Airline Chicken: What in the World is It Doing on a Restaurant Menu?

Posted on 22 May 2014 13:29

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If you've chosen "the chicken" for your in-service meal on an airliner, you probably aren't too enthused about the idea of airline chicken. But then, you go to a nice restaurant, and it's on the menu. "Excuse me waiter, but if I wanted airline food, I would have taken a trip." So, why does airline chicken show up on a restaurant menu?

Airline Chicken Breast Definition

Airline chicken breast is nothing more than a nickname for a particular cut of chicken breast. It is a boneless breast with the first joint of the wing still attached. By that, I mean the meaty part of the wing that would become a "drummete," which is often called a "wingette." This is the little drumstick that we love so much when eating Buffalo wings, etc. In the early days of airline travel, they used to serve chicken breasts in this way. Leaving the wing on amplifies the flavor somewhat - we all know how good those chicken wing drummettes are, and it helps hold in moisture, especially since the breast bone (sternum) is missing. The skin is also left on, of course! The breast is served with the wing part sticking up, causing some people to claim that the name comes from it resembling the wing of an airplane. This seems dubious since they do not actually look anything like an airplane wing.

It is possible to get these pre-butchered, but if you can't get that, the only way to do it is to start with a whole chicken.

To prepare it, the first joint, or the thin part of the wing is removed, either before or after the breast is removed from the breast bone. You can of course, create an airline breast with turkey, squab, etc. In the video below, Jacob Burton demonstrates how to create an airline chicken breast. The demonstration moves along fast, but you should get the gist.

Airline Chicken Breast Video

As stated, an airline breast or chicken supreme is a breast with the first wings joint still attached. But, sometimes it may be called a Frenched Chicken Breast. To French a chicken breast, you start with a supreme and scrape down the meat from the end of the wing, so exposing the bone and leaving a big chunk of meat at the bottom. This is the same method used to "French" lamb chops or racks of lamb.

When a restaurant menu specifies airline chicken breasts, they may or may not be Frenched. Some people tend to consider an airline breast, a chicken breast supreme, and a Frenched breast, to all be the same thing. Sometimes they may well be the same thing because there is more than one way to butcher the wing portion. Some chefs prefer to cut around the bone, just underneath the joint until all the muscle and tendons are severed. Then, they just bend back the joint and break off the top portion of the wing. When done skillfully you end up with a Frenched wing, and therefore a Frenched chicken breast, as the tendons are detached and the meat will slide easily down the bone toward the chicken breast, exposing the bone in the process. However, most seem to consider an airline breast to be the "pre-Frenched" version. On that note, here is a video featuring Chef Eric Crowly demonstrating how to French a chicken breast.

Personally, if I owned a restaurant, I would not choose to call to mind airline food on the menu. However, most patrons probably wouldn't know what a chicken breast supreme was, either. On the other hand, most people are going to think a Frenched breast sounds legit whether they know what it is or not. Airline chicken is also known as Statler chicken.

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