What’s your favourite type of chicken? Maybe it’s a golden roast with all the trimmings, or succulent grilled wings, hot off the barbecue? Or maybe you just can’t resist the flavour of crispy fried chicken, coated in spicy breadcrumbs?
We may not be able to help you with the answer, but we can show you some tips and tricks for cooking that chicken to perfection, whichever method you decide to use. Whether you want to know how to keep your meat succulent on the grill, or how to make the ultimate marinade, we’ve got you covered. Which could make it even harder to pick a favourite.
The nutritional value of chicken
As well as being delicious, chicken is an excellent source of protein, and is often recommended as a ‘lean protein’, which means that it is high in protein but relatively low in fat. Of course, this very much depends on how you cook it, or more importantly, what you cook it with. Chicken by itself may be a lean protein, but if you cook it in lots of oil or butter, the balance of fat to protein may start to tip in the wrong direction.
The fat and protein content differs widely depending from which part of the bird the meat is taken, with a skinless breast containing approximately 80% protein to 20% fat, while thigh meat is just 53% protein and 47% fat. Leaving the skin on also makes a big difference, adding almost 100 calories to the average breast, and levelling the protein to fat ratio to 50:50.
As well as providing a good source of protein, chicken is also rich in amino acids, which help to build healthy muscles, as well as several B-vitamins, which are vital for energy production, DNA synthesis, and brain health. It also contains 36% of the daily value of selenium, which plays an important role in regulating immune function, thyroid health, and fertility.
To make the most of the health benefits of chicken, you should use a healthy, low-fat method of cooking like baking or stir-frying. Bear in mind that most of our tips are for improving flavour and texture and may not be the healthiest way to enjoy chicken.
The key to roasting the perfect chicken is mostly down to cooking times and temperatures. For a handy, at-a-glance guide to exactly how hot and how long you need for that perfect roast, you need to consult our ultimate guide to cooking the perfect roast chicken.
If you need more inspiration, we love this garlic and herb butter roast chicken from Cafe Delights, which is cooked in garlic butter, rosemary, parsley and lemon for a succulent, juicy bird and a crispy skin that’s just bursting with flavour.
Grilled chicken is pure, smoky perfection if you get it right, but it can require a little more care and attention than other, more robust meats. Follow our grilled chicken tips for succulent meat every time.
Choose chicken on the bone
One of the trickiest things about grilling chicken is the timing. It needs to cook more slowly than most meats, or it can go from raw to charcoal in the blink of an eye. Use chicken with a bone in it, like legs or wings, and leave the skin on, as both of these things can insulate the meat, slowing down the cooking process and allowing you to monitor when it’s done.
Turn down the heat
Other meats may be perfectly happy subjected to flames from the hottest depths of hell, but chicken is delicate, and should be cooked over a medium-high flame. Hold your hand flat about five inches above the grill, and if you can keep it there for five seconds, it's about right. Find the cooler parts of the grill - usually around the edges - and move your chicken there if things get overheated.
Although boneless chicken breasts are difficult to cook on the grill, they’re not impossible, and these perfectly-grilled chicken breasts from Once Upon a Chef are proof that you really can do succulent and juicy on the grill.
Marinating chicken is a great way to keep that delicate meat juicy and full of flavour, and can be used before grilling, frying or stir-frying your chicken. Get the most out of your marinade by following our simple tips.
Make it acidic
A good marinade should be based around acidic ingredients like wine, vinegar, lemon juice, tomato juice, buttermilk or yoghurt. Acidic ingredients will begin to break down the proteins in the chicken, making it extra tender.
Get your timings right
When marinating your chicken, you need to leave it long enough for the flavours to sink right into the meat, but if you leave the acid to work on the chicken for too long it can start to ruin the texture. Marinating for five or six hours will strike the perfect balance between flavour and texture.
Clean up afterwards
Once the meat has marinated, make sure you remove most of the liquid from the surface of the chicken. The flavour should have diffused through the meat by now, and any excess liquid may burn during cooking or prevent the meat from cooking evenly.
Who doesn’t love fried chicken? Follow our tips for the crispiest, most flavourful coating, and the tenderest meat.
Leave it to soak
Remember what we told you about marinating for no more than six hours? That doesn’t apply here. The best fried chicken should be extra tender, which means marinating in buttermilk and spices for 24 to 48 hours.
Get the oil and temperature right
Fried chicken needs high temperatures, so make sure you choose an oil with a high smoke point, like peanut or canola oil. The ideal cooking temperature for a crispy coating and moist flesh is 335°F, so check and check again with your thermometer to make sure you have it just right.
Let it breathe
Avoid leaving your fried chicken to cool on a layer of paper towels, as this can cause the excess oil to seep back into the coating, leaving a soggy mess. Instead, leave them to cool on a wire rack with a baking sheet underneath to catch the drips.
However you decide to cook your chicken, it must reach an internal temperature of 165°F to be properly cooked, according to the USDA’S Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). This applies when cooking the whole chicken, or individual parts of it, and is recommended to ensure any harmful bacteria are killed, reducing the risk of food poisoning.
The cooking time for chicken varies depending on the method used and the size of the chicken. Because chickens come in different sizes, cooking times are usually given per kilogram, so you need to weigh the bird first in order to calculate how long it needs. For cooking in the oven, the general rule is to cook for 45 minutes per kilogram, then add an extra 20 minutes for the skin to crisp up.