Other Names:Broiler-fryer, coq or poulet (French), pollo (Italian and Spanish), roaster, stewing chicken. Black Chicken: Black-boned chicken, poulet soyeuse (French), silkie bantam, silky chicken, Taihe chicken, zook see gai (Chinese). Capon: Capón (Spanish), cappone (Italian), chapon (French). Poussin: Baby chicken, spring chicken.

General Description:The chicken (gallus domesticus, NAMP P1000, P1100) is a commonly eaten bird descended from the wild red jungle fowl of Southeast Asia. Chickens may have been domesticated in India as long ago as 3200 b.c. Chicken is the most popular and widely eaten poultry in the world and may be cooked by almost any method. It can be cooked whole or cut-up, or individual parts may be cooked, seasoned, stuffed, basted, or sauced with a huge range of ingredients.

Free-range chickens, which are allowed access to the outdoors, have full-bodied flavor but are not as tender and are usually more expensive than conventionally raised commercial chickens. Natural chickens contain no artificial ingredients or added color and are only minimally processed. Kosher chickens are specially raised, fed a grain diet, and slaughtered by a ritual slaughterer using a razor-sharp knife. Then they are soaked in cold water and hand-salted with coarse salt and allowed to drain.

The small Chinese black chicken originated in Taihe, China, where it has been raised for more than 2,000 years. Because of their silky, furlike appearance, black chickens are cultivated as pets in some countries. These birds are usually processed Chinese style, known as Buddhist slaughter–with their head and feet left on–and are available year round in Asian markets. They are used by the Chinese to make a rich yellow chicken soup known for its curative powers and used as an energy-producing tonic for prenatal women. A black chicken is short with a small head, a short neck, and a black tongue.

Capons (NAMP P1200) are castrated young chickens prized for their tender white flesh. Caponization was known in ancient Greece and Rome; the procedure is done to produce a bird that is large and fat when fully grown. Capons are generally stuffed and roasted whole.

Poussin (NAMP P1400, P1401) are very small, immature chickens with delicate, moist meat. Poussin is French for “chick,” an unfledged bird too young to have developed feathers for flying. These individually portioned birds are most popular among French and French-trained chefs. They have tender, subtly flavored lean meat due to their fast growth and young age. They may be semi-boned (removing just the rib cage) to make them suited to stuffing.

Rock Cornish game hens (NAMP P1500) are miniature chickens. They were created in 1965 by chicken mogul Donald Tyson, who cross-bred White Rock and Cornish chickens to create a reasonably priced, single-serving whole chicken. Game hens are popular for banquet service.

Characteristics:Chickens have both white (breast) and dark (leg, thigh, back, and neck) meat; wings contain both light and dark meat. Chicken is inexpensive and readily available, fresh or frozen, and is relatively lean and quick cooking. Kosher chickens may have some residual feathers, which must be plucked off, and their skin tends to be tough. Black chickens have small amounts of fine and tender all-dark meat that is highly flavorful and rich in nutrients. A capon is full-breasted with fine-textured, flavorful, light-colored meat covered with a layer of white fat. Poussins are very soft textured, with fragile flesh and bones, and are about 1 month old. Rock Cornish game hens are quite meaty and relatively fatty, though tender and mild in flavor. Cornish hens are easy to split in half before cooking because the bones are relatively soft.

How to Choose:Select a chicken appropriate to your needs. All birds should be plump with unblemished skin. A young chicken, or broiler-fryer, weighs 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds and is about 13 weeks old. Almost any cooking method is suitable.
A roaster is a young chicken, 3 to 5 months old, which weighs 3 1/2 to 5 pounds. It is especially suited to roasting. A stewing chicken is a mature chicken, often a hen formerly used for egg production, which is more than 10 months old and weighs 2 1/2 to 8 pounds.
Commonly available chicken cuts include halves; breast quarters (the breast, wing, and back); drumsticks (the part of the leg below the thigh); drummettes (the meatiest top joint of the wing); and leg quarters (including the drumstick and thigh). Cut-up chickens are broiler-fryers that have been cut into eight parts. Also available are boneless, skinless breasts; thinly sliced cutlets; boneless thighs; Buffalo wings (the top two wing joints cut apart); back and necks (good for stock and soup); chicken tenders (the tubular, rich-tasting inner muscle under the breast); and organs such as chicken livers, gizzards, and heart. For Asian-style dishes, the legs may be sold “hacked” (cut through the bone into small sections).
Ground chicken may be either dark meat, light meat, or mixed. Giblets are the bird’s heart, liver, and gizzard and usually come in a package tucked inside the abdominal cavity of a packaged whole bird. The parson’s (or pope’s) nose is the fleshy part of a chicken or turkey’s tail.
Chicken oysters, the small, rounded, dense muscle that lies between the leg joint and the back, are highly prized for their flavorful and fine-textured meat. In French, their name is sot-l’y-laisse, meaning “fool leaves it there.”

Amount to Buy:Allow 1 pound bone-in chicken per person; 6 to 8 ounces (170-225 g) of boneless chicken per person. Black chicken can be found in Asian markets, usually frozen but occasionally fresh. One black chicken will make soup to serve eight. A capon weighs 6 to 9 pounds. Poussin are sold as whole birds with giblets or as a boneless or semi-boneless specialty item. Allow one poussin per person. Rock Cornish game hens are sold whole only, with or without a separate packet of giblets. Allow one hen per person.

Storage:Refrigerate whole birds 2 to 3 days; refrigerate parts 1 to 2 days.

Preparation:Whole Chicken:

  1. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity (use the neck, gizzard, and heart for stock; use the liver for stuffing). Rinse under cold water, pat dry, and season inside and out with salt, pepper, and any desired herbs.
  2. Place lemon halves and herb sprigs inside the chicken cavity, or stuff as desired. Tie the legs together with butcher’s string to keep its shape. For crispy skin, massage the chicken with softened butter or oil.
  3. Roast at 400°F for 15 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat to 350°F and cook for about 1 1/2 hours for a broiler fryer, 2 hours for a capon, 2 1/2 hours for a roaster, or until it reaches 170°F on a thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the thigh and the juices run clear.

Chicken Legs and Thighs:

  1. Trim off excess fat, using a sharp knife or scissors. If desired, marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Drain and pat dry, season, and roast, broil, pan-fry, braise, or grill till well cooked, generally about 25 minutes. You may also dust with flour or roll in breadcrumbs and bake.

Chicken Breasts:

  1. Marinate briefly if desired, at room temperature, for 1 hour, or refrigerated for up to 3 hours.
  2. Drain and pat dry and then cook in any of the following ways: pan-fry; dust with flour, roll in beaten egg then breadcrumbs, and then pan-fry; rub lightly with seasoned oil and grill or broil; steam over seasoned broth; roast at 400°F; or cut into strips and stir-fry. Cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 170°F, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

Chicken Innards:

Chicken livers may be sautéed with onions, shallots, wine, or other flavorful liquids and served whole or ground up for pâté. Do not add chicken livers to stock or soup, because it will make it cloudy.

Chicken hearts and gizzards need long, slow cooking by simmering, braising, or stewing till they are tender. They may be served as is, or chopped up and added to stuffing or rice.

Chicken necks may be simmered till tender, and then the mellow, fine-textured meat may be picked off and eaten as is, or added to soup.

Flavor Affinities:Balsamic vinegar, basil, black pepper, carrots, chipotle chiles, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, garlic, ginger, honey, lemons, mushrooms, mustard, olive oil, olives, onions, red wine, rice wine, rosemary, sage, savory, soy sauce, tarragon, thyme, tomatoes, white wine.

from Quirk Books: