While many people will argue over the merits of white or dark meat, or wings or legs, true chicken (and poultry, for that matter) experts know that the tastiest part of the bird is not likely to come in an eight piece bucket from a certain southern gentleman’s chicken chain. Instead, it is the oyster.
While many people may think that oysters are confined to living in shells and best served on a bed of ice, that is not always the case. Poultry like chickens, turkey, and ducks all have oysters, and for many people, they are the single tastiest part of the bird. Below, we’ll look at everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the chicken oyster.
What is Chicken Oyster?
The chicken oyster is a small morsel of meat, no bigger than your two thumbs pressed together, that occurs on a chicken’s backside. It gets the name ‘oyster’ because when trimmed out of the bird, it looks like the sort of oyster that you would eat on the half-shell. Some people also say it has a similar flavor. At any rate, it is one of the best pieces on the bird, and for years has been called “the chef’s reward.”
Where is it?
One of the aspects of chicken oysters that make them so rare in American cuisine is that they are rather hard to find. When sitting right-side up, most cuts of chicken are incredibly easy to locate. The oyster, however, sits on what is otherwise the bottom of the chicken. This means that it does not fit so well into the Norman Rockwell image of carving a chicken, so for many diners and chefs, it is a neglected piece of the bird.
What Makes it so Delicious?
Three aspects make the chicken oyster so delicious. These are:
- JuicinessBecause of the way that a chicken is typically roasted, this piece of meat is constantly being basted. On top of that, it is already a fattier piece of meat, meaning that there is plenty of juiciness to be had.
- No Connective TissueUnlike other pieces of dark meat, there are no connective tissues that have to be either cut out or slow cooked into more liquid.
- BonelessSimilarly, the oyster is one of the largest pieces of dark meat that can be had without deboning. However, because it is cooked surrounded by bone, it gets all the advantages of the extra flavor that comes along with being a bone-in piece.
Uses for the Oyster
Typically, because oysters are not widely sold by meat processors, the only way that you will be able to get at a pair of chicken oysters is by roasting the bird yourself. As such, the best way that we know of to eat them is simply to have them as a snack while carving the rest of the chicken.
In fact, we know of many people who forbid others from watching them carve poultry so that they don’t have to share!
But, in some perfect hypothetical world, let’s say that you have broken down a number of chickens, leaving you with an abundance of oysters. In that case, you may be wondering what you can do with them. When it comes to oysters, the answer is simple: anything you want.
Fried chicken oysters combine the best aspects of dark meat, mainly that it doesn’t dry out, with the control over breading and a lack of bones that is typically only found in chunks of chicken breast. Many chefs think of it as a dark meat chicken tender, as the tenderness of the oyster meat is comparable to the tenderloin of the breast itself.
However, if you are itching to try chicken oysters in a restaurant, or perhaps you don’t want to ruin any delicate flavors by frying them, head to your closest Japanese Yakitori house. Yakitori chefs are world-leading experts in breaking down chickens to offer cuts that many Westerners have never heard of. Chicken oysters are among the most popular.
If you want to try your hand at home, grilling a number of chicken oysters on a skewer is how they are traditionally made in Yakitori restaurants, and it is a great way to make them in your kitchen. Marinade them in your favorite Japanese concoction, then grill until done in the middle. Many of these are often dipped in soy or other sauces.
Of course, there is no reason to stick to only those methods for cooking chicken oysters that we discuss here. Because it is both boneless and juicy, it is incredibly forgiving to new techniques. Experiment away, and rest assured that while other aspects of the dish may fail, as long as it is fully cooked, the chicken oyster will taste great!
That said, most Western chefs will best experience a chicken oyster by carving it themselves. Therefore, let’s get to where those are located.
Getting at the Oyster
Part of the reason that chicken oysters are so rare is that they are relatively hard to find. After all, you can look at a chicken and know where the legs and the wings are, while the breasts and the thighs are pretty self-explanatory.
However, as we will see, the chicken oyster hangs out in a completely different part of the bird. The instructions below are for finding the chicken oysters after roasting a bird; if you can’t wait, or want to try one of the techniques outlined above, skip the first step.
1. Carve the Chicken
Unless you want to ruin the flavor that you’ve developed in roasting, you can’t flip over the chicken yet, which means you can’t get to the oysters. After all, you put a lot of work into developing that crisp, flavorful skin, and it would be a shame to see it all ruined by flipping the bird prematurely.
Start by removing the wings, the breasts, the legs, and then the thighs. Here’s a primer on how to do that.
2. Turn the Chicken Over
You’ll want the chicken to be upside down for this; one creative chef once called it downward dog, for chicken dinners.
3. Locate the Oysters
Chances are that your chicken’s bottom skin is nowhere near as crisp as the top side. That doesn’t matter; you’re not looking for skin here, just the meat. Look towards the back end of the bird, where the thighs were. Here you’ll notice two convex bulges of meat, one on either side of the chicken’s backbone. Those are the oysters.
4. Extract the Oysters
Now comes the time to pull the oysters out of the chicken. If you have already roasted the bird, chances are you’ll be able to pull them out with just your fingertips. After all, the meat is just that tender and that juicy. If you are trying to get them out before cooking, you’ll find that using a sharp knife is useful.
However, don’t think of using the knife to slice. Instead, think of it as a tool to separate the chicken oyster from the rest of the surrounding meat, connective tissue, and bone. It should still come out easily. By doing it this way, you maximize the amount of meat that you can get in each given oyster.
Not for Everyone
There is a downside, or an upside if you happen to be the only person in the house who loves chicken oysters. The combination of dark meat, richness, and moistness isn’t for everyone. Some people find chicken oysters to be a bit too much like seafood oysters in texture, owing in no small part to all the juiciness, even after being roasted or grilled.
Therefore, it is probably for the best that preparing a meal out of chicken oysters for a crowd is not entirely practical. Instead, share it as a treat to someone who you think would appreciate it, or simply keep them for yourself. This is the case whether you are planning to eat the chicken oyster now or save it for later.
Just because you can have oysters from the sea raw does not mean that you should eat them from a chicken as such. Always make sure that your chicken is cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, when measured from the thickest part of the bird (typically once in the thigh, and once in the breast).
If this is done, then your oysters will be safe to eat. If you are cooking the oysters separately, check the temperature to make sure you have reached 165 degrees. As always, maintain proper safe food handling procedures when dealing with raw poultry.
Finding Oysters on Other Poultry
Like we mentioned earlier, it is not just chickens that have oysters. You will also be able to find oysters on turkeys, ducks, and even geese. Finding these is accomplished by following the same procedure as above.
However, due to the fact that those birds are typically cooked whole and then carved, chances are that you will be limited to only trying each after it has been roasted along with the rest of the world.
What are you Waiting For?
Now that you know what a chicken oyster is, we cannot encourage you enough to try one (or two!) next time you make a whole chicken. As long as you maintain proper food sanitation procedures, we are confident that you will find the chicken oyster to be one of the most succulent pieces of flesh on the entire bird.
Joseph Hudson has been raising chickens for over 15 years. In 2018, he completed the Agriculture & Natural Resources program at Mt. San Antonio College. He currently raises over 1400 chickens on his 7.5-hectare farm. He keeps sharing his experience on raising healthy and happy chickens on Chicken Scratch.