In his landmark tome Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith pointed out that the chicken was then treated as a kind of free resource for the farmer. It fed on grain that had been dropped and it produced eggs. Then, at some point, the chicken was considered a delicacy as a meat dish and the price of chickens became dear. It would not be until statisticians worked with agricultural biologists right after World War II that the chicken would be bred to get large and produce lots of edible flesh, and intense chicken farming would become a big business.
Chicken has a host of advantages. Grown on a large scale, chickens work as little meat factories. They grow very quickly to an edible size - it takes less than twelve weeks for a chick to reach broiler status. And their meat is tender and never objectionable. Furthermore, all cultures allow chicken as a food. This fowl is always good table fare.
Turkey is a new-world food. It shares many of the advantages of the chicken, though turkeys need more space and grow a little more slowly. Their meat is a little tougher and it is a little more flavorful.
Chicken is available whole in several sizes
The names conveniently suggest the best cooking methods. The broiler is best butterflied and cooked at 450F on a bed of onions, carrots, and celery for 45 minutes, then rested at 200F for 10-15 min. The fryer is ideally suited to frying. Here I am out of my league, but I am almost certain that the best stuff for frying chicken must be rendered bacon fat. Only fully saturated fats stand up well to the heat of frying without exceessive oxidation. Bacon fat is this, and bacon fat is full of lovely flavors that make chicken delicious. But I'm sure I am the only culinary writer on the planet advocating this method.
The stewing chicken is the chicken of soup and stock. And a good chicken soup or chicken stock is one of the culinary world's many underused commodities. It is trivially easy to show that the chicken stock one buys in cans is not up to the task: it has not sign of gel. A good stock must have some of the thickness of collagen - that is the luxury one finds in stocks. Get your own stewing chicken: make your own stock .
The capon, I understand, can be cooked by roasting or by any of these methods.
Today, it is quite common to be able to buy chicken meat as parts. This is a delightful state of affairs because white meat and dark meat are so different in qualities that it is almost as if they come from different animals. The breast is ideal cooked as cutlets of some sort. The wings are ideal cooked as appetizers. The thighs and drumsticks are perfect for stews and fricassees. So most of the time when one is cooking chicken meat it is convenient to be dealing with one part of the bird.
There are two or three preparations of the chicken breast that are so fast, so easy, so delicious, that they deserve mention here. One is chicken piccata. This requires chicken breasts, a bit of flour, several ripe lemons, butter, and capers, perhaps black olives and flat-leaved parsley as garnish. Artichoke hearts are a perfect side dish.
This simple preparation takes less than ten minutes total and is a culinary delight.
Of course, the classic recipe for chicken thighs is chicken cordon bleu in which the boned thigh is stuffed with ham and cheese, ( maybe even blanched asparagus - wouldn't that be lovely) and fried until crispy on the outside, tender inside.
This fricassee is a rogue version of chicken paprikash.
Chicken Quesadillas transform leftover chicken, tortillas, and cheese into a little bit of culinary heaven. Use leftover roasted chicken or use chicken that has been poached .
Given that turkey got such a late start in the culinary landscape, it is a testament to its unique qualities that it is prevalent today. Almost every form of meat product made from pork has been attempted with turkey - breakfast sausage, Italian sausage, and lunchmeat style ham. Bacon has not, nor will since turkey is not marbled.
The classic preparation of turkey is the Thanksgiving holiday roast turkey. But other preparations can be both more pleasing and more practical; just like the chicken, the turkey is made of parts that cook very differently. Again, the dark meats make for great fricassees. The light meats make for good cutlets. It is possible that it is the ground meat of the turkey that is the best. There are a number of excellent brands of turkey breakfast sausage, turkey Italian sausage, and turkey hot sausage nationally available in major metro areas. And for those avoiding red meats or pork, they are an excellent alternative. Butterball and Jennie-O both have great recipe sites.
Eat well, and prosper.
Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.