Some of us are known for our succulent tasty breasts, some for consistently flavoursome thighs and others maybe even for the quality of our mouth-watering crispy golden skin. You know what I’m talking about… Chicken! It’s the universal go-to food, whatever the occasion and no matter the season.
The old chook is rich in vitamins B12, B6, B3 as well as minerals: phosphorus, zinc, kalium and it makes for a satisfying meal to boot. Its relatively low cost and high nutrient value make chicken one of the most popular meats in the world.
But it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the infinite ways to prepare this versatile protein and end up stuck with a narrow repertoire of dishes that you go to time after time.
So to help you ‘free range’ into a new world of preparing this delicious bird, I’ve outlined 4 plucky tips to get the juices flowing …… Plus a full proof recipe to impress family and friends using your Club Saucy Hot Barossa Mustard!
Winner, winner, chicken dinner… every time.
- Love me tender
Everyone loves their chicken tender – and it’s easier to deliver than you might think. Just a few things to either do or not do at the various stages of meal preparation will put the odds in your favour.
Pre-cooking: Avoid freezing chicken whenever possible, as thawing draws moisture out and leaves the meat less tender. When storing it in the refrigerator wrap the meat tightly in cling wrap to avoid it drying out. And finally, make sure you get the bird to about room temperature before you cook. Don’t just throw it on the heat straight from the fridge.
Cooking: Simple to say… harder to do – make sure you don’t under or overcook your chook! Undercooked chicken is tough (and could be a potential health hazard) and overcooked meat is dry. You want to hit an internal temp of 75° Celsius but get there in a way that doesn’t turn the outside into charcoal. So if you’re grilling – not too hot and if roasting, place foil over the breast area at the start. Remove it for the last 30 minutes or so for the skin to brown and crisp. Using darker meat cuts (legs and thighs) in dishes with longer cooking times will also give a more tender result as they retain moisture better than the white meat.
Post-cooking: Resting cooked protein is always a good idea and chicken is no exception. With a whole roast, 10 minutes will do the trick (ideally standing the chicken bottom side up) this will allow the juices to redistribute to the potentially drier breast area before carving.
And always cut chicken meat across the grain, as slices with shorter fibres are more tender.
Did you know 10% of a chicken’s weight was breast meat in 1980. Now 21% is breast meat
- Get rubbed the right way
A good way to change up the menu and get the most out of your chicken is to use a rub or marinade. There are so many different varieties available and it’s an easy way to get a super tasty result. Rubs are typically granular mixtures of spices and seasoning that add flavour but don’t necessarily tenderise. They can be applied shortly before cooking while marinades often require a bit more time to work their magic. These are liquids are made up of herbs, spices, and an acid —usually a citrus, vinegar, or alcohol. They not only add flavour to your meat but do the job of tenderizing as well!
Rubs: To help meat caramelise during cooking, try a rub of aromatic ginger, chilli and salt with brown sugar. There is of course conjecture about when and if to salt meat before cooking but a beautiful rub on a bird packs an extra flavour punch in my opinion. I’d highly recommend Ben Shute’s Moonshine BBQ Chicken Rub as he knows how to coat any cut of chicken! His aromatic and herby BBQ rub of turmeric, smoked paprika, rosemary, sage, lemon zest, salt and white pepper will add amazing colour and flavour to your chook. Smoke it long and slow in the BBQ, or go ahead and roast in the oven.
Marinades: A quality marinade will keep the chicken moist and protect delicate bits from intense heat (or flames if you’re barbecuing) while adding that extra flavour kick. Try a marinade on the skinless breast for 30 mins, 2-3 hours work for chicken pieces and 6-8 hours is best for a whole chicken. Remember the maximum possible surface area has the best impact with a marinade. And feel free to make a few ‘slashes’ in the skin for the liquid to penetrate.
Any leftover marinade can be used to baste the meat while it’s on a grill, but no matter how tasty it is, don’t use leftover marinade as a sauce as it would have been contaminated by contact with raw meat. If you really want to re-use it, boil it for about 3 minutes.
Did you know 95% of commercial restaurants have chicken on the menu
- The magic number
No pre-preparation, magic marinade or even a good rest with the chook bum-up will make an iota of difference to your poultry perfection if you don’t nail the essential ‘getting-it-properly-cooked’ bit. Turns out there is a sure fire rule of thumb on a cooking temperature for chicken which helps out a whole bunch!
Remember One Temperature: 190°C
There’s no exact cooking time for every conceivable chicken recipe. Each one will call for various temps and times BUT in general 190°C is a good oven setting to cook chicken – roasted, baked, whole or chicken pieces. If you remember only one number, it’s 190°C.
An average chicken breast (220gms) takes approx. 30 mins in the oven. Or if you sear breasts in a hot pan for 3 or 4 minutes per side then they’ll just need 15 minutes more at the magic number. When a chicken breast is cooked through, you’ll likely see clear juices seeping out of it – this is your cue to remove and rest under foil.
When grilling on the BBQ, chicken can be unforgiving. It’s best to flatten breasts and marinade the pieces for best results. That way the average thickness of the meat is consistent and the marinade provides a little protection from the flames. Give each side a few minutes over direct, medium-high fire (you got it… at 190°C) for juicy brown chicken that’s cooked through. Joshua Bousel shares his secrets on his grilling column over at Serious Eats here.
Barbeques Galore has a solid guide for grilling and BBQing chicken here too.
Now, I know I made a song and dance about one number and the 190°C etc, etc… but if you’re feeling like a rebel, try this for the perfect roast:
Preheat oven to 230°C. Cook whole chook (covered in foil) for 15 minutes before reducing the temperature to 175°C. Then roast for 20 minutes per 500gms. Remove the foil for the last half hour and rest for the birds for 10mins before carving.
You can eat pink meat safely as long as it’s reached 75°C (measured using a food thermometer) The pink colour is due to haemoglobin in tissues which forms most often in young birds.
- Now, shred it!
Finally, if you’ve ended up with overcooked or dried chicken despite your best efforts (and it happens to the best of us) never fear… you can always fix it.
Grab two forks and start shredding! You can then use the smaller pieces of meat in any number of brilliant recipes that are just a bit more saucy to revive the parched poultry. Stirring it into a sauce means that it will come in contact with other juices or liquid, and you will have created something more than the sum of its parts.
There are plenty of options, whether it’s a mushroom wine sauce over pasta or a coconut-based curry. Add your chicken to a simple broth and before you know it, you’ve got a beautiful chicken soup. Serve it cold with a tasty Asian Chicken Salad or go for some Mexican with Chicken Enchiladas or Burritos. Chicken is a versatile meat and you can’t go wrong even when you’ve cooked your goose!