Melanie Warner, who is currently [grossing me out and] ruining lives across America with her book Pandora’s Lunchbox (that link is my link to view and purchase the book; if you buy it from there, it supports BGG2WL!), wrote this little ditty for the Wall Street Journal about how chicken liquifies and, well… doesn’t:

One day my husband arrived home from the supermarket with a product that piqued my curiosity. He couldn’t find our usual brand of Bell & Evans breaded, frozen chicken tenders—I like their thick, meaty texture, which makes them seem a bit closer to the real thing—and instead got Applegate Farms Organic Chicken Strips.

chicken-nuggets

I heated up the strips, which looked more like nuggets, and tasted them. The texture was airy and spongy, not very meaty. The chicken struck me as highly processed, but the box said that what I was eating was, in fact, “minimally processed.” The listed ingredients seemed simple enough—organic chicken, water, organic rice starch, sea salt and natural flavor

Intrigued and confused, I added the remaining frozen nuggets to the collection of foods that I was leaving to age, as research for my book. (And, yes, I know that this was not a rigorous scientific experiment.) I prepared myself for an awful smell.

After about two weeks, the Applegate nuggets, which I’d placed in a Ziploc bag left slightly open, had essentially liquefied, with the outlines of the individual chicken pieces no longer visible. The whole thing was soft and mushy to the touch, and the color had darkened.

Left curious, she did what any food nerd fantasizes about doing – she contacted a co-founder of the company in question, Applegate Farms:

After this experience, I talked with Chris Ely, one of Applegate’s founders. He said that the company was definitely “not in the sponge business.” He added, “When you bite into our nuggets, you’ll notice that our meat is a little loose in the center.” More-conventional manufacturers, he said, mix their product excessively, using various additives to absorb water and bind everything together snugly, lowering the cost.

When I told Mr. Ely about my experiment, he said that though he had never tested his product this way (who would?), the chicken might be more prone to disassembly because it isn’t bound together with additives. Another company’s nuggets (this time with sodium phosphate and other additives) dissolved in the same way when I later tested them. But the Bell & Evans tenders did well with the two-week test: I got foul-smelling chicken, but it remained intact.

I told Mr. Ely that my results suggested that his chicken was more of a maximally processed product than a “minimally processed” one, as the box said.

“I can see your point,” he said, and he eventually explained how the strips are made. A hand-deboned whole chicken, together with other listed ingredients, is coarse-ground and then fed into an extruder that forms it into identical pieces. After that comes a breading device, a fryer, cooking in an oven and freezing.

Making packaged frozen nuggets that resemble real chicken may not be possible without dialing back some of the industrial manipulation. Bell & Evans tenders, sold raw, are subjected to one quick frying to set the breading, instead of Applegate’s complete oven cooking. There’s no extruder.

Mr. Ely says, “In today’s food-safety world, uncooked really scares me,” though Bell & Evans has never had a recall of its products.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely left cooked chicken in the fridge for too long, before. It hardens – it doesn’t liquefy. And, while many of us might be willing to question why she was hunting for chicken nuggets instead of making her own in the first place – if you’ve got kids whom you would rather microwave something instead of having them whip out the buttermilk and the bags of flour, that’s a good reason why – I think it’s more a matter of knowing what we can about our food purchases.

No, she didn’t use infallible science to determine that Applegate Farms is from the pits of hell or something, but it’s an interesting question: regular chicken, left in the fridge un-messed-with, hardens and might grow mold. If a “natural” chicken nugget turns into soup, then is something wrong with the nugget? What makes it so different? Should I be eating it? It’s one thing for a nugget to liquefy; would it disturb us more if it lasted forever (or not really)?

What do you think? Are there any foods you think would fail this “fridge test?”