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Processed chicken is chicken meat that has either been mechanically recovered from a chicken carcass or is made of a combination of chicken meat and skin. Many different types of processing can be done on other meats, but processed chicken is primarily either mechanically recovered or is made from ground up chicken meat and formed into shapes. Although they conjure up images of machinery and factory lines, processes can still be completed by human workers. Any meat that has gone through a process such as drying, fermenting, curing, or pre-cooking can be classified as processed meat.
The most common bits of a chicken used for food are the breasts, legs, and wings, but processing makes other parts of the chicken edible. During the processing of a full chicken carcass, the valuable cuts such as the breasts, legs and wings will be removed by a trained employee working with a knife, and then the leftover carcass is often used to mechanically recover the leftover meat. Depending on how the more valuable cuts of meat are going to be used, they may or may not be processed into another form. Foods such as chicken frankfurter are made from processed chicken, using a mixture of lean meat and chicken skin. Chicken bologna is also made from these processed parts.
Mechanical recovery is one way of making processed chicken that has attracted media attention. This method takes the chicken carcass leftover after the removal of the most valuable cuts, and then runs it through a machine. The carcass is ground up, along with cartilage, bones, and skin, in order to recover the meat that can be still garnered from the chicken. The processed chicken then comes out in a pink mousse, brimming with bacteria, waiting to be treated with ammonia to kill the microorganisms. The chicken is then re-colored in order to make it conform to expectations of what chicken looks like and re-flavored to remove the ammonia taste.
This mixture of processed chicken is then used in a variety of different food products in place of more expensive lean chicken. Products which make use of mechanically processed chicken include chicken ham in the US, or chicken meat balls in Asia. This process is often thought to be used in the making of chicken nuggets, but while the meat is still technically processed in most chicken nuggets, it cannot be said to be mechanically processed. Other types of processing include drying, frementing, curing, or pre-cooking.
I have to say that you can actually tell that chicken nuggets from McDonalds aren't that bad compared with other kinds you can get from the supermarket. They just taste better and aren't quite as mushy.
They still don't taste like real chicken straight from the bird and I'm sure there are all kinds of additives in them, but I never thought they were bleached with ammonia like the pink mush that results from the carcass being completely ground up.