It seems like this week I have been on a chicken kick. I mean what’s not to like about chicken? It really doesn’t have much flavor on its own so you can eat it 7 days a week and depending on how you flavor and prepare it you will get 7 totally different meals. I love that! Plus this time of year it is almost always on sale. Woo hoo! So… I thought today would be a good time to post a few tips on proper cooking and handling of chicken. Happy cooking!
- To ensure even cooking, start with cutlets or breasts that are uniform in thickness and size. Use a kitchen scale to make sure your pieces are the same size. Most recipes call for 4 – 6 oz. pieces.
- To achieve even thickness, butterfly thick chicken breasts by cutting across them horizontally with a sharp knife. Do not cut all the way through. Instead, open the two halves so they lie flat. Then place between 2 sheets of heavy duty plastic wrap and pound flat with a meat mallet or rolling pin until the entire piece is the same thickness. (a large Ziploc freezer baggie works great for this also!)
- Never thaw frozen chicken at room temperature as this will allow harmful bacteria to grow. Instead, place frozen chicken in a glass dish and defrost in the refrigerator.
- Allow 24 hours for a 3-4 lb. whole chicken to thaw; 12 hours for frozen parts.
- Don’t use the same permeable wood cutting board you use for your vegetables and other food items to prepare chicken. Choose a glass or other impermeable surface instead to protect against bacteria.
- The acids in marinades help break down the protein fibers in chicken meat. Marinating your chicken prior to cooking will tenderize the meat and add lots of great flavor to your recipes. Wine, vinegar, and fruit juices are all excellent ingredients to use in marinades.
- After your chicken has marinated, be sure to discard all remaining liquid rather than continuing to cook with it.
- Always cook chicken to temperature, not by time. Internal starting temperatures can vary widely, which can affect the total cooking time quite a bit. Use an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat to make sure your dish has reached at least 165 degrees F.
- 165 degrees F is the minimum recommended safe internal temperature for chicken. However, some cuts are better at slightly higher temperatures. Here are some general guidelines:
- 165 degrees – boneless chicken breasts
- 170 degrees – bone-in chicken breasts
- 175 thighs & drumsticks
- Cook fresh or previously frozen chicken within 2 days of purchasing it.
- Don’t refreeze previously frozen raw chicken meat. Double check before buying meat at your grocery store to determine if it has been frozen and defrosted.
- Refrigerate chicken within 2 hours of cooking it.
- Many recipes require searing the chicken over high heat prior to cooking to brown it. Don’t let those beautiful, delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan go to waste! Deglaze the pan with some wine or chicken stock when you are done searing. This is the key to rich and delicious pan sauces and gravies.
- Those tasty brown bits left on the bottom of the pan after roasting or pan frying chicken or other meats are called “fond.” Fond is your friend!
- Before roasting a whole chicken, be sure to rinse the inside cavity before seasoning and stuffing. Then, pat the outside dry with paper towels to help the skin brown nicely. Water left on the skin will turn to steam inside the oven, which will inhibit browning.
- It is not necessary to rinse chicken prior to cooking it. In fact, rinsing is discouraged because this can cause germs to splatter around your food prep area. However, you should still rinse out the cavities of whole birds before seasoning and stuffing them.
- Use parchment paper when oven roasting chicken breasts to prevent them from drying out. A sheet of parchment paper placed under the meat will protect it and help keep it moist.
- Allow chicken to rest at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes prior to roasting. This will help the meat roast evenly throughout.
- Starchy side dishes like pasta, rice and potatoes are ideal for chicken recipes with pan sauces because they help soak up all that delicious flavor. For a great low carb alternative, try garlic mashed cauliflower instead.
- Chicken, like most meats, needs to “rest” when it comes out of the oven to allow the juices to be re-absorbed. To rest, place your meat on a serving plate and tent a large piece of aluminum foil over it. If you want tender and juicy chicken, don’t skip this step!
- The amount of time chicken needs to rest after cooking will depend on size. Smaller pieces will require less time (5-10 minutes) than a whole bird, which may take 20-30 minutes.
Never worry about what's for dinner again. I've got you covered with the meal plans in the Once a Week Cooking Club. Cook once, eat all week.
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