts to Kroonstad, Bloemfontein to Bellville.
In the relentless pursuit of thorough culinary investigative journalism, we took a look at a few of the products on offer at a chicken takeaway near you.
The world’s most famous brand in two-winged take-out offerings sees its fame resting on that secret spice mixture which Colonel Sanders, the bespectacled goatee-donning, white-suited Southern Gent and founder of KFC, invented for use on his deep-fried chicken. And at KFC it is all about this doughy, spicy, salty and ubiquitous crust that coats the cooked pieces of bird.
Thing is, chicken plays second Hillbilly fiddle at KFC as the Colonel’s heavy and palate-cloying batter rules the roost. You can serve deep-fried seal flipper or wind-dried zebra scrotum under that batter and it will taste like a piece of KFC. But it does the job, giving the chicken an agreeable crunch and a hit of savoury fattiness that satisfies primary urges of the sustenance-seeking kind.
Scrape off the greasy crumb-coating, however, and the chicken itself is blandly cooked revealing an innocuous pale, uninspiring colour exuding a greasy and artery-clogging sheen. Stick to the surface, and make it count.
This local brand purports to offer a Mexican nuance in its range, in which flame-grilled chicken dons the main sombrero. Despite the corny name and some terrible television advertising, Muchahos gives good bird. The chicken is obviously not grilled from scratch, as this is a time-consuming procedure requiring skill and care, elements that are not recognised as characteristics of fast-food restaurants.
But the flesh is accurately cooked – probably boiled – before given a lick of flame over the grill and some interesting umami-sh spices. Stripping the meat down to the bone, I found it hotly cooked through with the meat being succulent without having the spongy over-brined texture found in lung-tissue during ’flu season which characterises some chicken I have had from places of inferior standards.
This would probably have been better if the Nando’s culinary department had the same professionalism and creativity for which the marketing section is known. Smart-ass advertising is one thing, but getting the product offered to the same standard is another.
The brand message implies flavour and spice, coupled with a flame-grilled core. The result is a good-looking piece of chicken on the outside, but once exposed to culinary review is about as bland as a Cyril Ramaphosa speech on hand-built wind-farming equipment. Dull and greasy, the meat has a mysterious texture making it not only taste not like chicken but look unlike chicken flesh, too. Too wet due to, well, excess moisture exposure somewhere along the processing line. Fortunately, you can douse the bird in a tasty Nando’s peri-peri sauce to add a bit of flavourful satisfaction, both aspects being foreign to the chicken itself.
The Lion goes the KFC deep-fried route, including the batter-coating. Yet home-grown Hungry Lion kicks serious KFC drumstick through a superior execution of Southern Style chook.
The batter is finer and more delicate, with a golden-brown texture that makes for a helluva appealing piece of bird to the eye. Beneath this delectable layer, the chicken is perfectly cooked without excessive juices, oils and secretions to disturb the presence of firm, white chicken flesh. The batter does not dominate the show, simply forming a crunchy cloak that holds the meat together while sparking-off subtle hints of herb, pimento and salt.
The Big Mac has for years now not been the only show in town performed by the behemoth take-out that is McDonald’s. Its chicken McNuggets take centre stage, too, with many folks admitting to an addiction to these crispy coated and chicken morsels rivalling crack, cocaine and vintage Swedish porn.
And if superstar athlete Usain Bolt can become the fastest human on the planet while following a Chicken McNugget diet, what’s not to like?
Yes, these are devilishly delicious. Lightly battered – no greasiness – the coating reveals the simple pleasure of clean white chicken meat uncluttered by excessive spice mixture, heart-stopping salt or skin-glowing MSG. Dipped in ketchup, barbecue sauce or mayonnaise from where they are popped into the mouth whole, McNuggets offer that live-the-moment feeling of well-earned self-indulgence with the quality of the chicken assuaging most of the guilt.
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