Irish people love juicy, crispy fried chicken. Whether in a snack box form, chicken goujon/tenders, chicken fillet rolls or the OG nuggets, we disproportionately eat a massive amount of fried chicken.
In 2016 three million chickens were killed every week to sate Irish appetites. In 1960 the World Health Organisation surveyed Irish consumption of all poultry. It found that we ate 6kg each a year. By 1980 that annual figure had reached more than 20kg each. Most recent figures have it standing at 22kg.
We, as a nation, accept it as one of those inherently enjoyable foods. But on a deeper level, what is actually happening when we eat fried chicken?
There’s some magical quality to the combination of juicy chicken and crispy, crunchy fried coating. The mere mention of which sets off cravings. Most of us don’t need to think much further than that – we know we want to eat it.
According to the Gastro Gays’ excellent book Hot Fat, “There is a certain alchemy when something delicious is submerged in hot oil. It fundamentally changes – texture, colour, size, even aroma – creating a wonderfully crisp edible barrier.”
The texture is a massive reason why fried chicken works. There’s more than one way to fry a chicken. But, for the results we crave, it has to be deep-fried. This means having enough fat in the fryer to suspend the chicken entirely.
The Gastro Gays talk about how vital heat is to the process. You have to get the oil hot enough to extract moisture, but you d
Done properly, deep-frying creates a satisfying contrast between the crispy-crunchy coating and tender chicken. But beyond that straightforward textural enjoyment, the crispness sends our brain a message that the food is in good condition.
We’ll associate that crunch or the crispness with freshness. According to this study, our ooey-gooey dopamine filed brains can’t tell the difference between the crunch of a nutrient-rich
Cast yourself back a few hundred million years to a hot, humid world in which our ancestors were yet to experience the simple pleasures of ready-made food. The human body doesn’t have bodily resources of sodium. So we needed to replenish it, which we all know from being hung over.
Because of this, our bodies are physiologically programmed to devour all when we come across something high in sodium. This caveman-esque hedonic response releases dopamine, and we are fuled by dopamine. Combine this with a similar evolutionary response to fat, and you can see how our love for fried chicken became ingrained.
It is so unquestionably delicious our evolutionary brains are going thank fuck for fried chicken.
Elsewhere on CHAR: Tasting Everything: Bahay at Mae