Imagine you are preparing to enjoy a 10 piece nugget meal from your local Ronald McDonald’s. You open the bag and are struck with the irresistible aroma of the crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside white meat chicken morsels that await. You fish for the cardboard treasure chest safeguarding your prize and lay it out in front of you. Next, you gingerly extract your fries, taking care to rescue the fallen soldiers sprawled at the bottom of the bag. You open the clamshell, extract a perfectly boot shaped nug, and raise it to your lips. You are about to enjoy one of the seven fast food wonders of the world, but just before you bite down, you stop. Something is not quite right. Something is missing. Panic begins to set in. Your fingers tremble; your palms moisten; your mouth that was just salivating in anticipation goes bone dry. You double check the bag in a final fruitless attempt to salvage your meal but are quickly pummeled by a wave of disappointment. They forgot the sauce. You must resign yourself to palating your dry, greasy make-up sponges and flaccid potato planks alone. No barbecue. No sweet and sour. No szechuan.
Eating a meal without sauce is a tragedy that many people can relate to, but very few take the time to appreciate the important lesson within: when eating chicken nuggets and the array of other dippable foods, the true star of the show is the sauce. There is a tendency to overvalue the role of chicken in the equation despite its shortcomings. Sauces add so much complexity and variety to what would otherwise be a simple meal, and the omnipresence of sauce in time and space demonstrates the immense and understated value they hold across communities and cultures.
There is nothing wrong with chicken. It is a delicious protein option that is more environmentally sustainable and affordable than a lot of other meats, but the chicken nugget is far from living up to the full potential of the beautiful birds that are sacrificed for its creation. The majority of commercial purveyors of chicken nuggets pride themselves on using ‘100% white meat chicken’ or ‘only the breast.’ These big numbers and promises of quality seem awesome at first glance, but in reality, consumers are missing out on the full spectrum of poultry flavor. Pre 2003 McDonald’s used a blend of white and dark meats. It made for a flavor and juiciness that many people still deem superior to this day. Additionally, as anyone who has bird baking (or BC Dining) experience knows, there is an incredibly small margin of error for cooking white meat. An extra 30 seconds in the fryer or oven is the difference between OK and chewing on a wad of dental floss. The 21st century obsession with breasts and tenders has practically necessitated the use of sauce to reintroduce moisture and flavor.
Finally, the nigh inexhaustible variety of sauces available and their immense significance to nearly all cultures demonstrates the infinite value of sauce as not just a food but as a concept. The versatility of the French mother sauces is unmatched. The breadth and zest of Mexican and Mexican-American salsas is overwhelming. Some nonnas would give up their firstborn before they give up their Sunday sauce recipes. My Haitian stepfather will refuse to take a single bite of his meal until it is drowned in sòs. If all varieties of soy sauce were blipped from existence a’la “Avengers: Endgame” a large portion of the world’s dishes would go alongside it. It is mind-blowing what sauces do for society and the power they hold. It can be difficult to put it all into perspective, but Gucci Mane offered a sentiment on the subject that elucidates it all. He proclaimed, “If a man does not have sauce, then he is lost. But the same man can get lost in the sauce.”
Next time you enjoy a meal, make sure to express gratitude for the sauce you choose. It is wind in the sails of the culinary world’s ships, the backbone of otherwise dry-ass meals, and, of course, what makes a chicken nugget worth eating.
Cover photo courtesy of CKPublicHealth