Why you should care
Because you might be trashing the most delicious part of poultry when you carve tonight’s dinner.
Toward the spine of the chicken lies the tastiest little poultry morsel you’d ever want to eat. And yet it has probably landed in too many American trash cans, and too few mouths.
The “chicken oyster,” also called the sot-l’y-laisse in French, is known as the chef’s choice — a professional knife-wielder’s secret treat. Or, loosely translated from the French, “only the fool leaves it.”
Toward the spine of the chicken lies the tastiest little poultry morsel you’d ever want to eat.
An oblong muscle that’s more delicate than dark meat but more moist than white meat, the chicken oyster takes a little more judicious butchering to salvage than average carving, but it’s not hard.
Butcher Sara Bigelow, who wields a knife at Brooklyn’s Meat Hook butcher counter inside the Brooklyn Kitchen foodie haven, posits that while other fowl have similar musculature, the lowly chicken’s is unique.
”Their breasts are much more tender,” she says. Ducks can fly, so their muscles develop differently. She adds, ”When you roast a turkey or a duck, you break it down differently,” and so don’t necessarily reveal that morsel.
”If someone is not familiar with carving chickens, I would definitely point it out,” she says. “It’s definitely something I eat myself when I’m cooking.”
The chicken oyster takes a little more judicious butchering to salvage than average carving, but it’s not hard.
Sous-vide, grilling and pan-frying all bring out the chicken oyster’s best, she says. Her employer sells unusual cuts like house-made speck and Asian Bullshit Fusion Taco Guts, but she couldn’t recall anyone asking at the counter for raw chicken oysters.
Retrieving the chicken oyster isn’t hard, so here’s how to do it yourself.
Roast the bird whole. When the legs are removed for eating, look for a little round of meat towards the bird’s cavity, near the spine. Here’s how it’s done. Any whole roasted chicken, from the spit at Sam’s Club to the finest dining establishments, offers this hidden bite of heaven. There’s no special trick to cooking it, just the knowledge that it’s there.
Of course, there are always some embellishments. In midtown New York, among the tourists and the business suits, a Japanese Yakitori Totto offers chicken oysters grilled on a stick. Downtown, the high-end DB Bistro Moderne plates them along escargots. For true Francophiles — say, the ones who actually live in France — Paris’s 20th arrondissement features the sot-l’y-laisse in an eponymous restaurant that has drawn raves.
Ambitious chefs can also cook their own. One recipe calls for the earthiness of hay, an easy get compared to snagging 36 raw chicken oysters. That’s a lot of birds for a bit of meat. Maybe feed the usual cuts to your guests — and save the chef’s choice that only a fool would leave behind for yourself.