Have you ever reached into the cavity of a fresh chicken and found it frozen inside? Poultry can be chilled to 26 degrees and still be considered fresh. Water may freeze at 32 degrees, but poultry flesh doesn’t freeze solid until it reaches 25 degrees. The extra few degrees will lengthen the shelf life of the chicken.
While many cooks are in the habit of rinsing poultry before cooking, it really isn’t necessary. You always cook poultry to a temperature that kills any harmful bacteria. In fact, it could be more dangerous to rinse the poultry, as you can end up splashing contaminated water all over the sink and kitchen counter.
After preparing poultry, reduce the chance of bacteria contamination by washing the cutting board, prep utensils, and your hands with hot, soapy water. It’s a good idea to reserve one cutting board for raw meat and poultry and a second board for other ingredients.
Broiler-fryer chickens are the all-purpose chicken, but you usually see them labeled simply as whole chicken. They used to average 3 1/2 pounds, but these days, you’ll find them up to 5 pounds, which means you get more servings per chicken. Roaster chickens tip the scales at 5 to 7 pounds, and are usually cooked whole in the oven. Even if you are serving a small group, it is worth roasting one of the larger chickens so you have leftovers for other meals.
The standard supermarket chicken is grown according to USDA standards, which allow antibiotics in the feed. Hormones and growth stimulants have been outlawed in poultry production since the 1950s.
Free-range chickens have access to the outdoors, which does not mean they live outdoors. The standards for organic chickens vary from state to state. In general, these birds, which are often also free range, must be fed organically grown feed and raised without antibiotics. Many cooks believe the flavor of free-range or organic birds is superior to that of supermarket chickens.
If you need to roast a chicken in record time, then butterfly it and roast it at a high temperature. With its entire surface exposed to the oven heat, the skin will be crisp and golden brown.
Be sure that whatever vessel you use for roasting a chicken can also be used on the stove top, so you can deglaze the drippings and turn them into a pan sauce. Enameled cast-iron baking dishes are a good choice.
You’ve paid for the entire chicken, so don’t throw anything away. The neck, heart, kidneys, and fat can be turned into quick chicken stock that will make just enough for many recipes, including a sauce for serving with the chicken. Don’t use the liver, as it will make the stock bitter. If you have butterflied the chicken, chop up the backbone and add the pieces to the stock, too. The stock won’t be as rich as a long simmered one, but it’s just fine when combined with pan juices.
Herbs are a wonderful flavoring for roast chicken, but they can burn if simply rubbed onto the skin. Combine the herbs with softened butter, and carefully slip the herb butter under the chicken skin, spreading it evenly. Roast away without worrying about singed herbs.
“Work With What You Got!”
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