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Chicken Tips and Techniques

Shopping Tips | Freezing Tips | Thawing Tips | Stuffing Tips | Checking Doneness Tips
Frying Tips | Grilling and Broiling Tips | Steaming Tips | Poaching Tips | Stir-fry Tips
Tenderness Tips | Light Tips | Cooking Tips

Shopping Tips:

* Read the package label to see what parts are contained in the package, a product description, the total weight, a sell-by date and nutritional information.
* The "sell-by" date is 7 to 10 days after the chicken was slaughtered and if properly refrigerated it should remain fresh 2 to 3 days after that date. If it is a "used-by" date, the chicken should be cooked or frozen by that date.
* Choose plump, moist chicken with skin that is not patchy or transparent in appearance.
* When choosing fresh chicken, avoid meat that show signs of freezing by feeling or looking for ice formation. When choosing frozen chicken, select one that is rock hard and shows no signs of freezer burn.

Freezing Tips:

* Use moisture proof wrap or bags when freezing chicken. Wax paper is not moisture proof and should not be used because it would not hold the moisture in the meat.
* Be sure all packages are marked with the content and the date the chicken was frozen.
* Wrapping individual chicken parts in foil or with freezer wrap and then placing in a freezer bag will allow you to take out only the number of pieces you will need.
* Freeze fresh chicken as soon as possible to maintain the best quality.
* Store frozen chicken in a freezer unit to obtain maximum storage time.
* Thaw frozen chicken using one of three methods: in the refrigerator; in a cold water bath, changing the water every 30 minutes; or in the microwave. NEVER thaw chicken at room temperature

Thawing Tips:

* Be sure the chicken, particularly a large whole bird, is defrosted thoroughly to ensure proper cooking. Place a hand inside the cavity of the chicken to check for ice crystals. If any crystals are present, more thawing time is needed.
* Thawed chicken should be cooked as soon as possible. If not using the chicken immediately, store in the refrigerator and use within 24 hours of thawing.
* Remove the giblets from the cavity of a whole chicken as soon as thawing allows.
* While the chicken is thawing, be sure drippings do not contaminate other food or preparation surfaces.

Stuffing Tips:
Note: It is recommended that the stuffing be cooked outside of the chicken in a separate dish to reduce the risks of bacterial growth.

If the stuffing will be cooked in the cavity of the chicken, follow these guidelines:

* Thoroughly rinse the chicken inside and outside before stuffing.
* Be sure stuffing is completely cooled before inserting into the cavity of the chicken.
* Do not overstuff the chicken, the stuffing will expand during cooking.
* The stuffing should reach an internal temperature of 165°F.
* Once the chicken and stuffing are done, remove the stuffing from the chicken immediately.

Note: NEVER stuff the chicken in advance. Stuffing in advance will increase the risk of bacteria growth. Stuffing can be made in advance and refrigerated separately from the chicken and then inserted in the chicken just before cooking.

Tips for Checking Doneness:

* When cooking a whole chicken, the skin should be golden brown and the legs should move easily in their joints.
* When pricked in the thigh or breast, the juices should run clear with no pinkish coloring. Tilting a whole bird up, so the juices from the cavity run out, should also show clear juices.
* To ensure doneness, check the temperature of the chicken with a meat thermometer. A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh or breast should produce a temperature of 170°F.
* When a slit is cut into the thickest part of the chicken, it should show meat that is opaque in appearance.

Tips for Frying Chicken:

* It is best to leave the skin on while cooking. If desired, remove before eating.
* When pan-frying, cover for the first 5 minutes of cooking and then uncover for the remainder of the cooking time. Covering for a short period of time will help cook the chicken thoroughly.
* Use tongs or a spatula instead of a fork when placing chicken pieces in the pan or when turning the pieces. Piercing the chicken with a fork allows the juices to escape.
* Be sure all utensils and equipment are dry before they come in contact with the oil. Water will make the oil splatter when heated.
* Using canola oil provides a milder taste, and it contains healthier amounts of saturated and polyunsaturated fats.
* Remove pieces of chicken from the oil as soon as they finish cooking. To keep the chicken warm while other pieces are cooking, set the pieces that are done on a baking pan covered with paper towels and place it in the oven at a low temperature.
* Do not cover the chicken once it has finished cooking, because covering will cause the coating to loose its crispness.

Grilling and Broiling Tips:

* To prevent dryness, leave the skin on the chicken during cooking, which helps preserves the chicken's natural moisture.
* Be sure racks are clean and coat them with vegetable oil or a nonstick vegetable oil spray to help prevent sticking.
* When grilling, aromatic woods, such as hickory, mesquite or cherry, can be added to the preheated coals to give the chicken a distinctive flavor.
* Place smaller pieces of chicken around the outer edges, further away from the main heat source, to allow them to cook slower.
* Do not use a fork to turn the chicken as it cooks. The piercing causes the juices to escape.
* To speed grilling or broiling time, partially cook the chicken in the microwave first. Microwave on high approximately 4 to 5 minutes per pound, or 3 to 4 minutes if using cut up parts. Grill or broil the microwaved pieces of chicken immediately to finish cooking.

Steaming Tips:

* Marinate the chicken before steaming to give the chicken a distinctive flavor.
* Impart flavor into the chicken by adding ingredients to the steaming water, such as onions, carrots, celery, and fresh gingerroot.
* Making a few cuts through the top and bottom surface of the chicken will allow the heat to penetrate more evenly throughout the cooking process.
* Other ingredients, such as vegetables, can be steamed with the chicken, but do not overcrowd.
* Avoid removing the cover to the pot during the cooking process. This will allow heat and steam to escape, resulting in extended cooking times.

Poaching Tips:

* For added flavor, season liquid with herbs, such as dried rosemary, sage, thyme, dill, or tarragon. Also, other flavorings, such as ginger, garlic and onion can be added.
* Rubbing the chicken with lemon juice and then poach in water containing lemon juice or white wine vinegar will help to keep the flesh of the chicken white when cooked.
* If the poached chicken is to be eaten cold or added to another dish, allow the meat to cool in the liquid to provide a moister texture. However, this procedure should be avoided in warm weather, because then the chicken should be cooled as quickly as possible and then refrigerated.
* After cutting the cooked chicken off the bones, return the bones to the liquid the chicken was cooked in and simmer longer to increase the flavor of the broth.

Stir-fry Tips:

* Cut ingredients into small even sized pieces. Using the same size pieces will assist in a more evenly quick cooking of all ingredients. For your convenience, you can purchase the vegetables precut for stir-frying but be prepared to pay more for them.
* To make the cutting of chicken into thin strips easier, place chicken in the freezer for about ¾ to 1 hour to firm it up or if the chicken was frozen, cut it into the thin strips before it is completely thawed.
* Use metal or wood utensils for stirring and tossing ingredients while cooking and avoid using plastic because it might melt when exposed to the high temperatures used for stir-frying.
* After cutting the chicken into thin strips, be sure to properly clean the work area. Wash the cutting boards in hot soapy water after each use and use a mild bleach solution periodically.

Tenderness Tips:

* Avoid freezing whenever possible to eliminate additional moisture loss during thawing, which results in less tender meat.
* Keep chicken from drying out in the refrigerator by keeping it tightly wrapped. If the chicken dries out, it will become tough.
* Leaving the skin on the chicken, when cooking it, helps to hold in juices, which increases tenderness.
* To keep breast area of chicken from drying out during roasting, place a piece of foil over this area. Remove during last 30 minutes of roasting time to allow the skin to brown properly.
* Cook chicken to the proper temperature, because undercooking the chicken will cause it to be tough and overcooking the chicken causes loss of moisture, making the chicken drier.
* Let roasted chicken rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving to allow juices to be distributed throughout the meat. Standing the chicken up with bottom end up allows more juices to run into the drier breast area.
* Cutting meat across the grain will produce slices with shorter fibers, resulting in more tender pieces.
* When adding cooked chicken to dishes that have a long cooking time, it is best to use dark meat because it will stay moist longer than white meat.

Light Tips:

* Roasting chicken on a rack, broiling and grilling are cooking methods that allow fat to drip away from the meat. Poaching, steaming and microwaving are methods of cooking where no additional fat is used. All provide for less fat content in the meat when it is done.
* When frying or browning chicken in a pan, use a nonstick skillet, which requires less added fat, or use a nonstick skillet with a fat free nonstick cooking spray to reduce the amount of fat used.
* Reduce added fat by seasoning chicken in marinades that are low-fat or fat-free. Use ingredients such as low-fat yogurt, juices, wine, herbs, and spices
* Removing the skin before eating chicken eliminates about two thirds of the fat content.
* When stewing chicken for soup, let broth cool and then discard fat that forms on top before reheating to serve.

Cooking Tips:

* When adding chicken to a recipe that calls for a measured amount, determine how much chicken is needed by following a standard of one pound of boneless chicken equals approximately 3 cups of cubed chicken.
* When roasting a chicken, an untrussed chicken will cook faster and more evenly than a trussed chicken.
* Covered chicken takes longer to cook in the oven than uncovered chicken.
* When frying, grilling, broiling, or sautéing chicken, remove pieces as they get done to avoid overcooking while finishing other pieces. White meat and smaller pieces, such as breasts and wings, will get done faster than dark meat pieces, such as legs and thighs.
* For a quick test of doneness when roasting a chicken, hold on to the leg, move it around, and side to side. The leg should move freely at the joint if it is done. Be sure to use other methods for checking doneness also!
* Do not overcrowd chicken pieces when cooking. Leaving space between them will allow them to brown and cook more evenly.
* If using a marinade for basting, set some marinade aside before placing raw chicken in it to marinate. Never reuse marinade that the chicken was marinated in for basting.
* Be sure to use a sharp knife when cutting or carving chicken. Sharp knives will make the job a lot easier, especially when having to cut in the joint areas, and will provide neatly cut slices and pieces.

Chicken Preparation Guide

Thawing Chicken | Cleaning Chicken | Brining Chicken | Stuffing Chicken | Trussing a Chicken | Cutting Up Chicken | Boning a Chicken Breast | Butterflying Chicken

Thawing Chicken

Thawing

There are several methods that can be used for thawing fresh frozen chicken. Chicken should never be thawed out on the kitchen counter. Use one of the methods described below.
Refrigerator -
Thawing Time: 5 hours per pound (Recommended Method) Thawing chicken in the refrigerator is the slowest but safest method you can use. The temperature of the refrigerator should be maintained at 35°F to 40°F to discourage growth of harmful organisms as the chicken thaws. Leave the chicken wrapped and place on a platter or a tray to catch the drippings as it thaws.
Cold Water
Thawing Time: 1 hour per pound

Thawing the chicken in cold water is a faster method than thawing in the refrigerator, but the proper precautions must be taken when using this thawing method. Fill the sink with enough cold tap water to cover the chicken and place the wrapped chicken in the water. The water should be changed every 30 minutes. Do not use warm water, even though it will thaw the chicken faster, it will also cause the growth of bacteria. Do not use this sink for other purposes during thawing period and be sure the thawing water does not splash onto other preparation surfaces or food. Once the chicken is thawed, remove it from the sink and clean all utensils and surfaces affected during the thawing period with hot water and soap.
Microwave
See manual for defrosting times Thawing chicken in a microwave is a quick method but is not recommended because of the difficulty in determining the proper defrosting time. Defrosting times vary according to different microwaves and according to the form of chicken (whole or pieces) you are thawing. Chicken should be loosely wrapped during microwaving. Generally it is best to start out by microwaving at a defrost or medium-low setting for 2 minutes and then letting the chicken stand for 2 minutes before checking progress. Turn the chicken and repeat this procedure if needed, being carefully that the meat does not start to cook. Thawing large items in the microwave does not work well and should be avoided, if possible.

Other Thawing Guidelines

* Be sure the chicken, particularly a large whole bird, is defrosted thoroughly to ensure proper cooking. Place a hand inside the cavity of the chicken to check for ice crystals. If there are any present, more thawing time is needed.
* Thawed chicken should be cooked as soon as possible. If not using immediately, store in the refrigerator and use within 24 hours of thawing.
* Remove the giblets from the cavity of a whole chicken as thawing allows.
* It is safe to refreeze chicken once it has been cooked but some of its quality will be lost.
* While thawing, be sure that drippings do not contaminate other food or preparation surfaces.

Cleaning Chicken

Remove the fresh or thawed chicken from its package. A whole chicken will need to have the giblet package removed from its cavity, unless it was previously removed during thawing. If the giblets are to be used, rinse with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Check the chicken to see if the kidneys have been removed. The kidneys are the dark reddish colored objects in the cavity near the tail. If they have not been removed, use your thumbs or fingers to force them out. The chicken should then be rinsed thoroughly inside and out with cold water. Remove excess fat and patted dry using a paper towel. It is now ready to be stuffed, seasoned or prepared in some manner for cooking. Be sure all utensils and work areas are cleaned and sanitized properly.

Brining Chicken

A chicken does not have to be brined but brining will provide juicier and more flavorful meat. Brining solutions vary in the amount of salt that is used according to a person’s preference in saltines, They can vary from 1/4 to 1/2 cup of kosher salt used per quart of water. The more salt that is used the quicker the brining time, but it will also result in the outside layers of meat being very salty. Using a less salty solution and longer brining time will result in a more even seasoning through all layers to the bone. The brining mixture and the chicken are placed in a large pot and stored in the refrigerator during the brining process. When using 1/4 cup of salt per quart of water, they are left to soak for approximately one hour per pound. Before brining, be sure that the chicken was not already brined when it was purchased.

It is also common for sugar to be added in amounts equal to the salt, so when 1/4 cup salt is added per quart, then 1/4 cup of sugar is also added. Sugar, in the brining solution, will add flavor to the chicken and will improve the natural caramelized flavor that occurs when the meat is grilled or fried. When roasting, if the pan drippings are going to be used for making gravy, adding sugar to the brining solution may result in gravy that is too sweet.

Stuffing Chicken

Stuffing can be made from many different ingredients, such as simple herbs, vegetables and fruit, but can also be made from more complex bread based or grain based (grains, such as rice, barley and kasha that are cooked until tender) recipes. Simple ingredients, such as onions, garlic, lemon, herbs, and spices, can be inserted into the cavity of the chicken or under the skin to add flavor to the meat. Bread or grain based stuffing may include sausage, chopped or ground giblet pieces, vegetables, herbs, and spices. It is common to use eggs for binding and stock or broth to moisten the stuffing.

Before inserting the stuffing, wash the chicken inside and out and then pat dry with a paper towel. Be sure any stuffing that has been cooked, or ingredient that is cooked, is cooled completely before inserting into the cavity of the chicken. The chicken should not be stuffed until just before it is to be cooked, so that the risk of bacterial growth is reduced. Insert the stuffing through the neck, into the body cavities, but be sure that you do not overstuff because the stuffing will expand during cooking due to the absorption of the juices from the chicken.

When cooking the stuffed chicken, the internal temperature of the stuffing should reach 165°F. Cooking the stuffing to this temperature can result in the meat becoming overcooked. Many cooks prefer to cook the stuffing separately from the chicken. The stuffing is placed in a buttered baking dish and cooked during the last 45 minutes to an hour of the roasting time. Stuffing that is cooked outside of the chicken as a separate dish is referred to as “dressing.”

The following guidelines should be followed in regard to stuffing:

* Thoroughly rinse the chicken inside and outside before stuffing.
* Be sure the stuffing is completely cooled before inserting into the cavity of the chicken.
* Do not overstuff, the stuffing will expand during cooking.
* Stuffing should reach an internal temperature of 165°F.
* Once the chicken and stuffing are done, remove the stuffing immediately.
* Always thoroughly sanitize any utensils and areas exposed to the raw chicken or juices.

Note: NEVER stuff the chicken in advance. Stuffing it in advance will increase the risk of bacteria growth. Stuffing can be made in advance and refrigerated separately from the chicken, inserting into the chicken just before cooking.

Chicken pieces can also be stuffed with ingredients such as herbs, spices, onions, garlic, vegetables, fruit, mushrooms, and cheese. The stuffing can be added in several manners, such as under the skin, in a pocket cut in the meat, or rolled up inside a flattened boneless piece. When stuffing the chicken pieces, the same guidelines for proper handling and safety precautions for stuffing a whole chicken should be followed.

Trussing a Chicken

For a roasted chicken to hold its shape it needs to be trussed (tied) before cooking. A smaller chicken may only require that the legs are tied together but a larger bird will require that it be tied around the legs and around the wings to hold its shape. Before trussing, the wishbone can be cut out to make it easier to carve the breast portion of the chicken but it is not necessary that it be removed. The chicken should be cleaned and if stuffing is desired, it should be inserted before the bird is trussed.

There are different methods of trussing but all are basically trying to achieve the same results. Instructions for a basic method of trussing are shown here:

Tuck the wings underneath the chicken to secure them.

For trussing, use a string that is approximately 4 to 5 times the length of the chicken. With the bird on its back (tail away from you), place the middle of the string under the tail, bring both sides up and cross over the top of the tail. Wrap each the strings around the end of each drumstick and pull to draw the legs together, crossing strings over each other again.

Flip the bird over so the backside is up, with neck away from you. Pull strings up over the thighs and wrapping around the upper wings, catching the tips of the wings in the loop. The string is wrapped around the wing, close to the body and then both ends are brought to the upper side. If there is a flap of skin at the neck, it is folded up and the two strings are tied over it.

A chicken does not have to be trussed before it is roasted. When a chicken is trussed you may encounter a problem with the white and dark meat obtaining the proper doneness. It takes longer for the dark meat in the inner thigh area to reach its proper doneness when it is trussed, which should be 175°F to 180°F. When the dark meat is cooked until it reaches the appropriate temperature, the white meat will many times be too dry. If it is important that the bird keeps its shape while roasting, it is best to truss it. If it isn’t important that it to keeps its shape, it is generally better not to truss the chicken, because the white and dark meat will cook more evenly.

Cutting Up Chicken

If you have a whole chicken that you want to use for frying or stewing, you will want to cut it into pieces first. Be sure you have a sharp knife and a washable working surface. If you have poultry shears, they are helpful when making some of the cuts. Cutting up the chicken takes a little experience, but knowing the proper method will make it easier. The following cutting method will produce eight pieces when completed, which consists of two drumsticks, two thighs, two wings, and two breast portions.

Place the chicken on a cutting board, breast side up. To remove the leg-thigh portion, pull the leg away from the body and cut through the skin, down between the body and the thigh to the thigh joint. Bend the leg-thigh portion back until the thighbone pops out of the socket. Then cut around and through the joint at that point to detach the leg-thigh portion from the body. Repeat on the opposite side.

To separate the leg and thigh, place the leg-thigh portion skin side down on the cutting board and locate the joint. Using a sharp knife cut directly through the joint, separating the leg from the thigh. Repeat on other leg-thigh portion.

To remove the wings, place the chicken breast side down on the cutting board and pull the wings out away from the body. Cut between the breast and the wing joint to detach the wing. Cut off a little breast along with the wing, if a meatier wing is desired. Repeat with the wing on the opposite side. The wing tips can be cut off and discarded or frozen to use in stock at another time. Cutting the wing tips off is optional. They can be left on.

To separate the breast from the back, cut along the rib cage, starting from the tail end and cutting to the neck. Cut in this manner on both sides and separate the two sections.

The breast can be cut in half by placing it skin side down on the cutting board and using a sharp knife to cut down along one side of the breastbone, through the bone and meat to cut in two sections. The breast can also have the breastbone removed before it is cut in half. For instructions on how to remove the breastbone, see Boning a Chicken Breast.

Before discarding the backbone, be sure to remove the two small, tender pieces of dark meat located on the bottom half. There is one located on each side of the backbone. Locate the pieces, cut around them with a sharp knife, and then work the knife underneath them to detach them form the backbone. The two pieces of dark meat are small and sometimes they are too small to make it practical to remove, but if they can be removed, they provide an extremely tender and very flavorful piece of meat.

Boning a Chicken Breast

Chicken breast can be purchased with the bone in or boneless and they are available as a whole breast or half breasts. If desired, bone-in chicken breast can have the bone removed before cooking. The following instructions are a guide to removing the bones from the breast.

If desired, remove the skin from the breast. Remove by getting a firm hold at the thickest part of the breast, grasping the skin, and then pulling the skin away from the meat until all the skin has been removed. The chicken breast will be slippery, so to get a firm hold, use a paper towel when gripping the breast.

Begin removing the bones by placing the breast on the cutting board with the bone side up. Start by cutting through the V of the wishbone.

Cut through the cartilage around the top of the kneel bone (the bone separating the two halves).

Cut along both sides of the breastbone and then bend each side of the breast backwards until it cracks and reveals the kneel bone.

Get a firm hold on the kneel bone and peel it, with the cartilage and the breastbone, away from the meat. Cut off any cartilage that did not come off with the kneel bone.
If you are working with a chicken breast that has been cut in half with the breastbone in it, you will have to cut the breastbone out. When cutting the breastbone out, be sure to use a sharp knife and cut close to the bone. Follow the contour of the bone as you cut. Use short swiping cuts to help avoid cutting to far into the flesh of the breast.

Remove the remaining bones. Using a sharp knife, hold it close to the rib bones. Following along the ribs, start cutting them away from the meat with short swiping cuts. Pull the bones away from the meat as you cut. Cut out all bones staying as close to the bones as possible. Remove the wishbone by trimming it away from the flesh.

Leave the breast whole or cut it into halves. Find the white tendon on the underside of the breast by lifting the flap (tenderloins) at the wide end of the breast half. The tendon is tough, so it best to remove it. Grasp one end of the tendon and pull it away from the meat while scraping it off with a knife.

Butterflying Chicken

If broiling or grilling a whole chicken, it should be butterflied for more even cooking. The following instructions are a guide to butterflying a whole chicken.

To butterfly, place the chicken breast side down on a cutting board and cut along each side of the backbone using a poultry scissors or a sharp knife. Remove the backbone and discard.

Turn the chicken breast side up and pull out each side where the backbone was removed. Using the heel of your hand to press down on the breast, break the breastbone to flatten the chicken.

Use skewers to help the bird lay flat by threading one skewer through a wing, through the breast, and out the other wing. Thread a second skewer into a thigh, catching a piece of the leg, then through the bottom part of the breast, and out through the other leg and thigh. The skewers will help hold the chicken flat while it cooks.

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