Do you know the ideal ways to prepare different cuts of chicken? Each cut has unique traits and should be treated differently.
In this post, we’ll talk about the different cuts and the best uses for each.
No other edible animal is as versatile as the humble chicken. You can roast it, poach it, fry it, smoke it, stew it, grill it, dry it…
It works great with flavors from all around the world. And, it’s easier on your budget than the majority of other meats.
Unfortunately, unless you have offered your firstborn to the forces of darkness, there is very little chance that your bird will always be perfect if you cook it whole. If you seek perfection, it would better to chop it up into pieces.
The anatomy of a chicken boils down to these: breast meat that can go dry in a blink of an eye, wings that can burn to a crisp, thighs and drumsticks that can be too chewy, and giblets and the carcass most people just throw away. All of them have their favorite cooking technique that will allow them to shine.
However, if you are stuck on roasting the whole bird, and happen to be somewhat attached to your firstborn, our friends from ChefSteps have a solution. In this video, Grant Crilly shows you how to truss a chicken so everything cooks evenly and beautifully.
For all other applications, let’s chop that bird up. Different cuts of chicken will have different advantages,
Breast (White Meat)
Of all different chicken parts, this one is the most popular, but also most boring. Well, it doesn’t have to mean it can’t be delicious and juicy. You just need to learn a few new tricks.
Perfect for: Grilling, stir-frying, sous vide, poaching and steaming. Slow cooking and stewing are fine, but they are a waste of meat – it’s better to go with thighs. On the other hand, a somewhat delicate flavor of white meat is great mild and/or simple flavor pairings.
Cooking hack: If you want a crispy crust but you don’t want to overcook the breast, you can treat it like steak or burgers. Heston Blumenthal’s technique has changed the way many people cook meat at home and in restaurants.
Flavor pairing: Good old lemon, garlic, and thyme.
Extra tip: Leave the bone on. Yes, it will add a bit to the cooking time, but that will come with a huge flavor payoff. Oh, and bone-in chicken breasts are a lot cheaper than filets.
These guys are proof of how easy it is to start a food trend. It really doesn’t take a lot of work for you to have some awesome wings at home all the time.
Perfect for: Hot wings? Yes, this one is a bit too obvious…
Flavor pairing: Any type of hot or barbeque sauce will hit the spot.
Extra tip: Wings are ideal for making chicken demi-glace. There is a lot of collagen in them that will solidify into a jelly. To make the stock, you can use your favorite methods and recipes that you would use with a carcass. Then strain the stock and reduce it on medium heat.
If you were to ask most professional chefs, they would tell you this is their favorite of all poultry cuts. It can do anything white meat can, but better and in high heels.
Perfect for: Everything! Particularly for stews and braises. Want to make coq au vin? Use these guys.
Cooking hack: Salt brines and acidic marinades will tenderize meat enough for all quick cooking methods – ie grilling or stir-frying.
Flavor pairing: Anything bold! There is so much flavor in the meat, it will be able to handle everything you throw at it.
Extra tip: These guys are also perfect for pet treats. You don’t even have to do anything special to them – just slice them up and throw into a low oven or food dehydrator.
Or things with a convenient handle. They have a bit less meat on them, but the bone allows you to play a bit rougher.
Perfect for: Frying, grilling and slow cooking. Besides being a useful handle, that bone provides some structural support.
Cooking hack: For extra crispy skin and juicy meat, roast or grill these guys low and slow, and with as little extra fat as possible.
Flavor pairing: 11 herbs and spices? Did you not know that the recipe is not so secret anymore.
Extra tip: In the case of any slow cooking recipe that calls for thighs, add the drumsticks as well. The bone will give more flavor and a richer mouthfeel to the sauce.
It’s only fairly recently that we stopped eating these chicken parts. Though your pets might be very happy when you drop them in their bowl, you are missing out on great food experience.
Perfect for: Stews and pâtés. You might think that pâtés are too fancy to make at home, but it’s embarrassingly easy.
Cooking hack: Since organs are muscles, and the ones that do most of the work, they can turn tough in a second. Your Crockpot or a sous-vide circulator are your best friends here.
Flavor pairing: Pepper, and lots of it.
Extra tip: You might find that hearts and kidneys taste a little too metallic and bloody to you. Soaking them in some plain milk before cooking will take care of that. If you freeze them, it will mellow out that flavor as well.
If you are buying a whole bird, please don’t throw the carcass away. If you keep it, you will be able to make liquid gold at home.
Perfect for: Chicken stock. You can use both raw carcasses and ones leftover from roasted birds.
Cooking hack: Boil the carcass before cooking. This way, you can get rid of a lot of impurities and you will not have to skim them throughout the cooking.
Flavor pairing: All you need is the holy trinity – celery, onions, and carrots. For some extra umami, feel free to add a strip of kombu seaweed.
Extra tip: Choose if you are going to roast the carcass before cooking or not based on future applications. Unroasted/light stock is milder in flavor and is great for a risotto blanco, while the roasted/dark stock is meatier and perfect for stews and sauces.