Poultry & Gamebirds

For many, the perfect Roast Chicken seems like an elusive dream.

Crispy Roast chicken

Crispy Roast chicken (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though perfecting it is actually deceivingly simple, these are the two big concerns I repeatedly hear:

  • How do I avoid overcooking the breast?
  • How do I know when my chicken is cooked through?

To avoid overcooking the breast:

  1. Roast your chicken breast-side down for part of the cooking time
  2. Baste your chicken with fat throughout the cooking time
  3. And/or cover the breast with a piece of fat (i.e. chicken skin, bacon) or foil to protect the breast while it’s exposed

And how do you know it’s done? Well I think it’s critical to use a thermometer. I place the probe on this thermometer into the thigh (which takes the longest to cook) and the thermometer beeps to let me know when the chicken has reached 165*. If you don’t have a thermometer, the best way to assess doneness is to cut into the thigh area and watch the juices carefully – if they are clear, you’re good to go.

Overall, though, here’s my approach to cooking a great Roast Chicken. It requires a few extra steps, but they’re not difficult:

  1. Combine softened butter (or olive oil) with lots of garlic and herbs to create a paste-like mixture
  2. Using your fingers to open up a pocket in between the meat and the skin, place a good portion of the mixture underneath the skin and rub it into the meat
  3. Season the exterior and interior of the chicken generously with salt and pepper, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator overnight
  4. Unwrap the chicken and let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator for an hour
  5. Allow the chicken to fully come to room temperature and massage the exterior with olive oil or softened butter
  6. Preheat oven to 400*
  7. Place a rack inside a roasting pan (or use vegetables as a rack)
  8. Roast the chicken – breast-side down – on the rack for 20 minutes and then flip the chicken and baste with the pan drippings. Cook breast-side up for 15 minutes and then flip and baste again. Continue cooking the chicken – breast-side down – until the last 15 minutes when I flip it breast-side up, baste and allow the skin to crisp until my thermometer beeps to let me know that my chicken has reached 160* (if your skin is not crisping enough, change the oven setting to Broil for those last 15 minutes and watch the chicken carefully to ensure that it doesn’t burn)
  9. Keep the thermometer probe in the chicken and let the chicken rest with a piece of aluminum foil tented over it until it reaches 165*.

Baeckeoffe-style Chicken at Le Buerehiesel in Strasbourg

Now, beyond Roast Chicken, there is much to learn about poultry and game birds. Once you know how to handle it, you can transform it into any number of dishes, across any number of world cuisines. There are so many wonderful dishes you can prepare with this inexpensive, healthy and versatile ingredient.

To ensure you’re buying the right bird and using the right technique to cook it correctly, here are the major elements to consider:

MATURITY:

  • Young birds are more tender and can be cooked by dry heat methods (i.e.Roasting)
  • Older birds have more connective tissue and therefore need to be cooked with slow, moist heat (i.e. Braising)

SKIN COLOR:

  • Determined by diet, it does not affect the flavor or tenderness of the bird

FREE-RANGE:

  • Term to describe birds that are allowed to move around and eat freely in a natural      environment – many believe their flavor is superior

ORGANIC:

  • Designation for birds that are produced without using pesticides, fertilizers with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation

MEAT COLOR:

Suprême de pintade aux asperges from L’Arc en Ciel in Lyon

  • Chicken and turkey consists of both light meat and dark meat
  • Duck, goose and squab consist of only dark meat

Light Meat:

  • Consists of breast and wings
  • Contains less fat and connective tissue – which is why it cooks faster

Dark Meat:

  • Consists of drumsticks and thighs
  • Contains more fat and connective tissue – which is why it takes longer to cook
  • Its darkness is due to a protein called myoglobin, which stores oxygen for muscles to use during periods of great activity

INSPECTION & GRADING:

  • Printed on tags & packing cases, inspection is required by law and is represented by a round stamp
  • Grading, which is a voluntary process, is demonstrated with shield stamps & letter grades – A, B, C:
        • Grades are based on: shape, amount of flesh, amount of fat, pinfeathers, skin tears, cut, broken bones and blemishes/bruises
        • B & C grade poultry is used by canners and processors

HANDLING & STORAGE:

  • Receive and keep poultry in the refrigerator packed in ice – use it quickly – 4 days is the  absolute max for how long you might be able to keep chicken in the refrigerator
  • Freeze at 0* and thaw in the refrigerator in its original package
  • Never refreeze thawed chicken
  • Avoid cross-contamination by washing your hands and cutting surfaces before contact with other foods

POULTRY CLASSIFICATIONS:

  • KIND – species  (chicken, duck, etc…)
  • CLASS – subdivision depending on age or sex
  • STATE OF REFRIGERATION – chilled or frozen
  • STYLE – amount of cleaning/processing
    • Live
    • Dressed – killed, bled, plucked
    • Ready to cook – dressed and eviscerated with head and feet removed

Here is a quick summary of the different classes of poultry/game birds and their characteristics.

CHICKENS:

TYPE AGE WEIGHT COOKING METHOD
Poussin Young 1 lb or less Frying or Roasting
Cornish Hens Young – 5 wks or less ¾ – 2 lb Frying or Roasting
Broilers/Fryers Young – 6-12 wks 1.5 – 3.5 lb Frying or Roasting
Roaster Young, either sex – 3-5 months 3.5   – 5 lb Roasting
Capon Castrated male – less than 8 months 5-8 lb Roasting
Hen/Fowl Mature female – over 10 months 3.5–6 lb Braising
Cock/Rooster Mature male – over 10 months 4-6 lb Braising

TURKEYS:

TYPE AGE WEIGHT
Fryer-roaster Under 16 weeks 4-9   lbs.
Young turkey 5-7 months 8-22   lbs.
Yearling turkey Under 15 months 10-30   lbs.
Mature turkey Over 15 months 10-30   lbs.

DUCKS:

TYPE AGE WEIGHT
Broiler or fryer duckling Under 8 weeks 2-4   lbs.
Roaster duckling Under 16 weeks 4-6   lbs.
Mature duck Over 6 months 4-6    lbs.

*Most ducks in the US are White Pekin (includes Long Island duck)

*Magret is the boneless breast of the Moulard duck

GOOSE:

TYPE AGE WEIGHT
Young goose Under 6 months 6-10   lbs
Mature goose Over 6 months 10-16   lbs.

GUINEA:

TYPE AGE WEIGHT
Young guinea (domestic relative of pheasant) 3-6 months ¾   – 1 ½ lbs.
Mature guinea Up to 12 months 1-2   lbs.

PIGEON:

TYPE AGE WEIGHT
Squab 3-4 weeks Under   1 lb.
Pigeon Over 4 weeks 1-2   lbs.

GAME BIRDS:

TYPE WEIGHT
Quail (Caille) 4-5   oz.
Partridges 1   lb.
Pheasant 2-2.5   lbs.
Wild duck 1.5 – 3 lbs.
Ratites (Ostrich & Emu) A full-grown ostrich can weigh 300 to 400 pounds

COOKING POULTRY

ROASTING:

  • Low temperature (250*-325*) is best for large birds like turkeys (unless they’re stuffed)
  • High temperature (450*) works well for very small chickens or items like game birds which are served rare
  • To create a brown skin on chickens 4-5 lbs. or less, you can either sear it in a pan on the stove (and then transfer the chicken to the oven) or raise the oven temperature to 450* for the first fifteen minutes and then lower the temperature to 325*-350* for the remainder of the cooking time

COVERED PAN ROASTING:

  • This classic French preparation for white meats and poultry involves cooking the chicken with vegetables in a covered pan while regularly basting the bird in butter

GRILLING:

  • As the outside can burn before the inside is safely cooked through, the best strategy is to mark the poultry on the grill at lower temperatures than used for meat and then finish cooking your bird through in the oven

SAUTEING, PAN-FRYING AND DEEP FRYING:

  • As boned and dark meat requires longer cooking, Sauteing is best for boneless breasts
  • Pan-frying uses ¼ inch of fat or more – brown on moderate high heat, then lower temperature and cook for 30-45 min
  • Deep-frying is best for pieces from small chickens – use 325* – 350* oil

POACHING:

BRAISING:

  • Good for tenderizing tough meat and moisturizing tender meat – use the Braising Technique but note that your braising time for chicken will only be about 30-40 minutes

CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING RECIPES USING POULTRY & GAMEBIRDS:

2 Responses to Poultry & Gamebirds

  1. jen stein says:

    hi joyous..do you have a good turkey meatball recipe (italian style) as well as one with asian flavors? thanks – xo

  2. Great question! I’ll have to do a full post on this but, in the meantime…
    For an Italian meatball:
    Mix together 1 egg, 4 tbsp minced garlic and onion (that have been sweated in a bit of olive oil with salt and pepper and cooled), 2 tbsp chopped parsley, 2 tbsp grated parmigiano-reggiano and salt and pepper (to taste). Gently fold in approximately 1 lb. of ground turkey (for a moister meatball, use a mixture of white and dark meat). Then add in enough panko bread crumbs to get your mixture to a consistency that is still moist but allows you to use your hands to roll the meatballs – DO NOT OVERMIX. Wash your hands in cold water to help prevent sticking when rolling. And before cooking your whole batch, roll a mini meatball and cook it in a skillet so that you can taste and, if need be, adjust the seasonings (add more salt and pepper, add more garlic/onion, etc…). Once you’re satisfied with the taste, cook your meatballs in a skillet with olive oil over medium high heat until the exteriors are golden brown. Then place your probe thermometer into the largest meatball and place the pan into a 350 degree oven until your thermometer reaches 165 degrees.

    For an Asian twist:
    Mix together 1 egg, 1 tbsp minced garlic, 1 tbsp minced ginger, 2 tbsp chopped scallions, 1 tbsp chopped cilantro, 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil and pepper (to taste). Using the same technique as with the Italian version, fold in the turkey meat and panko, and proceed with tasting and cooking. Given the Asian flavoring, you might prefer to use canola or peanut oil which are more neutral tasting than olive oil to brown the meatballs.

    And, of course, you can use the same technique to make any kind of meatball!!

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