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Poultry - Poultry Essentials

DK Publishing logoDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks

Chicken drumsticks are more fatty than breasts, and have darker meat. They are ideal for roasting, barbecuing, and for use in slow-cooked stews and casseroles.

Poultry Essentials

As a result of intensive farming, poultry has become a popular, everyday meat that is relatively cheap to buy and is available year-round. Whether bought as a whole bird or as breasts, legs (drumsticks), or wings, poultry is very versatile, lending itself to a multitude of styles of cuisine and cooking techniques.


Intensively farmed poultry is cheaper than organic or free-range birds, but it doesn’t have the same flavor. Buy poultry from a quality source and make sure the meat is plump and the skin is not dry.

The cut

Buy the cut that is most appropriate for the recipe you are cooking, or that you prefer. Buying a whole bird is often cheaper than buying portions, with the added bonus that you can use the carcass to make stock after cooking. Breasts are the most expensive cuts; thighs and legs (drumsticks) are the cheaper options.

Look for plump flesh.

The meat should be plump and firm, the skin should have no dry patches, tears, or bruising.


Corn-fed chickens will have yellow skin, otherwise poultry generally should be a pale pink color with a whitish skin.

Check the bird’s aroma.

The bird should have a clean, fresh smell; a bad odor will indicate the bird is past its best and therefore not safe to eat.


Fresh poultry should be stored in the coldest part of the fridge and cooked and eaten within a couple of days of purchase. Put the meat in a sealed container where its juices can’t touch or drip on other food. If the bird has its giblets, remove them and store separately. Freeze poultry on the day of purchase, for up to three months. It should be defrosted slowly in the fridge. Cooked poultry should be cooled before storing in the fridge for up to two days.


Whole birds need a little preparation before roasting or braising. Some techniques, such as removing the wishbone, are optional, but do have benefits.

Remove the wishbone

Removing the wishbone is not essential, but doing so does make the bird easier to carve into neat slices, or to dissect into joints. Each poultry species has a slightly different shape, but for all the birds, the wishbone is in the same place—just below the neck.

Lift up the flap of skin at the neck end of the bird. Feel with your fingers the arched shape of the wishbone round the cavity.

With the tip of a sharp knife, pare the meat away from the wishbone (it is not attached to anything at the top).

After the top is freed, twist and bend the wishbone outward and downward. Then tuck the flap of skin back under the bird.

Stuff a whole bird

Unless a bird is going to be cooked long and slow (for example, pot roasted), it is not advisable to put stuffing in the cavity because undercooked juices will drip onto it and could cause food poisoning. However, there are two alternatives. Stuffing can be made into little balls and roasted beside the bird in the roasting pan, or cooked in a separate dish in the oven. The latter is advisable with meat-based stuffings. The other alternative is to push stuffing under the skin of the breast, where it protects the breast meat from drying out while allowing the skin to crisp and brown. It is not necessary to do this with duck and goose, which are already fatty.

Stuff a whole breast

When stuffing poultry breasts it is important to use a stuffing that is either precooked, or one that will not require so much cooking that the meat is overcooked by the time the stuffing is safe to eat. For this reason is it better to avoid using any kind of raw meat in poultry stuffing unless the breasts are to be slowly and thoroughly cooked. Stuffings add texture as well as flavor and can range from crunchy items, such as nuts, to soft items, such as cooked rice or pearl barley. Complementary flavors include spicy ingredients, such as chiles, vegetables including sweet pepper, and fruits like raisins.

Lay the palm of your hand on the top of the breast meat. Using a small, sharp knife, cut horizontally through the meat, beginning in the center of the thick end. Use a stroking movement to keep the slit in the center of the meat and slightly tilt the knife away from your hand to avoid cutting yourself.

Pack the stuffing firmly into the cavity. If the slit has not gone far enough in, open it out a little more with the knife. Secure the stuffing with toothpicks or skewers, making sure they won’t prevent the meat from touching the frying pan.


This flattening technique is normally used for small birds, such as Cornish game hen, squabs, quail, and small game birds. Flattening them allows the meat to cook evenly—avoiding burning sections and leaving thicker parts undercooked. It is commonly used for grilling and barbecuing and is not necessary for roasting. Spatchcocked birds can then be marinated or rubbed with spices before cooking.

Using a pair of poultry shears or strong, sharp kitchen scissors, cut the bird from end to end on either side of the backbone. Remove and discard the backbone.

Turn the bird over, open it out and flatten it by pressing down sharply on the breast with the palm of your hand (as shown) to make it as evenly flat as possible.

If there is a big difference in the thickness of the muscles on the bird, such as on the thighs, slash the plumpest parts of the meat to ensure even cooking.

Thread a metal skewer diagonally through the drumstick, thigh, lower breast, and wing, making sure that the end result is flat. Repeat with another skewer on the other side.

If necessary, press down again on the bird to make sure it is well flattened. The neatly spatchcocked bird is now ready for seasoning, marinating, and grilling.

Make poultry stock

Home-made stock gives genuine flavor to soups and sauces. Good-quality stock needs some meat as well as bones; if you don’t have enough at first, freeze and combine them with another batch. An old boiling fowl, cut into pieces, makes excellent stock. For pale stock there is no need to brown the bones first; but for a deeper-colored stock, brush the bones with oil and roast at 400°F (200°C) for 20–30 minutes until golden brown, but no darker.

Pack the bones into a large pan with a selection of vegetables (onion, celery, carrot, garlic). Add a bunch of fresh herbs (parsley, coriander, thyme, bay leaf). Do not add salt.

Pour over enough water to cover the chicken bones and the vegetables. Bring the liquid to the boil, cover, and immediately reduce to a gentle simmer.

Simmer on the stove top or cook in a preheated oven at 325°F (160°C) for 1–11/2 hours without letting it boil. If poultry stock is boiled, it will go cloudy.

Strain the cooked stock through a sieve into a clean bowl, cover, discarding the bones and vegetables. Allow to cool before putting it in a container in the fridge or freezer.

Poultry stock will keep for 2–3 days in the fridge. To freeze, pour into sealable storage container or thick freezerproof bags, making sure you expel the air before closing it.


There are two main reasons to marinate poultry. One is to tenderize the meat, and the other is to add flavor to it. Most poultry sold today is relatively young and tender, so the tenderizing properties of marinating are not as important as they once were. As far as flavoring is concerned, most poultry, especially chicken, has a delicate flavor that can be drowned in a heavy, strong marinade, so flavors should be used with caution if the poultry flavor is to be preserved. Marinated poultry should always be kept in the fridge, completely covered in the marinade, as well as plastic wrap or in a sealed container. The poultry pieces should be turned in the marinade several times to distribute the flavors.

Liquid marinades

Wine, vinegar, or citrus juice combined with oil and flavorings, such as onion, garlic, herbs, spices, or fruit jelly will make a marinade that can be brushed over poultry or in which the pieces can be immersed. Acids, such as lemon and vinegar can dry out the meat, so use sparingly.

Oil-based marinades

This is the quickest and most effective way of transferring spicy flavors to the meat. These marinades include ingredients, such as lemon, lime, or orange zest, dried spices, chiles, juniper berries, crushed herbs. Rub thick mixtures thoroughly into the bird’s skin.


Poultry is very versatile and can be cooked in a variety of ways, depending on the cut and the length of time you want to spend cooking. Whole birds take longer to cook than pieces, and can be roasted, or poached for a more delicate flavor. Pieces can be roasted, fried, grilled, barbecued, pot-roasted, or stewed.


All poultry can be roasted, from the smallest Cornish hen to the largest turkey. White meat needs plenty of oil or butter to prevent the meat drying out, but duck has enough fat to keep it moist. An initial high oven temperature is important to brown and caramelize the skin, but prolonged high heat will dry out the bird. Generally you should allow 20 minutes per 1lb (450g), plus 20 minutes over. Resting the cooked bird allows the heat from the outer parts to finish cooking it in the center.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Smear the breast with oil or butter and sprinkle with black pepper. Larger birds will exude their own fat so a little oil will suffice. Place some aromatic flavors (spices, lemon, thyme, tarragon) in the cavity to perfume the meat.

Place in a pan and roast in the center of the oven for 15 minutes to brown the breast. Turn the bird over and baste it. Roast for another 30 minutes so that the legs cook without drying up the breast. Turn the chicken over onto its back, baste again, then finish the cooking.

Test for doneness by piercing the thickest part of the thigh right down to the bone. If there is any sign of red, or even pink, in the juices, return the bird to the oven.

When it is done, remove the bird to a warm carving dish, and cover loosely with foil (too tightly and the crisp skin will go soggy). Rest in a warm place for 15–20 minutes.


Poaching is a gentle, slow way of cooking poultry, keeping it immersed in liquid so that it stays moist and very tender. Because it is not browned, the meat has a delicate, subtle flavor so it is worth buying a good-quality bird. Poaching is used in dishes where a particularly good stock is needed to make the accompanying sauce.

Choose a large pot that will comfortably accommodate the bird along with the vegetables and necessary liquid. Pour in enough boiling water to just cover it.

Add vegetables to taste (onions, garlic, carrots, celery), and a bunch of fresh herbs. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Skim off foam.

Once cooked, lift the bird out gently in case it falls apart. Drain off any stock from the cavity. Poached poultry must be served very soon after it has been removed from its stock.

If serving the poached chicken as pot-au-feu, as here, season it to taste and serve the broth and vegetables in deep bowls with the sliced meat.

Make paillards

Chicken and turkey are the most common birds that are flattened into thin slices. They are either coated in breadcrumbs then fried like a Wiener schnitzel, as shown here, or wrapped around a stuffing, breadcrumbed, and fried, as in chicken kiev. Either the breast or the leg meat may be used; leg is more succulent but is not such a neat shape as the breast. Both may be purchased boned and skinned.

Place the meat between two pieces of plastic wrap, and using a rolling pin or meat tenderizer, beat out the meat until it is an even depth—just under 1/4 inch (5mm) thick.

Season the meat to taste with spices, herbs, mustard, salt and pepper. In a skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of butter and enough oil to fill the skillet 1/4 inch (5mm) deep.

Beat one or two eggs in a shallow bowl until well combined, and then dip the seasoned paillards in the beaten egg. Shake off any excess.

Dip the egged paillards into the breadcrumbs on both sides, pressing the meat down so it is well covered.

Quickly fry the coated paillards in the hot oil for 2–3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper then serve.

Stew, Braise, and pot roast

All these methods involve browning the outside of the meat, adding liquid and vegetables, then cooking it slowly, either on the hob or in the oven. Generally speaking, stews have more liquid than braises, and pot roasts usually involve a whole bird rather than small joints or pieces of meat.

Heat some oil over a high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan until smoking. Brown the poultry all over. Be careful not to crowd the pan as the pieces will stew rather than brown.

After the meat is browned, add some shallots and brown these. Add garlic, mushrooms, and some chunks of carrots or celery next. Turn down the heat.

Add some water, wine, or stock and loosen any bits on the bottom of the pan into the liquid. Add some tomato purée, or herbs like tarragon, thyme, rosemary, sage for flavor.

Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pan and reduce to a simmer. Small joints and diced poultry need 50 minutes to1 hour. Do not overstew as the meat will be dry and stringy.


Poultry requires a little patience on the barbecue, and it can be a tricky meat to get right. Never cook high and fast, as the skin will appear charred and cooked but the insides will not be. Choice cuts for barbecuing are wings, legs, and thighs with the bone left in. Marinate the poultry pieces in a flavored oil and roast in the oven first for 20 minutes—this will ensure that the insides are properly and safely cooked. Slash the flesh, add the pieces to the barbecue and cook over a medium heat for 5–10 minutes. Move the pieces to the edges of the grill so they cook through on a gentler heat for 15–20 minutes, turning frequently.

Make gravy

The best gravy is that made in the roasting pan in which the bird has been cooked, because the residues will be dissolved into the gravy. Adding a little tomato paste, wine, herbs, spices, garlic or lemon zest will add another dimension to the flavors and a richness to the gravy. The thickness of the gravy is purely a matter of personal preference.

Skim off all the fat from the roasting pan with a large metal spoon, leaving behind the brown residue and roasting juices.

Place the roasting pan over a low heat, add 1 tbsp of all-purpose flour with a little of the fat and whisk it into the pan juices. Add stock or water and bring to the boil.

When the gravy has reached the desired consistency, strain it through a sieve into a hot container, discarding any solids, then serve it with the roast.

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