Every Bit a Spring Chicken
Statistics say we each eat some 60 pounds of chicken a year, more chicken than red meat. And we consume only 16 pounds of seafood.
Chicken is the number one search term on culinary websites. As editor of the magazine here, and a knowledge partner for Yahoo Answers, nearly two-thirds of the questions I answer every week have to do with chicken.
Not surprising, given the low cost of chicken as a regular family go-to meat. Chicken is versatile as an add-on ingredient or the main ingredient. Chicken can be plain and simple or lavish and gourmet. It can be grilled, sautéed, fried, broiled, baked, rolled, stewed or prepared using any one of at least half a dozen other techniques. Chicken always satisfies. While we talk about eggs this month, spring is also the time for chicken, hatching and getting ready for the marketplace. So we have our eye on a few ways to make the most of the season for chicken in your kitchen.
Cruising with Chicks in the Kitchen
Cruising with Chicks in the Kitchen
--Chicken fingers -- as they are casually called, have nothing to do with a real finger, which chickens don’t have anyway. Referred to as tenderloins, these are finger-size pieces of chicken cut purposely for techniques such as stir-frying.
They are actually the muscle of the chicken breast. And in recent years, butchers have packaged them for cooks to make prep time easier. Here they are surrounded by shavings of fresh carrot and tomato. Make the shavings with a veggie peeler, holding onto the peel as you go, to achieve longer strips. Marinate the chicken in a vinaigrette dressing of choice and cook in a skillet with Teflon™ nonstick coating.
--Dutch ovens are like ovens on the stovetop. So they’re great for cooking up a whole chicken. Rub a chicken down with oil, herbs and salt and pepper. Place in a Dutch oven with Teflon™ nonstick coating and brown over medium heat on all sides. Add chicken broth to fill about 2 inches of the pan and let cook over medium for at least 1 hour with the lid on. It will be juicy and moist, and ready for dinner; or slice into sandwich meat for the week.
Luna Chicks with Free Range
--It may sound crazy, but it’s true. A whole chicken costs about the same as a package of chicken breasts.
--If you learn to cut your own chicken into pieces, you gain free range to prepare many varied recipes. If you do, you can also get about three meals or two meals and a sandwich out of a chicken for a family of 4.
--Be wary of chickens that are brined or all plugged with water. Reports indicate that as much as 15 percent of some packages of chicken are not chicken but liquid.
--Some cooks slather on the barbecue sauce when making grilled chicken; and they do it so soon that it burns. There is sugar in most of these sauces, so wait until the chicken is close to being done before adding sauce and causing the sugar to strike it hot and char.
--We love using a top-notch braising pan like this one with Teflon™ nonstick coating when cooking up a chicken. You can brown it first and then add a liquid to let it simmer with seasonings while you go and do something else. The pan’s lower sides make it similar to cooking in a Dutch oven, but the smaller (lower height) tends to let it cook savory rather than poach in a taller pot. We encourage everyone to get one of these pans.
--We also wish everyone who eats chicken would learn how easy it is to roast a whole one for varied uses. In case you do not know how, here is a basic recipe: Preheat the oven to 425°. Remove any giblets from inside the chicken cavity. Buy a prepared spice mix of your choice, depending on what flavor you are seeking (or mix your own); you will need about 2 tablespoons worth. Gently ease your fingers under the breast skin and around the thighs. Spread your seasoning under the skin, smearing it flat in crevices. Rub the breast and underside of the chicken with a mixture of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Season all around with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan with Teflon™ nonstick coating. Cover it loosely with foil and place in the pan breast side up. Cook 30 minutes and then lower the heat to 375°, remove the foil, and cook another 30 minutes (about 20 minutes to the pound). Check with a meat thermometer for doneness.
--Brushing your chicken with olive oil before roasting helps it achieve that nice crisp, sun-bronzed skin.
--A skillet can be a one-pan chicken maker when you use a pan with Teflon™ nonstick coating that is also ovenproof.
--Chicken makes for an inexpensive way of preparing meals for the family, and there are literally countless recipes out there for inspiration. Avoid some of the cuts of chicken and buy the whole bird, cutting the pieces yourself. You will save about 50 percent!
--Never throw away the wings from the chicken. They are terrific for throwing into a soup pot and turning into a chicken soup. The meat around the wings is long and thin but flavorful and makes great pieces to add to the chicken soup.
--If you are in a hurry to cook a chicken, you can wing it. Cut the chicken butterfly style by cutting through the backbone so the chicken opens flat like a book. It will cook faster.