Cooking chicken seems like such a “no-brainer’, but after I did some research there’s is actually a lot to know about preparing this healthy protein.
When shopping for chicken for dinner, you may run into some terms you aren’t necessarily familiar with. Or, perhaps you’ve heard the terms but just don’t know what difference they make in choosing your bird.
It’s really quite basic – you want to choose the right bird for the cooking method, and the right cooking method for the bird. Let’s start by looking at some standard chicken types you will find in the grocery store.
Broiler or fryer – A young chicken, under 13 weeks of age. The meat is tender.
Roaster – A young chicken, 3 to 5 months of age. The meat is tender.
Capon – An unsexed male chicken, 8 months of age or younger. The meat is tender.
Baking or stewing – A mature female chicken, more than 10 months of age. The meat is less tender.
Once you know what kind of bird you have, you can decide how to cook it. Chicken that is younger with tender meat can be cooked successfully in dry heat, such as roasting, broiling, and frying. Chicken that is older and less tender will be better cooked in moist heat, such as braising, in a stew, in a crockpot, or in a creamy casserole.
But, even within these cooking methods, you may run into a few problems. For instance, we know that the dark meat on your chicken takes more time to cook than the white meat, regardless of whether you have a broiler, a capon, or a stewing chicken. To cook the dark meat and white meat successfully, you may need to use a few tricks. Take a look at the following suggestions and see if you can tweak your cooking methods to better suit your bird.
Cut Up Chicken
Having both dark meat and white meat on the menu isn’t too much of a problem if you buy cut up chicken, or cut up a whole chicken yourself. With the white and dark meat separated, you can easily execute the best cooking method on both.
This is one of the easiest methods. Heat up a large skillet and start by browning the legs and thighs first, then let them cook just until they are about halfway done; remove and set aside.
Put the white meat in the skillet, brown nicely on both sides, then add the dark meat back into the skillet and continue cooking until the pieces are cooked through and no longer pink inside. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness, especially if you are cooking bone-in chicken pieces. By browning and cooking the dark meat a little first, you give it a head-start on the white meat, ensuring both are cooked properly.
If you absolutely have to put your chicken in one pot or casserole without browning or precooking, try to use bone-in chicken breasts. They will maintain the moisture better while cooking. If you are using boneless meat, both white and dark, cut the dark meat smaller than the white meat to help even out cooking times.
What happens when you can’t separate the dark meat from the white meat, such as when you’re roasting a whole chicken? There are methods to help make sure the white meat doesn’t overcook and get dried out while the dark meat finishes cooking.
One delicious way to help preserve the moisture in the chicken breast is to create a buttery paste and gently rub it between the skin and meat of the breast. Mix the butter with herbs, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and any seasoning you like, then slip the paste carefully into the pocket under the skin, distributing it evenly over the breast meat. This may take a little practice, but if you take your time and gently lift the skin away from the meat, you’ll be able to learn this technique with no problem.
Trussing the legs up so they lay over the breast is another way to help protect the breast from the direct heat, which will dry it and cook it faster than the rest of the bird. Don’t get too worried about trussing like a professional chef. Just get some butcher string and tie those legs up there so they cover as much of the breast as possible. It doesn’t have to be pretty; you’ll cut it off before anyone sees it anyway. And, again, your technique will improve after you do it a few times.
For this method, you have to let go of the picture you have in your mind of a chicken roasting beautifully, breast side up, in the oven, at least for a little while. About midway through the roasting time, you’re going to turn the whole chicken over onto the breast. This method not only protects the breast from direct heat for some of the cooking time, but also allows the juices inside the darker part of the bird (the back) to flow into the breast meat when it’s cooking upside-down. Then, turn the bird back over (breast side up) for the last ten minutes or so of roasting time so you can baste it and the skin crisps up.
Now that you know a little more about what sort of chicken you’re buying, and how to cook each one to achieve the best results, get out your cookbook and take a trip to the store. Doesn’t cooking chicken for dinner sound scrumptious!?
Eat healthier and enjoy what you eat!