5 Ways You Can Cook Perfect Chicken
Chicken is the most popular meat in America. The average American eats more than 100 pounds of chicken per year or one five ounce potion every day. In other words, Americans have chicken for lunch or dinner, just about every day.
At Springbone we love chicken and so do our customers. Our two most popular bowls are both chicken bowls and our most popular broths are our chicken broths. Odds are, you have some chicken in your fridge right now and are trying to decide what to do with it. Don't settle for boring chicken breast. I'm going to lay out your best options and let you pick the method that works best for you. Ultimately there is no single right way to cook chicken. It depends on the type of cut you have, your kitchen equipment, and how much time you want to spend cooking. But these 5 methods are all guaranteed to be amazing.
Method 1: Whole Roast Chicken
Nothing says "cooking," like a whole roast chicken. This method will give any cook a tremendous sense of accomplishment once complete. The visual delight of a whole roast bird coming out of the oven will excite your lucky friends and family.
While there are no shortage of recipes for roasting a whole chicken on the internet, most of them over complicate this very simple process. It really doesn't have to be complicated.
Here's what you need to know:
- Choose the right chicken: For one or two people, choose a smaller bird, around three pounds. Birds of four pounds and up are better for larger groups, or leftovers, but they also take longer to cook. I always check the sell by dates to make sure I am getting the freshest bird. Recently my supermarket has started offering some birds with chicken liver included. I also go for those. And I'll cover how to cook the liver in a later post (IT'S EASY AND SHOCKINGLY GOOD)
- To truss or not to truss: Unless you are aiming to impress a Michelin inspector, there's no need to bother with trussing (although here's a video tutorial if you want to go for it). You can make an incredible roast chicken with or without trussing.
- What kind of pan to use: I go for a large cast iron pan because it has walls that are high enough to avoid spilling juices and also is large enough that it can contain loads of vegetables underneath the chicken.
- Prep: Before cooking just about anything you want to let it come as close as possible to room temperature. The larger and thicker the meat, the longer you want to let it sit out. For a 3-4 pound whole chicken I take it out of its wrapping. Generously season it on all sides with oil or butter, salt, and pepper and let it sit for 30-45 minutes. During that time I'm also going to preheat the oven to 450 and start prepping any vegetables or sides that I'll be having with the chicken.
- Veggies & Sides: One of the best parts of roasting a whole chicken is that you can roast vegetables along with it on the base of the pan. They soak up all of the wonderful chicken juices and magically always cook perfectly at nearly the same time as the bird. First coast the bottom of your pan with oil. I use olive oil. Then line the pan with roughly chopped vegetables. I use cauliflower, cabbage, onion, carrots, turnips, celeriac, potatoes, although I'm sure just about any vegetable works. Mix it up and get a variety of veggies in the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cooking: Put your seasoned and warmed bird on top of the veggies in the pan, breast side up and put the whole thing in the oven. After 20 minutes take the pan out of the oven and with a spoon take some of the oil from the bottom of the pan and spoon it on top and all over the chicken. Put it back in the oven. After about 45 minutes of cooking time I take the pan out of the oven and check the internal temperature with a thermometer. Once you get a reading of 165 in the thickest/coolest part of the chicken (in the crease where breast meets the leg) you are done. If it's not yet ready put it back in the oven and continue to check on it. If you don't have a thermometer make a slit where the breast meets the leg and check to see if its done visually. Are the juices running clear? Does the leg meat still look raw? It's actually easy to tell by looking. Remember the breast will cook faster than the leg so don't bother checking there. Once the chicken is done set it aside for 5-10 minutes before cutting. This will help the juices settle around the bird. During that time flip the veggies in the bottom of the pan and cook for another 5-10 minutes at 450 to get them crisp on both sides.
- Cutting: It's easier to explain how to cut a chicken visually, so here's a video that demonstrates it perfectly. Thanks Jacques. Remember to save your leftover carcass and bones for the broth!
Method 2: Quick and Easy Thighs
By far the quickest and easiest way to prepare chicken is to get boneless breast or thighs. With these you can have dinner ready in under 10 minutes.
- Take them out of the fridge 10-15 minutes before you want to start cooking and optional, cut into smaller pieces, like cubes.
- Marinate or season with spices. For a marinade I love to use our hot sauce, it gives the chicken a nice sticky glaze, without any sugar, like most BBQ sauces and marinades. If you want to go for a dry rub definitely use salt and pepper and feel free to experiment with other spices. You can make your own spice blend and save it to use on future meals. I made one from black peppercorn, coriander seed, cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom seed, nutmeg and paprika (you would need a mortar and pestle to do that, or buy pre-ground spices, although they won't have as much flavor). Supermarkets also sell plenty of spice blends that would work well for this. Make sure to check ingredients though.
- Add some oil to your pan--chicken fat, olive oil, ghee, all work (just don't use vegetable oil or canola oil). Place pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is glistening, add your seasoned chicken and cook, stirring occasionally so that all sides cook evenly. Chicken should be done after just a few minutes. You can use a thermometer or cut into a piece to tell when it's done.
- Serve with rice and roasted vegetables. Add some hot sauce over the top and you've got a homemade Grandma's Chicken & Rice.
Method 3: Chicken Soup
Some nights you'd rather just drink your dinner. Chicken Soup is the perfect option, and very easy to make. You will need:
- 1 whole chicken,
- 1 quart of chicken broth
- 5 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 yellow onion (others work too), chopped
- 4 carrots (depending on size) chopped
- 1 bunch of fresh herbs, parsley or cilantro depending on flavor preference
- 1 head of garlic, sliced in half
- 1 lemon for garnish
- salt and pepper, to taste
Add all ingredients, except lemon, two stalks of celery and two carrots, to a large pot. Add 2.5 quarts (10 cups) of cold water. Bring to a boil then down to a simmer. Cook for 25 minutes until chicken is done (use thermometer or cut into chicken to tell if done). Remove chicken and set aside. Carve meat off chicken as shown in this this Jacques Pepin video, also linked above. Put carcass and bones back in the pot and continue to simmer for another 45 minutes (if you have time you can go longer for a richer broth). Meanwhile shred the removed chicken. Skim any fat and impurities off top of broth. Once done, strain the broth. Add all liquid and any usable chicken meat back into pot. Add the remaining uncooked chopped celery and carrot. Simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with fresh lemon juice, chopped parsley or cilantro, and fresh ground black pepper.
Method 4: Grilling a Whole Chicken
If you don't have a barbecue or grill you can skip this method. The key here is to spatchcock the chicken. This is cutting out the backbone so that you can open it up and lay it flat, allowing it to cook evenly over the direct heat of a grill. This is critical when the heat comes directly from below and not from all around, like in an oven.
Season the chicken with oil, salt, and pepper and let it sit out for 30-45 minutes as in method 1. Meanwhile fire up your coals (or turn on the gas). You want to start by grilling the chicken skin side up, over lower heat. If you have a coal grill put all the coals on one half of the grill and place the chicken on the side without the coals. After about 25 minutes flip the chicken so it is skin side down and place over high heat, or directly over the coals.
Measure the temperature of the bird and remove one leg is ready 165 degrees.
Bonus: grilled chicken is best when marinated. You can easily make a marinade at home. My favorites are homemade chimichurri (make enough to save some for serving once it's done) using olive oil; red wine vinegar; chopped veggies like onion, shallot, and garlic; herbs like parsley, cilantro and oregano; and spices like salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Our hot sauce also makes an incredible marinade that is a little less labor intensive. Just add salt. Once you have your marinade, cover the chicken with the marinade for at least an hour, or up to a few days. This can be done in a ziplock bag, tupperware, or in a large bowl with saran wrap.
Method 5: Arroz con Pollo
This is the perfect compromise between the quick and easy boneless thighs and the more juicy but time-intensive whole roast chicken. It's also all made in one pot and you don't even have to attend to it for most of the cooking time. Super flavorful and fun. Probably my most frequent go-to chicken meal!
- Cook 1 red pepper, 1 green pepper, 1 onion, 2 cloves garlic and 1 carrot, all chopped, in a cast iron pan with olive oil until golden and soft
- Add bone-in chicken thighs and sear direct on pan over medium-high heat
- Add 1 cup canned tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes
- Add 1 cup paella or risotto rice to pan and stir to coat
- Add 2 cups chicken or beef broth. Bring to a boil then down to a simmer.
- (Optional: add a few strands of saffron)
- Let it simmer gently uncovered, until nearly all broth is absorbed.
- Cover with a dish towel and turn off flame. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
With these 5 methods you're set to make perfect chicken anytime anywhere. Summer or winter. In a bind for time or if you want to make a decadent feast. Once you have chicken mastered you will never fail to put a great meal on the table. Enjoy!