Cracking the Code: Your Guide to Cooking With Chicken

Chicken and Egg Problem

I like to think of chicken as a universal meat; it’s so commonly eaten all over the world, you could almost always find it in some form wherever you go. It’s tasty, easy to cook, adaptable, and will satiate you in hunger, and comfort you in sickness. The love and need for chicken is all-permeating, unifying and eternal.
Out of all the entire animal protein consumed in the world, 20% is chicken. Also, in some regions, almost all of the bird is put to use; right from head to feet. Japan, in its craze for serving all things raw, even has a raw chicken sashimi. Of course, with the several thousands of chicken dishes available in the world, you don’t need to eat your chicken raw, just yet.
Chickens are reared for either meat or eggs. India is the 3rd largest egg producer and 5th chicken meat producer in the world. There are four pure breeds that originate in India, including Aseel, Chittagong, Kadaknath and Busra. 
The domestic chicken is a descendant of the red junglefowl, a member of the pheasant family. Genetic studies show the grey junglefowl’s contribution to the chicken’s evolution. According to some theories, chickens were first domesticated for cockfighting, rather than for food. Chickens are said to be the closest living relative of the tyrannosaur.
Chickens are omnivores, and have been known to eat small mice and lizards, in addition to seeds and insects. 
The most basic of meats, chicken is probably held as a reference point to describe the taste of other species. Just by itself, chicken meat could probably be described as having ‘neutral umami’, even though “chicken reportedly has lower levels of glutamates that contribute to the “savory” aspect of taste”. This is also the reason why the meat is so versatile, and will readily take on the flavour of other ingredients. 

The Yolk’s on Us

Chicken is white meat, with a mix of light and dark meat. The breasts are lean and light, while the drumsticks, thighs and wings are made up of dark meat. The dark meat has a stronger flavour than the white bit, and also takes longer to cook. Nutritionally, a 3.5 ounce (about 100 grams) serving of roasted light meat has 173 calories, while a similar portion of dark meat will weigh in about 205 calories. The same serving will also give you a good 27 grams of lean protein. Chicken meat is low in sodium, and has commendable amounts of Vitamin B6, phosphorous, protein, niacin and selenium, and is a dieter’s dream for these very reasons.
Chicken really is like Bubba’s (Forrest Gump’s BFF) beloved shrimp—there are so many things you can do with it, BBQ, boiling, broiling, baking, sautéing cover just some of them. Each cut of chicken calls for individual cooking techniques, and is more suited to some dishes than other.
For example, most people believe the breasts are best used for kebabs, or tikkas as they are known in our part of the world—marinated chicken pieces skewered and cooked on a grill or in an oven, or even in a skillet. The real truth is, chicken breasts are tricky to cook with, and are best used to sautéing and baking. For grilling, chicken legs, especially thighs are your best bet. All the more so now, since boneless thighs are so easily available
So, what parts of a chicken are edible? Pretty much the whole bird, except for the feathers, eyes etc. of course. The stomach, green bits of the gizzard are usually removed, also the lungs and intestines. In some cultures, the gizzard, heart, liver etc. are discarded, but most countries use these up completely. In India too, not many regions use up the head and feet, but these are considered one of the tasty bits.

Chicken feet are a delicacy in some Asian and African countries. Nutritionally speaking, chicken feet are rich in collagen and help maintain healthy gums, nails etc. and are great for strengthening bones. Most eaters like them deep-fried, since there is no muscle, and the skin and tendons turn out to a crisp texture.  
The skin is another debatable topic. A general rule of thumb to go by is: if baking, roasting or grilling—basically cooking chicken in little or no liquid—you may want to use pieces with the skin on, as this will help retain moisture and flavour. For stewing, braising, poaching, using skinless pieces is fine.
Chicken Confidential

There are many ways to cook chicken; prep techniques depend on the cut of the chicken you’re using and what you plan to do with it. But first things first; don’t leave out frozen or raw chicken at room temperature for too long. If not cooking right away, refrigerate or freeze as appropriate. Even in a marinade, chicken needs to be kept cold; cling wrap your marinated chicken and let it sit in the fridge until it’s time to cook. Some recipes require marinated chicken to be brought to room temperature before cooking, so let it sit outside for 20 minutes. Frozen, raw chicken will easily keep for a month or two. Cooked frozen chicken should be consumed within 4-6 weeks to best enjoy the flavours. Raw chicken can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Cooked chicken usually keeps well for about 3 days in the fridge. 
Thaw frozen chicken by leaving it overnight in the refrigerator, or using the defrost setting on your microwave. You could also bag the chicken and let it sit in cold water for faster thawing.
Always prep and cook poultry and meats separately. Ensure your hands are thoroughly clean after you handle raw meats. Wipe down work surfaces, chopping boards, knives etc. with hot water and detergent to avoid all possibilities of contamination.
Cooking chicken is usually not a very tricky affair. A good reason for this could be that cuts of chicken are pretty standard throughout the globe, so cooking methods are similar and produce consistent results. For example, whether you’re making fried chicken American-style or in the Korean way—apart from the rest of the ingredients, the frying time for the chicken, depending on the cut and size, will be more or less similar. 
The prep and cooking time differs, according to the cut chosen and method employed. 

  • Roasting:
For roasting a whole chicken, look no further than Heston’s foolproof recipe that many cooks, both expert and amateur, swear by. Bijal Patel, cofounder Fishvish, is another fan of the technique. It starts with brining the chicken overnight, so yes, needs a little planning, but guarantees succulent, flavourful meat. Some cooks brine the chicken for a day, then marinate it overnight, before putting it in the oven.
Bijal also recommends resting the bird for a bit before serving. Usually the time required to prepare the gravy with the pan juices, about 15-20 minutes is enough. Also, tenting the bird with aluminium foil for a good part of the roasting period is a good tip to remember. Remove the foil during the last 20-25 minutes of cooking to get that golden, crisp skin on top.
  • Baking, broiling, poaching, grilling, stewing, braising, frying, stir-frying:

Each of these cooking methods don’t mandatorily require the chicken to be marinated, but marination definitely helps to push the flavour deeper inside the meat, especially if the cooking process is shorter. For a long-simmering stew or curry, you could get away with adding raw, prepped chicken. 
The longest you should marinate chicken is 10-12 hours. Any longer than that, the fibres start breaking down, leading to a loss of that much-desired texture that juicy, well-flavoured chicken has. 
Bijal also shares a little-known tip of deep-frying chicken with no seasoning, before cooking it in a curry. This seals in the juices and gives the chicken pieces crisp texture, and braising in a sauce with spices helps the flavours penetrate better.  
  • Chicken breasts:

It’s important to flatten chicken breasts to an even thickness for uniform cooking, when cooking them whole. You could do this by pounding the meat placed between cling wrap with a mallet or meat tenderizer. Since chicken breasts are all lean meat, they dry out quickly during cooking. Marinating them, for as little as 30 minutes prior to cooking will yield more desirable results. Also, it’s important not to overcook them; there’s nothing appealing about dried-out, chewy chicken breasts. 
If cooking in a pan, it’s important to keep the meat covered, so the moisture is retained. Here’s a good guide to doing it right

  • Legs and Thighs:

Thanks to the dark meat, chicken legs are full of flavour and retain their juiciness after grilling, baking, even poaching. If baking, the skin is best left on the legs.
Marinate, or simply season with salt and pepper right before cooking. The thighs also stand up well to braising. 
The cooking time for the chicken legs is longer than breasts, especially for bone-in pieces.
  • Giblets:
The heart, liver, kidneys, gizzard and neck are best braised, roasted, or added to a stock.

  • Wings:

Wings are usually served on the bone, although they can be deboned too. These are best marinated with spices, aromatics, oil, lime, lemon or vinegar, and fried or baked.
  • Minced chicken:

Instead of using ground-up breasts, it’s a good idea to seek a mix of minced breasts and boneless legs. The dark meat in the latter adds greater flavour and a bit of fat to otherwise lean breasts.
Minced chicken can be used directly or marinated briefly; usually an hour or so is good enough.

  • Curry-cut, Biryani cut chicken:
These are more popular in South Asia and the Middle Eastern regions. A whole chicken cut into curry-style pieces will have about 12-14 similar-sized pieces, that are great for stewing. Biryani-style will have larger sized pieces.
Just Wing It

The ubiquitous chicken has an infinite fan following globally, and appeals to palates young and old alike. Owing to its goes-with-anything versatility, there are scores of chicken dishes in the world for each course, even dessert


While it pairs with most ingredients, chicken has a few bosom friends that it gets along extraordinarily. These include rice, garlic, butter, lemon, and herbs like oregano, rosemary and coriander. Rice and chicken is a pairing as old as time itself; the popularity of pilaf, biryani, chicken curry and rice, Hainanese chicken rice, jerk chicken and rice is a strong testament to this. The other ingredients show up alone or in multiples, in the most loved chicken dishes. 
What to do with all that chicken? There’s so much, right from making sandwiches from simple poached chicken to an elegant coq au vin or chicken cordon bleu.  There’s soups and chowders, salads, pies and pot pies, BBQ and rotisserie chicken, doner and shawarma, burger patties and cutlets, chicken parmesan and risotto, pastas and pizzas, baked and roasted chicken. You could also look at tacos, burritos, lettuce wraps, and not to forget, the good old kathi ‘roll’. The Asian list of chicken dishes itself can be a long affair if compiled together—Korean Dakgangjeong (sweet crispy chicken), Chinese chicken fried rice, Thai pad kra pao gai (Thai basil and chicken), Malaysian kari ayam (chicken curry), Indonesian ayam bakar (charcoal-grilled spiced chicken) would be naming only a few. 

India has its own massive repertoire of chicken recipes. Apart from the regular tikka, biryani fare, each region makes its own style of chicken curry. Punjab may be well-known for butter chicken, but a true-blue Punjabi will also swear by a chicken masala or chicken curry, whether made in Northern homes or in any of those small dhabas that line the highways. West Bengal will sometimes overlook its ardent devotion to fish in favour of well-made murgir jhol, similarly made with mustard oil in the neighbouring state of Bihar. Maharashtra itself has at least 5 distinct kinds of chicken curry, aside from the stir-fried ‘chicken sukka’.  Down South, Mangalore’s spicy kori rotti is as famous as the fiery chicken Chettinadu from Tamil Nadu and peppery kozhi ularthiyathu from Kerala.
Fruity wines go well with chicken, since that caveat of white wine with white meat applies in general to chicken as well. But a sparkling rosé will also team up fine with dishes that have chicken and tomatoes. A light red can also safely the drink of choice with a coq au vin or a roast chicken with gravy, or even chicken with barbeque sauce.
And finally,
Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?
Because it could. 

About the Author
An incorrigible gastronome, Rupika V is on a perpetual quest to find the best food around, and will happily travel far to find it.

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