Chicken remains one of my favorite meats for use in home cooking. Versatile? Oh my God, you cannot even believe how versatile chicken is. I can take a whole chicken and roast it in the oven, choose individual bits like thighs and breasts for frying and, in recent years, discovered the joy of broiling. Buffalo. New Orleans. Jamaica. Just think of all the ways you can combine the means of preparing the lowly chicken and eventually your mind will be blown. Unfortunately, there are nearly as many ways to make the chicken you cook at home so much less than it could be. I had to learn many of the following tips for cooking chicken over a lifetime of being in the kitchen. You can learn it all just from reading the rest of this article. Put a few of these tips to the test and see if you don’t realize that you haven’t been making the most of your chicken.
Plump breasts overflowing with thick white meat is best defrosted from the freezer by sinking it in cold water into which you have mixed a generous helping of salt. My personal experience has convinced me that a cup of salt is pretty close to ideal. I don’t have any scientific backup for that, but trust me when I say it works. Cold water is preferable to hot water because it won’t “cook” the meat during the thawing process. The last thing you want is to start cooking chicken that isn’t the same color all over. Thawing in hot water will cause some of the meat to actually already be cooked before you even start. It looks awful and, in extreme cases, can affect the evenness of the actual cooking. The addition of salt to the water also assists by soaking up and removing the blood from the bird which can go a long way toward getting you past any hesitancy to cook chicken cased by the “ick factor.” Just make sure to thoroughly rinse the chicken before cooking.
Few things taste better than chicken that has been floured and fried. I know it’s not the healthiest way to prepare chicken, but I can make the argument that it is the most delicious. When done right, flouring keeps the juices in and provides a delectable browning to the skin that you just don’t get when frying without flour or cooking in other ways. Few things are more annoying, however, than putting chicken that has been floured into a frying pan and watching as the flour breaks off and drifts away. If you want to keep your flour on the chicken throughout the entire frying process, you need to plan beforehand. Not much, mind you. Just enough to put your newly floured chicken into the refrigerator and let it chill for an hour before heating up your frying pan and transferring the chicken directly from the refrigerator into the heated oil.
Do yourself a solid. Take a pat of butter and rub it into your skin. Did any of the butter actually penetrate through? Well, guess what, chicken skin is no different from human skin in that regard. Basting oven-roasted chicken throughout the process is not going to allow the basting fluid to penetrate through the chicken skin unless you first pierce it. And piercing the skin is at least just as likely to result in moisture escaping and drying the meat out than the opposite. So your best choice is to leave the skin unpierced and wait until the final 30 minutes of roasting time to start basting. If you commence basting before then, all that’s going to happen is that you start the browning process early. All this is going to get you is a visual indication that your bird is done when, in fact, it is not done. Say goodbye to salmonella by postponing the basting. As for the basting process itself, I used to use a baster exclusively until I discovered that using a big deep spoon often results in quicker basting. And, unless you actually take the pot out of the oven, close the door and baste while the pot sits on top of the stove, you want this process to go quickly so that the oven door stays open for as little as possible.
Bigger Boneless Breasts
You can cut down on the amount of shrinkage you get when cooking boneless chicken breasts if you locate that long white tendon running down the length the of the breast. Removing this tendon will result in slightly less flavor, but provide a slightly bigger portion. My own preference is to leave the tendon intact because I’d rather have big flavor than a bigger piece of the less flavorful pie.
Refrigerating Fresh Raw Chicken
Fresh chicken does not need to be cooked or frozen right away so don’t panic when your plans for cooking chicken get unexpectedly interrupted. Fresh chicken can safely be put away inside the refrigeration for two days. If you know the interruption is going to force you to put off cooking the chicken for longer than two days, go ahead and freeze it. If refrigeration is possible, just make sure to wrap up the chicken tight enough to ensure that it does not come into contact with or drip onto any other food. Another option worth considering is to boil the leftover chicken. This process requires the least amount of work and you can focus your attention on frying, roasting, baking or broiling until the excess chicken has boiled. Once it has, using nothing but a fork, shred the boiled chicken meat and then freeze that for later use in burritos, enchiladas, tacos, etc.
The problem with the high heat of broiling chicken is that it is easy for the bird to become dry. You can cut down on this risk and actually increase the flavor by melting some butter into which you add a few drops of lemon juice. Invest in a rubber brush and occasionally apply the butter/lemon concoction to the bird during broiling. This will keep your poultry moist and add some zest.
Upsy Daisy Roasting
Keep the abundant breasts of a big chicken moist when roasting by placing the bird into the pan with the breast side down. Allow it to cook this way for between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken. When the timer goes off, pull the pan out and reposition the bird as normal with the breast side up, following the above advice on basting.