Chicken Types and Cooking Basics
Chicken is now the top consumed species in America, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The great thing about chicken is its versatility. It can be cooked numerous ways, added to casseroles, used to make salads and sandwiches, and much more. Chicken can be fried, baked, grilled, roasted, stir-fried, steamed, shredded….you name it!
Chicken in the U.S. mostly comes from the White Rock bird (New England breed) or the Cornish bird (a British breed). These are categorized according to age, weight and gender. A broiler-fryer is about 7 weeks old, weighing approximately 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds. It yields very tender meat. The roaster is older at about 3 to 5 months old, weighing about 5 to 7 pounds. It is usually cooked by roasting whole. The capon is an older male, from 16 weeks to eight months old. These weigh approximately 4 to 7 pounds. They are cooked by roasting and usually yield a generous quantity of tender meat.
A stewing hen is anywhere from 10 months to 1 1/2 years old and has less tender meat. The meat from this type of hen is best used in stewing. A rock Cornish game hen is small, weighing only about 1 to 2 pounds. It is usually roasted whole (after stuffing). The cock/rooster is an older male that yields dark meat. The meat and skin are tougher than that of younger chickens and must be cooked in moist heat for longer to tenderize.
Types of Chicken Cuts
It’s good to know how chickens are cut so you can make an informed decision when buying chicken for meal preparation. Some cuts have much more meat than others, so you’ll want to be careful about your choices. The cut also greatly affects the price of chicken. A whole chicken can be purchased either fresh or frozen. Chicken halves are split from front to back to produce two halves. Breast quarters are cut from halves and include the wing and portions of the back. With the wing removed, the breast quarter is called a split breast. The back may also be removed from the split breast. A split breast may be boneless and skinless or include the bone and skin. There are boneless, skinless legs and thighs as well.
A whole chicken wing includes the drummette, tip and mid-section, and is comprised of all white meat. Wing drummettes are cut from between the elbow and shoulder. The wing mid-section is cut from between the elbow and tip, and may or may not include the wing tip. A whole chicken leg contains the drumstick and thigh, but not a portion of the back (as does the leg quarter). The thigh is cut from above the knee joint. Drumsticks are cut from a leg quarter (lower part between the hock and knee joint). Chicken giblets include the liver, heart and neck.
Interesting Facts about Chicken
Although chicken must be inspected, grading is not mandatory. Processors may opt to have their chickens graded by the USDA. “Grade A” means the chickens are meaty and plump with clean skin, and have no broken bones, bruises, cuts, discoloration or feathers. Hormones may not be used in chickens; however, antibiotics may be given to reduce risk of disease. Fresh chicken must not have additives such as salt, MSG, etc. A common misconception is that the reddish-colored liquid in a package of chicken is blood. This is not blood, but water that has been soaked into the chicken while the meat was being chilled.
Chicken does not need to be rinsed before cooking. All bacteria will be destroyed while cooking. Chicken should be refrigerated (if planning to cook within a day or two) or frozen immediately after arriving home from the grocery. Frozen chicken may be defrosted in the refrigerator slowly or in cold water if you have limited time (within sealed packaging). It may also be defrosted in the microwave on a low defrost setting.
If marinating, always do so in the refrigerator, and never use the marinade sauce on the cooked food unless you bring it to a boil first to kill any present bacteria.
Cooking times will vary depending on the weight and type of chicken cut. The minimum internal temperature (read with a meat thermometer) is 165 degrees F.
Chicken is one of the healthiest meats to eat if cooked properly. Roasting and grilling both create a flavorful chicken and a great alternative to frying. Stir-fry chicken with vegetables is also a great way to cook chicken because it uses very little oil. Add sliced grilled chicken to your garden salad, or use chopped chicken breast to prepare a healthy chicken salad of your own for sandwiches. Chicken can be used instead of beef in vegetable soup or it can be used in rice dishes and casseroles.
Try these tasty chicken recipes for your next family dinner or any special gathering.
Oven Cajun Chicken
1 frying chicken or 6 breasts or 6 leg thigh quarters
1 c. flour
black pepper and garlic powder (for sprinkling)
1/2 c. butter
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Pat chicken dry with a clean paper towel and sprinkle with garlic powder and Creole seasoning.
In a Ziploc bag, combine 1 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional – adjust heat as desired), 1/2 teaspoon paprika and 1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning. Close bag and mix well.
Shake chicken in the bag with flour and seasonings. Line a 9×13 inch glass baking dish with foil. Add butter and place in oven until it sizzles. Place chicken in dish, skin side down.
Bake 30 minutes; turn reduce heat to 325°F degrees and bake 35-45 minutes longer or until chicken is cooked through (this depends upon the weight of the chicken). It will be a beautiful golden brown and very tender when done.
Chicken Vegetable Egg Rolls
1/2 c. dried mushrooms
1 each chicken breast, skin, split
1 each clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. oil
1 can 16-oz bean sprouts, drained
2 c. small spinach leaves
1/2 c. green onion thin sliced
1/2 c. bamboo shoots, thin sliced
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. grated ginger root
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
12 each egg roll skins
oil for deep-fat frying
Soak mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes; drain and chop, discarding stems. Chop chicken for filling. Stir-fry chicken and garlic quickly in 1 T hot oil about 2 minutes. Add vegetables, stir-fry about 3 minutes more. Blend soy sauce into cornstarch; stir in ginger root, sugar and salt.
Stir into chicken mixture; cook and stir until thickened. Cool. Place egg roll skin with one point toward you. Spoon 1/4 cup filling diagonally across and just below center of skin.
Fold bottom point of skin over filling; tuck point under filling. Fold side corners over, forming an envelope shape. Roll up. Fry egg rolls, a few at a time, in deep hot oil (365 degrees) for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.