Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts are not Paleo

Arequipa food punches above its weight. This small city of one million has produced a cuisine that beats the entire culinary output of Colombia (population 48 million).

However, some gringos may need a tutorial before digging in. A certain quirk about Arequipeños must be understood. A los arequipeños les gusta chupar los huesos. A good Arequipeño sucks the bones. Picking apart the animal is part of the fun.

If the bones were removed from a dish served to an Arequipeño, he would feel cheated. In Arequipa, you are not going to get a simple filet to easily cut up with your knife and fork. You could order grilled chicken (pollo a la plancha), and it will come with a couple bones.

When they came to Arequipa for my wedding, two family members ordered one of Arequipa’s signature soups, Chupe de Camarones (Shrimp Chowder). They were unpleasantly surprised to find the shrimps came whole – not only shell but tail and legs. In the United States, shrimp is usually served shucked and ready to eat. And it would always be that way in a soup.

I mentioned that cultural difference to my Arequipeña wife, a connoisseur of Chupe de Camarones, and she was horrified. According to her, shucking shrimp before putting it in the soup would make a less flavorful soup. And that is inarguably true. There is shrimp flavor in the shell and tail and legs.

Equally, there is flavor in the skin and bones of chicken, beef, pork, fish, lamb, or guinea pig. And in Arequipa, they do not remove the flavor. That is why, if you order a soup, the piece of beef will not only have the bone in it, but also the skin. I had never seen skin served on beef before. Isn’t that used to make leather? But I have gotten used to it, and I have grown to enjoy it.

I learned to eat all the digestible parts on a piece of meat. In the fish houses of Colombia, I eat the tail and the eyes and suck the brains. Most gringos might only eat the clean and easy part of a chicken wing or leg. But keep chewing at the ends of the bone. Are those chewier pieces ligament or cartilage? It is certainly protein, definitely contains nutrition. Bite it off and chew it until it disintegrates. Don’t waste the animal. Life gives life. I have gone further than the chewy tissues at the end and occasionally broken the bone with my teeth to suck out the marrow. This is when my wife says something like, “¡Como un buen arequipeño!”

The aversion to bones and skin and organs is relatively new in human history. Also relatively new (since reviving after a few millions years) is “eating paleo.” Newsflash gringos — Nobody in the Paleo Age ate boneless, skinless chicken breasts. It is an effect of modern abundance economies that consumers can demand only the soft, easy-to-eat flesh.

I was in an Applebee’s (by someone else’s choice) at some point during my sabbatical in the United States. The server misheard me and brought boneless wings. I was tempted to ask him, “What kind of pussy are you?”

Eating Organs

And while in the similar vein, let’s have a look at eating organs in Peru.

Liver and onions is pretty standard fare in Gringolandia. Wifey breads liver and fries it. That’s an entry-level plate.

arequipa peru food anticucho la morena cow heart

Anticucho platter: barbecued cow hearts, cheese, white corn, fried potato

Anticuchos in Peru are barbecued cow hearts. The cow heart is barely discernible from a thin, tough steak. And given they are served late at night, many gringos have certainly eaten anticuchos after a night partying without realizing they were cow hearts. So those are easy.

arequipa peru food cuy chactado fried guinea pig

Cuy Chactado: deep-fried guinea pig. I am a recent convert.

Peru is known for eating guinea pig (cuy). I scorned it for years. But recently I gave it a shot, and I turned a new leaf. Guinea pig is the flavor of pork in chicken-wing form. So in the context of sucking bones and getting everything out of an animal, it makes sense why Arequipa would be a cuy hotbed.

In the southern states of America you find organs. In St. Louis, I would not say it is not common but you do not have to go far to find chicken gizzards, beef tripe, chitterlings, or pig’s feet. In Arequipa, those are common. You can get every one in every neighborhood. And only in Arequipa have I seen a cow udder (ubre) dish. I have not tried that one, and I have no plans to at the moment.

mollejitas peru

Mollejitas = chicken gizzards

Chicken gizzards in the States are breaded and deep-fried. In Peru, “mollejitas” are heavily marinated and pan-fried. The finer pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken) joints serve mollejitas. The hard texture takes some getting used to, but I like them so much I occasionally get cravings. Gizzards are power-packed with iron, zinc, and Vitamin B-12.

Pig's feet lurk in the back of the Triple.

Pig’s feet lurk in the back of the Triple.

Pig’s feet are something I have tried a few times – both in the States and Peru – and just cannot eat. You have to be careful in Arequipa because one combo meal is the Triple. A big man like me will see that and think, triple is better than double. But the Triple includes rocoto relleno (stuffed pepper), pastel de papa (potato casserole), chicharron (fried pork), and zarsa de patitas (pickled pig’s feet in lime juice, onions, and cilantro). The Doble is all that less the pig’s feet. I have seen small Indian children order an entire plate of pig’s feet.

Beef tripe in Arequipa, Peru

Beef tripe in Arequipa, Peru

In Peru, beef tripe is classified into three different categories for the different sizes and shapes of intestines: Choncholy, Caparina, and Panzita. If not interested in any, avoid mondongo (common throughout Latin America) and matasquita.

That is all I have for now. But just so you know, stop wasting the animal. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are not paleo!


One comment

  1. Coincidentally, I’ve recently come around to eating more of the animal. Not that I was ever the boneless, skinless chicken breast type, nor am I paleo; I eat dairy, and occasionally supplement meals with rice.

    You get more for your money. A whole four pound chicken for a soup at my chain grocery store costs $8. I leave the organs in. The equivalent weight in chicken thighs is, off the top of my head, about 50 percent more. Just the other day I got three pounds of chicken backs for $2.30.

    The chain store doesn’t have it, but there is a nearby grocery store — owned by Koreans, customers mostly Central American immigrants — that sells beef stomach and hearts. I just haven’t figured out how to cook it yet.

    Most gringos cringe when I tell them what I eat. Besides taste when it comes to eating organs, they’re put off by the high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. Most still see these as unhealthy, including our favorite quinoa-eating ex-biomechanics student. I disagree.

    I could maybe see myself eating bone marrow, but you can keep the guinea pig. I was not a fan of the smiling rodent.


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