Chicken has got to be one of our favourite meats to cook with. It’s cheap, versatile and is a real crowd-pleaser with the whole family. If you love cooking chicken, take a look at our guide for what type of chicken to buy, how to store, prepare and cook chicken and what tasty flavours you can use to create delicious chicken recipes.
Chicken is not only tasty, it’s full of nutrients that your family needs. As well as being a great source of protein, chicken is also rich in vitamin B6 and B3, which help your body’s metabolism by turning protein into energy. As well as providing a dose of potassium and amino acids, which aid your body’s growth and maintenance, chicken is also full of selenium, which produces antioxidants and has been linked to cancer protection.
Beware of the chicken skin! It may be very tasty but it can almost double the amount of fat in your chicken . Cook the chicken with the skin on but remove before eating to get all the flavours in your meat without all the fat – best of both worlds!
Types of chicken
Fresh or frozen chicken?
Fresh chicken lasts 2-3 days in the fridge so if you’re planning on using it immediately you should go for fresh chicken as it’s easier to prepare. Make sure the chicken feels supple and doesn’t smell funny to ensure it’s fresh. You can freeze fresh chicken buy washing it, patting dry, wrapping in tight parcels and putting in the freezer. Always freeze chicken on the day you bought it.
Frozen chicken is often cheaper so if you’re doing a big shop for the month a bag of frozen chicken will save you some cash. Make sure the chicken is completely frozen and has no liquid in the package – as this means it has defrosted slightly. To defrost a chicken, you need to allow it to defrost in the fridge and not at room temperature – make sure you place it on a plate to collect any of the juices.
Chicken juices can contaminate other foods so make sure, however you store your chicken, that no juices can escape the packaging and get onto other foods.
It is very important to check the sell-by date when buying chicken. Do not buy or eat chicken even slightly past the sell-by date.
Cuts of chicken
Whole chicken. The best way to cook a whole chicken is, of course, to roast it. You can buy it with or without the giblets (organs) inside. The giblets can be used in a stock or gravy for extra flavour but they aren’t for the squeamish! A little oil and lemon is all you need to bring out the flavours in your roast chicken – or you could try something a little different with one of our roast chicken recipes.
Whole chickens are cheaper than buying the parts separately so if you’re feeling brave you can buy a whole one and cut it down into joints. We have a step-by-step guide for how to joint chicken if you fancy giving it a go. If you don’t fancy this, ask your butcher to do it for you.
Chicken breasts. Breasts have the lowest fat content of all cuts of chicken and you can buy them with or without the skin. Chicken breasts are really versatile and can be stuffed, grilled, baked or fried and, when chopped, used in pasta dishes, salads, pies and many, many more recipes.
Chicken thighs. Chicken thighs are a cheaper alternative to chicken breasts and some people say they’re a lot tastier as the meat is a little darker and has a richer flavour. Chicken thighs can be bought boned or boneless and can be used in a variety of different meals – casseroles, traybakes and stuffed are just some of our ways with chicken thighs.
Chicken drumsticks. Similar to thighs in taste and texture, chicken drumsticks are good on the BBQ and are delicious baked with a tasty marinade. They’re wonderfully messy as well so the kids will love eating them!
Chicken wings. The cheapest cut of chicken, wings are quite fatty and have very little meat on them compared to other cuts but they’re delicious on the BBQ and make great party food snacks as you can eat them with your hands.
How to cook chicken
When preparing chicken you have to be a lot more careful than with other foods and meats. The bacteria on raw chicken can cause salmonella poisoning so it’s important not to let it touch any other raw food or cooking utensils before it is cooked. When preparing the chicken you need to use separate chopping boards and utensils to other foods – or make sure you wash them thoroughly before using them again. Surfaces and utensils should be washed with warm soapy water to rid them of raw chicken juices. Your hands are equally as important and must be washed regularly when handling chicken to ensure you don’t contaminate other surfaces.
When cooking chicken you need to make sure it is cooked all the way through before serving. If you see any pink areas, it needs to be cooked longer. Thigh and drumstick meat will look a little grey when cooked. To check a whole chicken is cooked, insert a skewer into one of the joints and if the juices run clear, it’s ready.
Ways to cook chicken
Baked chicken is the healthiest way to cook chicken. It allows the juice and flavours to develop so the meat will need less seasoning once done.
Frying chicken is less healthy but is great if you’re in a hurry. Use one calorie oil spray rather than oil or butter if you want to keep the calorie down.
Barbecuing chicken can be delicious but you have to be very careful about making sure it is cooked properly – check our guide for barbecuing chicken.
Poaching or steaming chicken are other, slightly old-fashioned, ways to cook chicken but are also great as a healthier alternative to frying.
Slow cooking. If you overcook chicken in the oven it can become really dry but that doesn’t mean you can’t slow cook it. If you have a slow cooker you can add it to a rich sauce a cook for up to 8 hours for a deliciously rich flavour. See our slow cooker recipes for some ideas.
Flavours that complement chicken
- Cajun spices
- Curry powder