Following on the success of the nugget and the finger, there is a new, heretofore undefined part of the chicken that can be breaded, fried, and marketed: the tenderloin. Yes, chicken tenderloin is a real thing, and it also happens to be the most expensive cut of chicken at the moment. Money is no object for Popeyes, which will be selling Tear’n Tenderloin Chicken, available through Aug. 25.
Popeyes is billing the cut as “the best kept culinary secret,” although observant chicken buyers may have noticed tenderloins alongside regular chicken breast at the supermarket. And if you’ve ever grilled a chicken breast, you’ve probably had tenderloin, also known as “tenders” (that’s right, as in chicken tenders) or “inner filet,” according to the National Chicken Council. Still, considering how much fancier and juicier “tenderloin” sounds, the new item seems to involve a bit of additional advertising wizardry on Popeyes’ part. It’s like gentrifying the chicken nugget.
To be precise, tenderloins of the chicken “are the inner pectoral muscle which lies alongside the sternum (breastbone),” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (PDF). It’s that flap of meat you often see just kind of hanging onto a chicken breast.
The thing is, chicken tenders on restaurant menus can be made from any cut of chicken, not just the tenderloin part. (Popeyes’ normal lineup of tenders uses regular breast meat cut into strips, and the chain doesn’t use tenderloin meat for its regular menu items.) Popeyes claims, “It’s the most tender piece of white meat you will find, yet it’s rarely found in the fast food world. Instead, it’s mostly offered by ‘fancier’ restaurants.”
The chain is selling this ostensibly gourmet slab of white meat for $3.99 an order, which is cheaper than Popeyes’ other limited-time offerings like Chicken Waffle Tenders and Dip’n Chick’n. So if tenderloins are a culinary luxury, at least they’re still a cheap one.