Monday, April 14, 2014

Chicken 101 -

For my dear friend in Nevada, who is learning the ropes - here is some of my chicken knowledge for you.

I am skilled at making it since it's pretty much the only protein that Le Fussy Spouse will eat on a regular basis with a minimum of complaint.

Two things to keep in mind when you're making chicken:

* Breasts and wings will require more moisture and less cooking time before they are done and will dry out faster - so be careful with them;
* Legs, and thighs will require less moisture and more cooking time before they are done.

What's the difference? Fat content. That's why you always find healthy cooking recipes featuring breasts, and also why they are more expensive. You can, however, make some pretty tasty dishes featuring thighs and I'll include some later on this week.

The best thing about chicken, though, is how versatile it is. You can broil it, bake it, fry it, saute it, braise it, boil it, make it into soups or stock, barbeque it, make chicken meatballs, chicken burgers, feature it in Middle Eastern dishes, shred it and put it in tacos or enchiladas or chimichangas, grill it and eat it on a sandwich... and the list goes on. I feel like that guy in the Forrest Gump movie talking about all the different ways to cook shrimp.

I think I'm going to make this Chicken Week on my blog - and I'll give some techniques for things like cutting up and boning a whole chicken, which is easier than you think - to stuffing a chicken breast or pounding it to make roulades. And posting recipes.

Today,  the easiest way to cook a chicken, and my family's favorite: Roasting.

I usually buy a whole oven stuffer roaster and rinse it well, removing all the giblets (freezing them in a Ziploc bag for stock later).  I pat it dry with paper towels and set it on a rack that was lightly sprayed with cooking spray.

It's important to use a rack (I learned this in cooking class) when you are roasting anything, because the rack allows the hot air to circulate around your meat, cooking it more evenly and also avoiding that horrible stuck- to-the-pan-by-the-burnt-spot on one side of your meat that can happen if you don't use a rack.

My other cheat is that I have a ready supply of McCormick's poultry seasoning blend on hand. Once I pat the bird dry, I rub it all over with the poultry seasoning, and also separate the skin from the breast to insert some seasoning directly on the breast meat by carefully inserting a wooden spoon in between the skin and the breast - but if you choose to do this, be slow and careful to avoid puncturing the skin.

I do not remove the skin because the fat on the skin allows the meat to remain moist while roasting. If you don't want to eat the skin, you can always remove it once the chicken is completely roasted.

The way we like it:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, make sure the oven rack is in the middle and roast for 20 minutes per pound.  Here's some Cooking Math: 20 minutes per pound for a 10 pound chicken = 200 minutes / 60 minutes to calculate hours =  3 1/3 hours.

I'm telling you now- your house will smell AMAZING while the chicken is cooking and the best thing about it is that whole chickens are usually cheaper to buy than individual parts. And you can use the leftovers in lots of interesting ways: sandwiches, soups, shred and use in other things, salad toppers, you name it. And did I mention - stocks? :-)

Uuse a meat thermometer to check the chicken to make sure it's cooked - and the thigh should be at 165 or a little below - and a little below when you pull it from the oven is actually preferred because:

When you pull the chicken out, you need to LET IT SIT for 15 minutes. Why? Because it will keep cooking once you pull it out of the oven and you do not want to lose all the juicy goodness. To cut up the chicken for serving, (after it sits, of course) I recommend following the directions in this video:

Do not forget to save the bones for stock later! (freeze them with your giblets in a Ziploc bag!)

More tomorrow - let's see if I can blog every day this week.

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