A Chicken on Every Stove Top
"I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday” – Henry IV
Have you noticed how cooked boneless chicken breasts squeak like a rubber chicken when sliced? I sure have and I can tell you they never used to do that. The first time I heard that squeak and noticed that my knife had some bit of difficulty making it through, I was appalled. The meat, in addition to being rather tasteless, was dreadfully overcooked. I paid more attention next time and hovered over the chicken as if it were a newborn baby. When it too squeaked, I asked a couple of friends who are terrific cooks if they had experienced the same thing. I was pleased to find out that the answer was yes it was common and very disconcerting. Someone has been messing with the chickens.
Today's chicken breasts often look as if they were on steroids and are remarkably uneven in shape. Labeling has changed too. Some of the more expensive chicken labels brag that they are Hormone Free! Others claim to be raised without antibiotics or proudly announce that their chickens are free-range. The image of so many cow pokes on little horses attempting to round up those free range chickens does make for a fun visual, but what does it mean? What do you look for in a chicken label?
I found the best breakdown on interpreting labeling on chicken at this website and suggest that you read it before you shop for chicken again. Of the main four claims to poultry fame only Organic ranked as the one that improved the odds that you were eating a decently raised quality chicken. Hormone free means nothing in the US because hormones are not supposed to be there in the first place. "Raised without antibiotics" is not something that the USDA bothers to verify, so be very dubious if you see that claim. I try to eat natural quality foods, so I either had to stop eating chicken - an excellent idea if I was leaning vegetarian - or I'd just have to pay more money for the organic and eat less chicken - in addition to re-learning how to cook the monstrous things. Yet another Internet search landed me at About.com and this great article on how to cook chicken breasts safely. There are a lot of ways to help your chicken stay juicy and tender. Here are a few of my favorites.
Three Hints for Tender Juicy Chicken:
- If the chicken breast is unevenly thick it will be dry at the ends by the time it is cooked in the middle. Fortunately, this is easy to fix – get yourself one of those nice wooden kitchen mallets and whack at the thing until it is about the same thickness from one end to the other before cooking. You can place the chicken between waxed paper sheets or put it in a zip lock bag to minimize the mess (make sure you wear your chef apron if you are particularly messy like me!). Yes, it’s more work, but after a hard day of work, whacking a chicken is oddly satisfying. Alternatively, slice it in half horizontally to create thinner cutlets.
- An elderly bird almost guarantees tough stringy meat, so buy young chickens. How do you know you have a young chicken? Know your source. Ask your butcher or farmer, read the label, and call that toll free number.
- Interestingly enough, while we all know to let a turkey rest after cooking, most people don’t stop to consider that even a little chicken breast should rest a few minutes after cooking and for exactly the same reason - it allows for the re-distribution of juices for tender tasty meat. Let your chicken breast sit five minutes before plating.
Many of us at Calorie Count have several standard chicken recipes. Here’s a few more for you to try!
Avocado Chicken and Rice is a delicious and filling Tex-Mex comfort food.
Bonnie’s Citrus Chicken has become a standard recipe in quite a few Calorie Count members and her cook from frozen method works exceptionally well.
Crazypotato98’s Spinach Chicken and Couscous uses a few convenience foods along with fresh veggies to make a flavorful satisfying meal your family will love.
For Vegetarians or anyone interested in trying something different
Oh, it turns out that the humongous super breasted chickens are that way because of breeding, diet, and antibiotics. This meant that the choice for me is buy Organic chicken and eat it less often. Reaching your goal weight deliciously is easy with your friends at Calorie Count!
Do you have any tips to make sure chicken is juicy and tender? Did you stop buying chicken because of antibiotics and concern about how they are raised? Do you mind paying more to get chicken from a farmer that raises them humanly? Have you ever cooked a chicken breast from frozen, or do you always thaw first? Did your chicken ever squeak at you? What is your favorite quick chicken recipe for a work night? For those that do not eat chicken, do you have any recipes that will make even a chicken eater drool even though it doesn't use chicken at all? You can list the recipe in the comments if it is not too long, or send it to me here.