You know that eating at home is healthier. Meals eaten at home have fewer calories, less fat and saturated fat, and more iron and fiber, according to the USDA. But where should a guy start?
We have a simple answer: chicken. It’s one of the easiest foods to master. One five or six pound roasting chicken will yield several meals, or feed a family of four, with leftovers for lunch the next day. With the power to comfort, roast chicken will evoke contentment from those gathered around the dinner table.
At the market, make sure the package of poultry is cold and has no holes or tears. Put the package into a plastic bag — usually on rolls above the refrigeration case — to prevent it leaking onto other groceries. When you get home, keep it cold and use within two days to avoid certain bacteria growth.
To avoid cross-contamination of foods, wash your hands and anything that has come in contact with it: knives, cutting boards, countertops) with warm, soapy water. If you are marinating and grilling chicken and vegetables together, marinate and cook them separately. After using a plate or tray to hold the raw chicken before cooking, use a clean plate after cooking. Don’t put other foods on the cutting board after cutting chicken, and wash the knife. For instance, If you are slicing tomatoes and cutting chicken, do the tomatoes first or wash the board and knife.
Which to cook? Roast a whole chicken? Pan-fry or grill boneless breasts? Bake bone-in breasts? Sauté thighs? Stir-fry chicken and veggies? Let’s master one at a time.Grilled Boneless Breasts
They will cook on the grill or in a pan more evenly if you put the chicken between pieces of wax paper and lightly pound them with your fist or a mallet just until they are even in thickness. Season them with salt or a seasoning salt, and pepper; lightly coat them with olive oil. Grill over medium heat about 6 to 7 minutes on each side.
Try this lemon marinade: Pour 1/4 cup olive oil and 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice into a heavy-duty plastic bag; add the seasoned chicken breasts and seal the bag. Massage it to blend the ingredients and refrigerate two to six hours or overnight.
Baked Bone-in Breast Halves
For a simple roast, trim the excess fat with scissors and place the breasts, bone-sides-down, in a baking pan coated with cooking spray. Brush a light coat of olive oil on the chicken and sprinkle all over with a seasoned salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and bake the chicken until it’s done and an instant read thermometer inserted into the flesh (without touching bone) registers 165 degrees F.Sautéed Boneless Chicken Thighs
Season the chicken with salt, pepper and your choice of thyme, smoked paprika, rosemary, or garlic powder. Heat a thin coat of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat; cook about 4 minutes on each side or until no longer pink in the center and the juices run clear when you cut into it.
Simple Chicken Stir-Fry
The trick to stir-fries is cutting up the ingredients ahead of cooking and having everything beside the wok or skillet to orchestrate the quick cooking. You’ll need about two cups cut vegetables (sugar snap peas, broccoli, carrots, celery, bell pepper) per pound of boneless chicken breasts or thighs; cut it all into uniform pieces – strips or cubes. If you have time, marinate the chicken pieces in 2 to 3 teaspoons soy sauce. Heat the wok or skillet over medium-high heat; add 2 to 3 teaspoons canola oil and then add the chicken. Cook, stirring it constantly, until no longer pink. Transfer the chicken to a plate and add the vegetables to the wok; cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are just tender. Toss the vegetables with the chicken and season with salt and pepper.
Roast Whole Chicken
The ideal roast chicken is deep golden brown, tender and juicy. You’ll get the most flavor if you stuff the bird with aromatics such as citrus halves, herb sprigs, garlic, different seasoning mixes. Just like you change your clothes, you can switch up this basic recipe by substituting small oranges or tangerines or quartered onions for lemons, rosemary or sage for thyme, and a seasoning salt blend.
Ever see a bird come out of the oven shrunken – not plump as before you cooked it? The stuffing is what keeps the chicken (or turkey, goose, pheasant, etc.) puffed out and presentation worthy.
You don’t have to baste the chicken; it will self-baste as the chicken fat melts and drips down. After roasting, you are left with powerfully concentrated chicken juices to spoon over the servings — without extra fat to siphon off.
When your chicken is cooked and has rested long enough, swipe your slicing knife along a sharpening steel and cut along one side of the chicken breast bone and then on either side of the backbone to sever the chicken into two halves. Cut down the other side of the backbone and discard it. You can then cut each half into quarters between the breast/wing and leg/thigh; and if you want to, separate off the wings and legs.
Once you get the hang of it, preparing a chicken will only take about 15 minutes to get it into the oven — which makes everybody happy.
Basic Roast Chicken: The Recipe
Basic Roast Chicken
1 (5 to 6-pound) chicken
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
6 to 8 thyme sprigs
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 to 3 lemons, halved
Let the chicken stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut a piece of kitchen twine or string 18 inches long.
Remove the giblets from the chicken cavity; rinse the chicken inside and out under cold running water. Dry the chicken with paper towels and place it in the center of a heavy-duty roasting pan. Tuck the wings under the body and sprinkle the cavity and outside with salt and pepper. Stuff the thyme, garlic and lemon halves into the cavity. Use the kitchen twine to tie the legs together, enclosing the stuffing ingredients. (Wash your hands thoroughly.)
Place the roasting pan in the oven and roast until the skin is deep golden brown and crisp and the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 1 1/2 hours. If you have one, stick an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, without touching bone; it should read 180 degrees. Now stick it into the thigh, away from the bone; it should read 190 degrees.
Remove from the oven; use spatulas to transfer the chicken to a serving platter or cutting board with sides to hold in juices. Let it stand 10 to 15 minutes so the juices settle and do not rush out of the chicken. Pour the chicken juices out of the baking pan into a glass measuring cup; spoon off as much fat as you can. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
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Food writer Debby Maugans, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, is the author of Small Batch Baking and Small Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers, and is writing a new book, Farmer and Chef Asheville.