Chicken is the most popular poultry sold and eaten in the UK - and accounts for half of all meat sold in the UK. Brits eat 2.2 million chickens every day, it’s versatility, delicate taste and relatively low cost adding to the birds appeal. From Kievs to kormas, chicken is a key component of many iconic dishes, and what could beat a beautiful roast chicken, simply cooked with some butter, lemon and thyme? Not much.
When buying chicken, choose a free-range, organic bird that has been reared in natural surroundings if you can, as these birds have had considerably better lives than indoor-raised birds. We all know that free-range is more expensive, but is well worth the extra cost for the flavour, texture and quality of the meat, setting aside other ethical considerations. To save money, buy a whole chicken and joint it at home instead of buying pre-packed portions - it works out a lot cheaper, you can freeze what you don’t use, and you will be left with a carcass that will make the best chicken stock ever.
When selecting chicken, look for nice opaque skin that is free from bruising. The colour of the skin often indicates what the birds have been fed on, with corn-fed birds possessing a yellow-tinged flesh. When buying chicken without skin, the flesh should look plump and have a nice pink colour.
Always store chicken in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer (for up to 6 months) and remember to defrost thoroughly before cooking.
Almost every part of chicken can be used, and only a basic knowledge of butchery is needed to get the most out of it. When cooking chicken, always season it first - you can keep it simple with salt and pepper, or rub in butter or oil laced with garlic, herbs or spices. Use a meat thermometer; it’s not essential but will give a more consistent result. It is necessary to cook chicken through completely before eating. Don’t forget to allow the meat to come up to room temperature before cooking, and leave it to rest for at least 10-15 minutes after cooking - this allows the meat to relax, and the chicken will be juicier and more tender as a result.
Slow cooking is a great way to get the most out of chicken. The legs, thighs and whole bird are most commonly slow cooked cuts, with roasting, braising, poaching and confiting being popular methods. Poaching chicken provides very succulent meat and can be done in any flavoured liquid you chose, providing a great opportunity to add flavour.
You can cook chicken quickly by pan-frying or in the oven, with the breasts and livers proving the best quick-cook cuts. Overcooked chicken is unpleasantly dry and almost powdery in texture, so try not to over-do it.
Chicken breasts are conveniently sized, one-portion cuts. To add more flavour before pan-frying or roasting, marinate the chicken breasts overnight, or cut a pocket into the flesh, stuff it with herbs and butter and wrap with bacon before baking.
Chicken is one of the more versatile meats around, which perhaps explains its immense popularity. Traditionally, the bird is roasted and served with a variety of vegetables and roast potatoes. Chris Horridge's roast chicken recipe, however, is slightly more innovative, serving roast chicken with pine nuts and potato purée, while Geoffrey Smeddle's roast chicken calls to be served with a cider sauce.
The mild flavour of chicken is often well supported by stronger, piquant flavours, which may explain while Chicken tikka is now a staple dish. Simon Hulstone plays on this combination to create a glorious Curried chicken Kiev.
Chicken is wonderful in salads, as demonstrated by Tom Aikens' classic Coronation chicken salad and Nigel Mendham's chargrilled chicken and avocado salad. As mentioned before, chicken curry is a national favourite, or for something less spicy try a glorious chicken and mushroom pie.
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