I remember the day I graduated from college. I proudly declared I would never eat chicken again! For four years chicken had found its way into nearly every meal whether it be at the Dining Hall or in my own apartment. There was always chicken. So, when a recent article in a women’s magazine announces that every month 1.22 million people Google the words “chicken breast” in search of some new tasty options, I guess it’s safe to say that not much has changed, including me. Indeed, in my home and around my table you can find chicken featured on the weekly menu, for more than one night!
So what is the fascination with chicken? It’s economical, versatile, and low in fat and high in protein—all good reasons that chicken trumps all other proteins. But it’s not the whole chicken that is low in fat; and it’s not all cuts of chicken that make weeknight meals a breeze. In our kitchen we run the gamut – from whole chickens to bone-in breasts or boneless skinless breasts to thighs and drumsticks. And while it’s a nice thought that the designations organic, natural, or free-range might sway my selection, typically it comes down to price. Sure there are times when I will shell out the extra dollars for organic, but labels suggest far more than the USDA requires. Since the USDA prohibits hormones to be given to all poultry, everything else is in play unless you actually know the farm your poultry comes from.
Bone-In Breast and Boneless Skinless Breast. The bone-in is a big, juicy cut of white meat. With the skin on, the fat count goes up, but that doesn’t diminish the role the fat plays as this cut of meat is perfect for roasting, broiling and grilling, all a lot faster than, say, the entire chicken. And that’s where the skin comes into play. Because the cooking time is longer for bone in meats, the fat in the skin layer slowly melts and bastes your chicken breast keeping it moist and tender. The boneless, skinless version is just that. While it can cook a lot faster in the oven or on the grill, it can also dry out a lot faster too. Where I think the boneless skinless breast wins is in the pan-roasting category. A quick sauté on the stove (about 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown) and then into a 350 F oven for about 8 to 12 minutes more does wonder to seal in moisture and then gently finish the cooking. This is the low-fat, high protein lover’s ace up the sleeve.
Drumsticks and Thighs. The drumstick is typically labeled “leg” and is often sold with the thigh attached, though it is becoming more common to see the parts packaged individually. Both the “leg” and the thigh are dark-meat pieces, juicy and flavorful (they are higher in fat content than the white meat). They are perfect cuts for broiling and grilling, and if you have the time or a slow cooker, a superb choice for braising. The soak up flavor as well as slowly render their own flavorful fat into braising or cooking liquids. Paella is a terrific example of how chicken thighs shine when cooked slow, especially because they are so hard to overcook.
Storage and Preparation.
Storage. When it comes to storage it’s pretty simple: Store it in the refrigerator (up to two days after purchasing) making sure to keep it separate from everything else. That may be as simple as slipping it into another grocery bag or a plastic bag so any juices don’t contaminate your refrigerator or the food and drinks in it. Or, freeze chicken by double wrapping it (first waxed paper, then aluminum foil, then into a freezer bag) for up to 12 months (yes, that long and it will be as delicious if you take the extra step of double wrapping!). Once cooked, store refrigerated for up to 4 days.
Preparation. When it comes to using the food you’ve properly stored, make sure you start with a clean surface and since you are using poultry, keep everything that comes in contact with it clean or properly removed from the area to be disposed of or washed.
To get the best sear or the crispest skin start with meat that is dry. Use paper towels to dab all the excess moisture from your chicken. A moist chicken steams; a dry chicken browns!
To get the best flavor, well that’s a whole different story! Simply put, a little seasoning of salt and pepper before you cook your chicken makes all the difference in the world. Of course you can season it with spices, or marinate it with flavorful ingredients; you can braise it in an aromatic broth, or you can baste it as it cooks. There are literally hundreds of thousands of links to recipes for chicken. And, should you decide to be one of the 1.22 million people searching for ideas each week, let me suggest you refine your search by adding the following:
Chicken breast + [list the primary spices you want to use, like cinnamon, cumin, chile] + recipe
(I found this tasty little (fast, too) dish with that search: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/foodwine/2009967735_ruthrecipe2.html)
Avoid catch-all sites for recipes, like “allrecipes” or “cooks”. While they sound promising, not all the recipes are reliable, or they’ve been uploaded to the site from other sites. The margin for error is high, and you’re likely to spend too much time searching through several versions of the same dish. Instead, opt for reliable sites like epicurious.com or foodandwine.com, or finecooking.com. These reviews that accompany the recipes are as valuable as the recipes themselves. It’s helpful to read what other’s experience with the dish was, and what successful changes or substitutions were made. If you strike out here, then resort to other popular magazine sites, and even tv network sites. Then you can jump into the blogosphere. There you might find some one’s interpretation of a cookbook recipe. Great if you want the recipe from the cookbook without having to buy the cookbook; not so great if the blogger took a great picture of a really bad tasting dish!
And, with that in mind… I’m off to prepare dinner. “What,” you ask, “am I making?” Well, chicken, of course! It’s what 1.22 million people are having for dinner!
Copyright © 2011 by Donna Marie Desfor and There’s a Chef in My Kitchen, LLC for WITF, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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