Cooking chicken well isn't as straightforward as you might imagine. You need to know how to choose a chicken, how to cook it and the best way to prepare it.
How To Choose a Chicken
When you are in the butcher ask for a chicken by sex, age, size and quality.
The chickens that we eat are female, but people eat roosters too! The most common type of rooster served in the US is a capon, a castrated rooster. Capon meat is more moist, tender and more flavorful than a hen.
Chickens grow quickly. Mature chickens are 6-8 weeks old. Young chickens are usually under 28 days old and range in weight from 14- 26 ounces.
In Europe, young chickens are called Poussin and in the US they are referred to as baby chickens. Rock Cornish game hens are also young chickens; the name refers to the breed.
The size of the fowl depends on the age. Choose the size you need by the number of people you are eating with.
Different methods of cooking work best on different sizes of chicken. If you want to fry a chicken then it is better to get a smaller size. Most chickens labeled as Fryers are 6 weeks old and about 2.5-4 pounds. Older chickens are usually larger and require moist-heat cooking.
The way in which we verify quality is changing. Blockchain technology is transforming the way we manage the food chain. Soon you'll be able to see where a chicken came from and what happened to it before it ended up on your plate.
It matters how chickens are preserved. Normally, chicken carcasses are cooled after slaughter by dunking them in water. This adds moisture to the chicken and means that it is difficult to get the crispy skin so many people like. You can tell they have been preserved in this way if there is red/pink watery liquid in the packages.
How To Cook Chicken
There are so many recipes out there it's hard to choose how to prepare a chicken. Thankfully the creativity means that there are lots of ways to reduce food waste by using all of the chicken. I like a few techniques that I think mean your chicken is sensational.
Here's a list of all the different cuts and techniques used to cook chicken. It's worth a browse to recall all the ways that you can prepare chicken.
Here are some of my favorite ways to cook chicken!
Butterflying refers to the way the breast looks once you've sliced and opened it. The advantage to this cut is that it reduces the top-to-tail cooking time. Chefs make the portion sizes the same so the meat cooks evenly.
One of my favorite recipes to cook with butterflied chicken is a Cook Yourself Thin, Lemon and Rosemary Chicken.
There are differing scientific theories as to how the brine produces juicier meat (osmosis? coagulating proteins?), but the salt-water mixture will result in a more tender chicken. Maybe there's even a little life-affirming placebo effect. Salt is one of the fundamental elements in our evolutionary journey!
3. Chicken in the Pot
This method creates a juicy fowl! You can cook the bird in it's own juices or you can imbue the dish with wine and chicken broth. This classic french technique is copied in lots of cultures and changed to fit the cooks and their eaters.
Everyone should learn to do this. As Julia Child would say, it's not for the faint of heart, as you have to cut the chicken down the bone. However, with a confident approach you'll easily achieve this.
I'd ask a butcher to do this. Give them some warning so that they can organize their time. It seems like an incredible way to use all the chicken. You can also use this technique after you've cooked the chicken. Remember to keep the bones and make a healthy broth.
6. Under a Salt Brick
This is one of the best ways I've ever had chicken. It's sublime. When you taste this dish you will never want to cook chicken any other way. It is so tender everywhere! There just isn't a tough part of the chicken.
Ask your butcher to half a chicken. Just heat up your salt brick and cook it on the grill as a wonderful summer dinner.
7. Beer Can Chicken
You can find beer can holders if you're worried about the chicken falling over on the grill.
Shallow frying with Crisco in a cast iron pan is one of the most delicious ways to cook chicken. You can ensure that you only need the shallow fry by using chicken tenders. It's harder to shallow fry drumsticks, but if you want to crisp the batter and finish the drumsticks in the oven, they'll taste good. You might find the batter breaks away from some of the drumsticks.
What Makes Your Cooked Chicken Moist?
I hate dry chicken. The trouble is that you need to get it to a safe temperature (165F). If you aren't familiar with this, you can overcook it.
You can add more flavor by basting the chicken. Most people do this for special occasions, but you should do it with all your roasts. You can purchase a baster or you can just spoon the juicers over the chicken while it cooks.
If you like wine, I'd baste with wine! :-)
I haven't tried this yet! We got a large injector one Thanksgiving, but it just languishes in one of the cutlery drawers.
If you want some ideas for marinades then Emeril has awesome taste.
This seems like the best way to get juicy chicken breasts. This method requires you to trust the process, but from experience, if the method is good it's worth learning.
You'll need a pan with a lid.
What's the Best Way to Get Golden Brown Skin?
Chicken has moisture in it, which means you'll find it hard to get that golden brown, crisp skin without a good technique. I don't really worry about it, but people seem to see it as a point of pride, so here are some ideas.
1. Dry Skin with a Hairdryer!
This is an ingenious technique and not crazy at all. Great chefs use this technique. I recommend reading this article for the excellent description of the process.
2. Fast Finish
If you turn up the heat when the chicken is almost cooked, then you should get crispier skin. You might have a problem with the fat reaching it's smoking point. Cook the chicken on a rack and remove the fat before you turn up the heat, that way you can use the drippings for gravy or basting when the chicken is done.
3. Seasoning with Butter and Salt
Before you season a chicken, pat it dry with a paper towel to remove any excess water. Seasoning the chicken with butter creates the brown color and salt helps make the skin crispy.
Before you cook the chicken, sear it in a pan to create the roast look you want. I used this method when I cooked poulet en cocotte (chicken in a pot) to make sure that the chicken didn't come out milky white.
This seems like a lot of effort to remove the skin and then broil it. I think this is one of those techniques you should put on a good-to-have list and leave for that summer day you put aside to cook things you never cooked before.
How Long Should I Cook Chicken?
The size of the chicken determines the length of time that it'll take to cook. You need to makes sure that the meat reaches 165F.