How To Cook Chicken Like a Pro 

This is an article from Hello Fresh about how to cook chicken.  I thought it had some good ideas, so am sharing it here. 

 

cooking chicken-guide-HelloFresh-spanish-one-pan-chorizo-chicken

Chicken is an extremely versatile and popular type of protein, and Americans consume about 92 pounds of it a year. But despite its popularity, people still struggle with basic cooking techniques. Whether you prefer boneless skinless breasts, bone-in skin-on parts, or even the whole bird, the challenge is the same. How do you cook it evenly, lock in flavor, and keep it juicy and moist? And if you’re a skin lover how do you get the skin perfectly crisp?

No two parts of the bird are the same, and I’m sure you’ve found yourself overwhelmed in the meat aisle at your grocery store wondering which part is best. But don’t panic! We’re breaking it down and dishing out all the tips and tricks to help you cook chicken like a pro.

Whole Chicken

cooking chicken-guide-HelloFresh-whole-chicken

Few dishes are as quintessentially comforting as a whole roasted chicken. The aroma alone screams Sunday supper! And while you only need a few simple ingredients like salt, pepper, and perhaps some fresh garlic and herbs, the trick to a perfectly roasted chicken is all in the technique. Additionally, buying and roasting a whole chicken is really affordable, and leftovers make a perfect second meal. Of course, you can default to a rotisserie chicken, but mastering the art of roasting a whole chicken is a lot easier than you may think.

Tip #1: Dry = Crispy

Start with a 4-5 pound broiling or frying chicken. Dry the chicken well (inside and out) with paper towels. For best results, open it from the package in the morning or even the night before and leave it on a rack in a roasting pan uncovered in the fridge.

Tip #2: Salt is essential

Season generously all over (inside and out) with salt and pepper. A good rule of thumb is about 1 Tablespoon salt for an average 4-5 pound bird, and I prefer a Kosher-style salt, like Diamond. Plus the salt acts as a brine and will keep the chicken very moist.

Tip #3: Season beyond salt

If you are seasoning it with more than salt and pepper, combine your spice mixture (I love the simplicity of freshly minced garlic and a mix of herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme) in a bowl, then rub all over. Again, don’t forget about the inside of the bird! Feel free to season in advance to boost flavor.

Tip#4: Don’t forget the cavity

To add some extra moisture and flavor, cut a lemon, onion, or even an apple in chunks and place in the cavity along with a sprig or two of herbs/bay leaves. As the chicken roasts, these aromatics will release moisture and flavor — just remember to remove before carving.

Tip #5: Truss and tuck

Truss (tie) the legs and tuck the wings. Not only does this make for a prettier presentation, but it also helps keep the breasts from drying out while cooking.

Tip #6To baste or not to baste?

There are some people who love to dot their chicken with butter or brush it with oil before cooking, and then baste while it’s roasting. However, if you like the skin crispy, I’d advise against this since brushing and basting tends to reduce the crispiness factor.  Every time you open the oven, the temperature drops, so it’s best to keep the chicken at an even temperature and let the oven do the work.

Tip #6: Slow and steady

I’m a fan of 350º F all the way unless you’re in a hurry. On average, you’ll want to cook your chicken about 15 -20 minutes per pound to keep the white meat moist and ensure the dark meat is cooked through.

Tip #7: Roasting pan, sheet pan, and more

A traditional roasting pan that you line with a rack is sufficient since it will keep the bird elevated and allow the bottom to crisp. However, a shallow sheet pan will also allow the sides to crisp up more. I’m also a fan of roasting the chicken in a large cast iron skillet, which retains heat very well.

Tip #8: Check for doneness

Don’t poke your chicken too often while it’s cooking. Instead, set your timer for the estimated time, then insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (avoiding the bone). If it registers 165º F, it’s good to go. If you don’t have a thermometer, insert a sharp knife into the thickest part of the thigh (also avoiding the bone), and if the juices run clear, the chicken is ready.

Tip #9: Be patient and let it rest

Don’t rush to carve that chicken right after you’ve taken it out of the oven. Not only is it too hot to handle, but letting it rest for about 15 minutes will allow the juices time to redistribute.

Chicken Breasts

cooking chicken-guide-HelloFresh-creamy-dill-chicken-breasts-green-beans-roasted-potatoes

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are perhaps one of the hardest working proteins around.  They’re high in protein, low in fat, and cook relatively quickly. But perhaps the best part about this cut of chicken is its versatility since chicken breasts can be marinated, grilled, pan seared, sautéed, roasted, sliced and diced for simple stir-fries, threaded onto kabobs, or even shallow fried as cutlets when stuffed or pounded.

Despite their popularity, chicken breasts can be challenging to cook — especially when there is a significant difference between the thick and thin part. And unfortunately, it’s easy for this cut to become tough and rubbery when overcooked. But with these basic tips, you’ll be well on your way to moist and delicious chicken breasts in no time.

Tip #1: Smaller is best

Look for smaller size breasts, if possible, 6-7 oz is best. If you end up with ones that are extra large (between 8-12 oz), cut them in half horizontally for more even cooking, pound them out for cutlets, or slice and dice ‘em into small chunks for stir-fries.

Tip #2: Pat dry

Always make sure you pat the chicken with paper towels and season well with salt and pepper. If you’ve marinated chicken, make sure the marinade is shaken off and chicken is dry. Most marinades have salt so you can skip salting if you’re starting with a marinated chicken breast.

Tip #3: Don’t overcrowd

Start with a wide frying/sauté pan that helps keep splattering to a minimum (nonstick is okay but not essential). If you crowd the pan, the breasts won’t brown as nicely and leave enough room for turning. Consider if you’re going to be adding other ingredients like veggies or pasta.

Tip #3: Choose cooking fats wisely

Heat about two teaspoons of oil (regular olive oil is fine, but extra-virgin is not the best choice here due to its low smoke point). I like adding a knob (tablespoon) of butter at the end, which adds a nice flavor and color. In most cases, medium-high heat is best and will create a good sear. However, if it’s getting dark too quickly, you’ll want to adjust your heat slightly.

Tip #4: Leave it alone

If you want a nice sear, try not to move the chicken for about 5-7 minutes once in the pan. If the chicken is sticking, it’s probably not ready and won’t be golden brown.  Try to avoid over-flipping. Turn it once and don’t touch again for an additional 5-7 minutes. Again, the goal is golden brown color on each side.

Tip #5: Be patient and let it rest

Let the chicken rest for a few minutes before slicing or serving to allow for carry-over cooking and time for juices to redistribute. You’ll want to look for an internal temperature of 165°F, but if you don’t have a thermometer, pay attention to the following: Has the chicken shrunk while cooking? Is it somewhat firm to the touch? If you don’t have a thermometer, make a small cut into the thickest part and check that the juices run clear and flesh is no longer pink.

Bone-In Chicken Parts/Boneless Chicken Thighs

cooking chicken-guide-HelloFresh-korean-style-chicken-thighs

Chicken legs, thighs, and wings are known as dark meat. These parts are naturally fattier than chicken breast, but also get fat and flavor from the skin. Some people prefer the dark meat because it tends to be more flavorful, but it will take a little longer to cook.

Bone-in, skin-on pieces (even breasts) are best for longer braises, deep-frying, and roasting. They are great marinated and grilled, and certainly less expensive than boneless.

Boneless chicken thighs have a lot of flavor and are just as versatile as the breast. They’re perfect for dicing in stir-fries or quick tacos and take to marinades very well. They can be pan seared and then transferred to the oven to finish cooking, roasted the entire way through, grilled, or lightly breaded and shallow fried. They work well in dishes like chicken chili’s, pot pies, and braises. Just like all poultry, you’ll want to get the internal temp to 165ºF.

Tip #1: Pat dry

Just like the whole chicken and breast, you want to pat the dark meat pieces dry with paper towel. This helps to avoid splatter and increase crisp.

Tip #2: Render the fat

Melting and clarifying animal fat (aka rendering) helps to tenderize the connective tissues. Roasting at high heat or slow braising are the best techniques for this. It’s best to sear in a hot pan first to render excess fat and add flavor. Next, transfer to an oven or add sauce/wine/veggies to the pan and let simmer while chicken cooks.

Eat and enjoy!

How To Cook Chicken Like a Pro 

9 Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking Chicken

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 8.22.13 AM

Plus, the secret to crispy skin and juicy meat.

While there are whole schools of thought on cooking steak grilling evangelist Meathead Goldwyn pushes the reverse sear method, for example—chicken, for whatever reason, hasn’t inspired the same fervor. No one gets as excited about it.

But according to the chefs we talked to, chicken is actually much harder to cook than steak. “Chicken is one of the most unforgiving types of meat,”   “Unlike beef, it doesn’t have any connected tissue or fat collagen, with the exception of the thigh.”

Because of chicken’s lower fat content, you have to nail the cooking times and technique exactly or else you’ll end up with dry, stringy meat. Furthermore, chicken needs to be fully cooked to 165 degrees due to salmonella concerns—your move, chicken sashimi unlike steak, which can be finished rare. This can make it harder to get a juicy piece of chicken.

So, here are some mistakes that Auriana and more meat pros avoid in the kitchen.

Buying previously frozen meat.

We’re going for juicy chicken, and juiciness comes from locking in water content. When chicken, or any meat, is previously frozen, this can dry it out. Look for the “fresh, never frozen” label on packaged chicken, but sometimes you can’t even trust that, says James Wilschke, the executive chef at Filifera in Hollywood.

“I’m sure there are grocery stores that are overstocked on product and if they don’t want it to spoil, they might freeze it to just extend the life of it,” he says. There are probably higher=end brands of poultry that you can trust, but he recommends checking with your butcher at the meat case just to be safe.

Buying chicken that is brine-injected or has added water.

That’s according to Sloan. We know, this seems like a paradox because we just said that water was important for juicy chicken, but brine-injected chicken can actually have compromised texture and flavor because the industrial brining helps mask deficiencies in both. It’s much better to purchase a higher quality of chicken if your wallet allows.

Stay away from chicken with added dyes. “I think it’s important to use chickens with non-GMO feed and that is pasture raised—free-range’ is meaningless,” says. “The diet is what makes the chicken taste a certain way and texture.”

Passing up bone-in chicken thighs. (Boneless breasts may be the hardest to get right.)

Boneless chicken breasts may be the least intimidating for cooks who don’t want to deal with bones, but they’re also the hardest to get right, according to some chefs.

“The breast is one of the most difficult [cuts] to cook,”  “[Thighs] will come out the moistest,” he says, “but cooking a boneless, skinless, butterflied breast cutlet will cook evenly and quickly.”

In a way, they both seem to be driving at the same conclusion. Even though cooking chicken breasts is more straightforward than cooking bone-in thighs—which take longer to cook and are asymmetrical, potentially complicating cooking—the latter is actually more forgiving, Sloan asserts. In other words, you can vary the cooking time by a minute or two on a bone-in thigh and still end up with a pretty juicy piece of meat because of the way the bone helps the meat retain moisture. “There’s fat in the bone that’s going to melt and keep the meat moist, and it’ll also provide a lot more flavor,” Wilschke says.

Chicken thighs are best for newbie cooks. “They are the least likely to dry out, and they are also the most flavorful cuts on their own,” he says.

For those who do prefer chicken breasts, butterflying them is the best way to cook them, according to Wilschke. The technique, which refers to splitting open a piece of meat horizontally and then opening it like a book, creates an even thickness for a breast that’s otherwise wedge-shaped, which makes for even cooking. Alternatively, you can use a meat hammer to even out the meat, Wilschke recommends.

“Trim the rib meat, gently pound the fattest part of the muscle with the side of the mallet with teeth or points. This will break down the tissue a bit. Then use the smooth side to even out the muscle.” (These directions are for skinless breasts specifically; if keeping the skin on, Kornick recommends cutting off the tenders from the breasts, and pan frying them separately.)

Roasting chicken whole and skin-on is probably the absolute best way to preserve flavor and moisture, Wilschke says—as long as you truss it well, so that the meat doesn’t dry out.

Taking the skin off.

Whatever cut you choose, keep the skin on if you want the juiciest possible result. “The skin is going to help it stay crispy, retain more fat and more moisture,” Wilschke says. “You can keep it on unless you’re really really trying to be healthy. Otherwise, the technique doesn’t really change.”

Not brining.

This one is super important (and a bit controversial). Brining is one thing that home cooks usually don’t do that chefs do quite often, according to Wilschke. “It’s basically soaking the meat in a solution of salt water and sometimes sugar, sometimes herbs,” he says. “It’s not only going to season the meat inside and out, it’s going to help the meat retain moisture when you cook it.”

Sloan agrees that brining is one of the most important steps you can take. “Chicken is extremely easy to overcook, which is one of the reasons we brine all of our chicken [at Crack Shack]. We do this for two reasons: To maintain moisture, and so it cooks evenly.”

Besides seasoning the meat to the bone—versus just a surface sprinkle of salt—brining also helps denature the proteins in the muscle. This makes it more tender. For all these reasons, you want to brine your chicken for at least two to three hours, Wilschke recommends. If you’re brining a whole chicken, he recommends soaking it overnight: Five to eight hours.

Forgetting to dry your meat in the fridge.

This step sounds kind of contradictory. We want juicy meat, right? So why do we dry it and take moisture out of it? Well, we want the inside to be juicy, but we want that lovely caramelized crust on the outside—and we can get both when we brine first, and then dry it.

“People want to get really crispy meat, and the general rule of cooking is moisture is the enemy of caramelization,” Wilschke says. “When you want to get meat crispy, you want the skin as dry as possible.”

He recommends air drying the meat out of the package in the fridge for up to four hours, and then patting it down with a clean paper towel to soak up any remaining moisture.

“You can even have it air dry in your refrigerator for a day or two if you want,” he says. “That’s a trick for my fried chicken. I’ll bread the chicken the night before, and the flour is going to soak up a lot of that moisture from the meat, and it allows for a lot crisper of a crust.”

Starting with cold meat.

Just like cooking your steak, you don’t want to start with an ice-cold piece of meat fresh out of the fridge, Wilschke says. This can lead to overcooking and uneven cooking.

“A lot of chefs will temper their meat,” he explains, letting it come to room temperature over an extended period of time. While Robins recommends taking it out 20 to 30 minutes before cooking, Wilschke advocates for longer.

“The meat can sit on the countertop for a couple of hours, up to four hours,” he says. “It won’t go bad, nothing is going to happen in that four hours. If you throw an ice-cold piece of chicken in a pan, the outside’s going to get dried out by the time the inside is cooked fully.”

Make sure to give it another pat dry with a paper towel before you drop it in the pan.

Not getting the pan hot enough.

Drizzle some canola or coconut oil in a pan and turn it up to super high heat, Wilschke advises. (Avoid butter here; if you want to add it, add it at the basting step mentioned in the next paragraph.) High temperature is important to get a nice sear and caramelization. Avoid using extra virgin olive oil, which has a lower smoking point and will start smoking by the time your pan gets hot enough, Wilschke says.

Next, lay your piece of chicken skin side down. After about eight to nine minutes on one side for your average bone-in thigh—obviously that estimate varies—flip it once. Then lower your heat to medium, Wilschke suggests. Robins agrees. For extra juiciness, add some fat—a pad of butter, more oil—when you flip your chicken and baste it, spooning the fat over the still cooking chicken. This will make for a moister final product.

Last but not least: Not letting the meat rest!

When it’s finished cooking, just like a good steak, chicken needs to rest. “Once you have hit 165 degrees, stop the heat and let it rest for few minutes before cutting, so the juices redistribute themselves back through the meat,” Robins says.

As chef Ryan Prentiss described with steak, this process allows for the collagen in the meat to thicken the juices, resulting in the moistest possible piece of meat.

 

9 Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking Chicken