ByAlbert_Lakey and Jennifer En
To say chicken is "fairly popular" in America would be the understatement of the year. Chicken is available everywhere: in virtually every restaurant, takeaway joint, supermarket, and food court. It works with everything, from pizzas to burritos to soup, and anything in between. We consume eight billion chickens a year, which equates to nearly 22 million chickens every. Single. Day. With so many of the tasty cluckers getting chewed and swallowed every passing moment, you'd be forgiven for thinking we're all experts at cooking the little beasts.
But you would be wrong. Here are a few mistakes you're probably making every time you cook and serve chicken.
Thawing it slowly
You're planning on having chicken for dinner, so you pull a pack out of the freezer. You put it on a plate on your kitchen counter and leave it there until you're ready to cook it, by which time it is nicely thawed. Unfortunately, while this is an easy and convenient way to get thawed meat without making much of an effort, it's also an easy and convenient way to get food poisoning. That's because the first part of the chicken to thaw will be the outside, which then remains at near-room temperature for several hours until the rest of the meat follows suit. Room temperature, or around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, is conveniently inside the temperature range most preferred by bacteria (40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit). So all the time it takes for the inside of your favorite chicken muscle to thaw, could be all the time salmonella (and other nasty bacteria) needs to multiply and leave you with a "bad taste in your mouth," AKA food poisoning.[post_ads_2]
A better way to thaw your meat is to place it inside a sealed Ziplock bag, and submerge it in cold water. By regularly replacing the water as it cools, you can bring the snowbird out of stasis much faster, and without giving bacteria hours and hours of their favorite sweater weather
Cooking straight from the fridge
Even if your chicken has never been frozen, that doesn't mean you're safe to throw it straight on the grill. If chicken is cooked immediately after being removed from the fridge, and especially if you try to cook it too fast, you might end up with a deliciously browned outside, but a stomach-crampingly undercooked interior. While you certainly don't want to leave the meat out on the counter for hours, leaving it there for 15 minutes to let it warm up (bacteria tends to start doubling after 20 minutes) will help ensure it cooks more evenly when it finally reaches the heat. If you also use a meat thermometer to confirm the inside reaches 165 degrees, and don't try to cook too fast, then your culinary efforts will fill the hole in your appetite, but not the one in your doctor's wallet
[post_ads]Raw poultry (that includes chicken) is a great place to find salmonella, but you wouldn't know it just to look at it. If you tried eating it, however, the presence of that particular bacteria would be hard to ignore. This is why it's so very important to take care when handling any pink bird products. Don't reuse the plates you put it on, wash your hands after touching it, and really, really don't wash Ol' Clucky in your sink. If you do, you'll most likely spray water droplets loaded with bacteria all over any surfaces and utensils near your sink, where it will sit and multiply. Unless you go to town on your kitchen with a bucket of bleach before doing anything else, those microscopic laxatives will probably find their way back onto your food, into your mouth, and into a medical diagnosis
Removing bones and skin before cooking
The chicken's on the grill, and everything's looking good for a tasty (not to mention safe) meal … or is it? When you heat up a piece of meat, moisture will escape, and if too much moisture escapes, the meat will be dry and gross. One way to keep the meat moist is to limit how long it is exposed to the heat — but cook it too quick, and the inside may not cook at all. What to do, then? One great way to keep your chicken hydrated is to cook it with the skin on and the bones in. Even if you have no intention of eating the skin, you should still cook it in it. Apart from getting all golden and tasty, the skin also protects the meat from excessive heat and holds in the moisture. The bones also absorb some heat (and provide useful handles to eat with), and while this will increase the cooking time somewhat, it increases the "mmmmmm" time a whole lot more
Cooking past 165 degrees
As previously mentioned, a meat thermometer is useful for ensuring the inside of your formerly bawking, soon-to-be meal, reaches the safe temperature of 165 degrees. This temperature will kill off any bacteria still trying to set up a homeowners' association on your plate, and will leave you safe from any unwanted bacterial bowel squatters. However, don't assume that you can just crank up the heat, send the thermometer's dial screeching past 165, and call it good—because that way lies a dry chicken-flavored anti-desert. You might as well eat a leather glove at that point. Instead, use your thermometer to get your meat right up to that magic number, and ensure it doesn't go too far beyond.
Although repeatedly poking your food with a thermometer might feel weird at first, embracing it will keep your meal safe and moist, and you'll get to call yourself Dr. Grillmaster, PHD.
Overcrowding the pan during cooking
Chicken needs room in the pan to breathe, to let steam escape. Avoid overcrowding the pieces since doing so means there is nowhere for the released steam to go, causing your chicken to become soggy instead of beautifully browned. If you're cooking a lot of chicken at once, you can either work in batches, adding more cooking fat as needed, or use two pans to speed up the process. Whatever you do, don't forget to give your chicken the space it requires to cook properly
Not allowing the chicken to rest before serving
No matter how hungry you and your guests are, don't serve your chicken immediately after it finishes cooking. As you would do for any other protein, allow the chicken to rest for at least 5 minutes after you remove it from the heat. Doing so allows the juices to re-incorporate back into the meat, rendering the chicken moist and tender instead of dry and lackluster.
Cooking differently sized chicken pieces together
Uniformity is one of the keys to even cooking. If you're cooking multiple chicken breasts together, make sure they're roughly the same size and thickness. Evenly sized pieces cook at the same rate and evenly throughout, producing more consistent results.
If the chicken pieces aren't the same thickness, you can place them between two sheets of plastic wrap and use a meat mallet or the bottom of a pan to pound them down until they're roughly equal
Not drying the chicken before cooking
Chicken that's at all wet before it's cooked will end up soggy on the outside. In order to get a nice flavorful sear on the exterior, be sure to dry it thoroughly using paper towels. The drier the skin, the easier it browns. Otherwise, you end up with steamy chicken that never quite achieves its fully golden crust potential
Cooking a whole chicken without seasoning properly
Underseasoning is a sin by any chef's standard. When you're cooking a whole chicken, it's especially important to season the bird thoroughly. Yes, rub a generous amount of salt and pepper on the outside, but don't forget to flavor the cavity as well. You can add more salt and pepper, along with other aromatics of your liking. Try using a few lemon slices, garlic, or ginger to start and go from there. Seasoning every part of your chicken ensures maximum flavor once you pull it out of the oven
Using only salt and pepper to flavor the chicken
While salt and pepper are go-to seasonings for most savory dishes, you don't need to stop there. Depending on what taste profile you're going for, experiment with different spice blends and aromatics to get the flavors you want. For Moroccan-inspired poultry, try including cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon. For rustic French provencal vibes, you might want to turn to herbes de Provence. Using chopped herbs is also a fragrant way to season. Have fun and don't be shy.
Turning the chicken in the pan too frequently
While no one wants to burn their food, it's also important not to turn the chicken too often in the pan. Doing so prevents it from developing a browned crust.
Even though you might feel antsy, let it be. If you're dying to flip it, try inserting a spatula underneath. If the chicken feels stuck to the bottom of the pan in the slightest, that's it's way of telling you that it's not ready to be turned.