Cooking School Day 5: Chicken & Poultry
- Today’s Lesson: Chicken & Poultry
- The Goal: 20 lessons, 20 days to become a better cook at home
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Today we’re doing a deep-dive into poultry, primarily chicken. This lean, inexpensive meat is the most popular animal protein in America, beating out beef for the first time in 2012. Preparing chicken, whether it’s a whole bird or just a breast or two, is an important skill for any cook to know by heart. (By the way, we should stop here and acknowledge all the vegetarian and vegan cooks in our ranks. We will spend a couple days on meat, but after that it’s on to tofu, tempeh, and more veg-friendly cooking!)
Let’s get started: Have you ever cut up a chicken? Do you know where to start?
Day 5 Lesson: Chicken & Other Poultry
What we mean by poultry: The term “poultry” applies to any winged bird that we’re interested in serving for dinner. Chicken is the most common, but the term also covers birds like turkey, duck, quail, and Cornish game hen. These birds all have a similar anatomy and can be cooked in similar ways, though cooking time will vary based on the size of the bird.
Basic Poultry Anatomy: With chickens and other poultry, we’re primarily interested in the meat on the breasts, thighs, legs, and wings. The wings are on either side of the breast, attached at the shoulder of the chicken. The legs are attached to the thighs, which are on either side at the bottom of the chicken. Take a look at the picture below to understand where all these parts are located on the chicken — it can also help to picture how the chicken would look if it were standing upright on its legs.
White Meat vs. Dark Meat: White meat refers to the breast meat, while dark meat refers to the meat on the thighs, legs, and wings. White breast meat is generally leaner and cooks more quickly. Dark meat from the other parts of the bird are richer, fattier, and cook more slowly. Since the two kinds of meat cook a bit differently, it’s best not to swap one for the other in a recipe until you feel more seasoned in your cooking skills and understand how to adjust the recipe to match.
Boneless/Skinless vs. Bone-in/Skin-on: When buying poultry pieces, you’ll usually have the option of buying skin-on and bone-in, boneless and skinless, or any combination of those options. The skin is mostly fat, which renders during cooking and is helpful for keeping the meat moist and tender (particularly lean breast meat, which can easily dry out). Cooking the meat with the bone in also helps the meat cook more evenly. Both the skin and the bones can be removed before cooking, but more attention will need to be paid to preventing the meat from drying out or overcooking.
Prepping Poultry for Cooking: Poultry is generally ready for cooking straight from the package — another reason we love it! Make sure any frozen poultry is totally thawed before starting to cook. If you’re working with boneless and skinless pieces, you can also trim away any extra bits of fat (the bright white bits attached to the meat). Check your recipe to see if the meat needs to be cut into smaller pieces or otherwise prepped before cooking.
Cook all poultry to 165°F. This is the safe cooking temperature for all poultry, from chicken to duck. Check the temperature with an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. The thighs and wings should also wiggle loosely in their sockets, and any juices should run clear. A little red or pink right at the bone is usually ok, especially around the joints. Take a look at this post for more info: How To Check the Temperature of a Turkey and Other Poultry.
Every lesson has three homework options. Maybe you’ve already got one down, or you just have time for a quick study session. So pick one, and show us by tagging it with #kitchnschool on Instagram or Twitter.
Study: Watch through this video on carving roast chicken. Not only will this show you how to carve the cooked meat from the bones, but it’s also a good way to familiarize yourself with the different parts of the chicken: How To Carve a Roast Chicken.
Practice: Cook yourself a chicken breast for dinner tonight following our method: How To Cook Moist, Tender Chicken Breasts Every Time. Chicken breasts show up again and again in recipes, and knowing how to cook one well is going to make those recipes even better.
Improve: Roast a whole chicken! This isn’t that hard (here’s how to do it), but roasting a chicken is one of those things that makes you feel like a total cooking pro. Because you are a kitchen pro. Carving one also gives your knife skills a work-out and helps make the anatomy of the chicken more clear. (If you’ve already made your fair share of roasted chickens, read this post and try something new: A Million Ways to Roast a Chicken!)
The Kitchn Cookbook & Poultry
The Cooking School was inspired by our new book, The Kitchn Cookbook — and there’s plenty in the book to help your Cooking School experience.
Today’s tip: See page 190 for one of our favorite new recipes for chicken: Roasted Chicken Thighs and Squash Over Polenta.
5 Recipes to Practice Cooking Poultry
The Kitchn’s Cooking School
The Kitchn’s Cooking School is 20 days, 20 lessons to become a better cook at home. Every day we’ll tackle an essential cooking topic and explain what you should know. Each lesson has three different homework options, so you can choose the one that teaches you what you need. Whether you want to refresh your skills or start from scratch, come to school with us!