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Preparing Chicken

Shopping for Chicken
The vast selection of chicken products -- from boneless, skinless chicken breasts to whole capons -- can make choosing the right ones for your favorite chicken recipes a challenge. Knowing the differences between types of chicken makes it easier to cook with chicken in your kitchen. The following tips provide some quick chicken education.

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Learning about the types of chicken available in the supermarket can make you a better chicken cook. Chickens are first classified by age and weight. Young chickens are tender and cook quickly; older chickens need slow cooking to make them tender. For the best results, it's important to know which type of chicken to buy.

Broiler-fryers are young chickens weighing from 11/2 to 31/2 pounds. Only 7 to 10 weeks old, they yield tender, mildly flavored meat and are best when broiled, fried, or roasted.

Roasters are 4- to 6-pound chickens that are 16 weeks old. As the name implies, they are perfect for roasting and rotisserie cooking.

Capons are young, castrated roosters that weigh from 5 to 7 pounds. These richly flavored birds have a higher fat content and yield more meat than roasters.

Stewing Hens are adult chickens from 1 to 11/2 years old. They weigh from 41/2 to 7 pounds and have tough, stringy meat. Stewing hens are excellent for stocks, soups, or stews, since moist-heat preparation tenderizes them and enhances their flavor.

Supermarkets fulfill a constant demand for chicken with a variety of chicken cuts and products. The key is knowing what you plan to use it for and then buying according to your needs. Here are some of the more popular choices:

Whole chickens of every type are available with the neck and giblets wrapped separately and stuffed inside. Look for livers and giblets packaged separately for use in stuffings, soups, and specialty dishes.

Cut-up chickens, usually broiler-fryers, are disjointed whole chickens consisting of two breast halves, two thighs, two wings, and two drumsticks. Small broiler-fryers are also available in halves and quarters.

Chicken pieces are available to suit many needs.

Chicken pieces, such as these drumstricks, are good for breading.
Chicken pieces, such as these
drumstricks, are good for breading.
  • Chicken legs are whole broiler-fryer legs with thighs and drumsticks attached.

  • Thighs; boneless, skinless thighs; and drumsticks are available packaged separately.

  • Chicken wings are a popular choice for appetizer recipes. Drumettes are disjointed wing sections.

  • Chicken breasts are popular because of their tender, meaty, sweet character. They are available whole or split into halves. Recipes that call for one whole breast require both breast halves.

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (also called cutlets or supremes) have become a favorite choice for today's busy cook because of their convenience and quick-cooking appeal.

  • Chicken tenders are strips of boneless, skinless breast meat.

  • Ground chicken is a more recent addition to the poultry case; its most popular use is as a low-fat replacement for ground beef or pork.

  • Processed chicken includes canned chunk chicken, chicken sausage, chicken franks, and traditional deli and luncheon meats.

Now that you know how to select chicken, it's time to learn about the various prep techniques. Let's start with how to stuff a chicken on the next page.

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  • Chicken Safety: Since raw chicken can harbor harmful bacteria, it's important to know how to properly handle chicken in the kitchen. Learn chicken safety tips in this article.
  • How to Cook Chicken: Get all the facts on cooking this popular poultry on our How to Cook Chicken page.
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