Essential Chicken

Nailing down three things you should be able to do to chicken is tough, it’s almost the universal protein for culinary purposes. But, since this is aimed at poor bachelors, the assumption is that you’ll be buying your meat “bone in” because it’s the cheapest cut or an economy bag of boneless skinless thighs or breasts. With that in mind, this is more about the “mothership techniques” that you can use to build your repertoire of culinary skills. Just like there are “core sauces” there are basic cooking techniques that will always come up. And chicken is a great way to practice.

So that means roasting (already a technique mentioned in the beef section), pan frying, or making soup. You could also do some butchering to remove the bones for stir frying, but that’s way more work than most people are willing to do to save a few pennies. And since frying is a pain, we’ll skip that for now, but we will cover the “shake and bake” option.

So roasting. If you have a whole bird or quarters it’s the same process. Rub the outside with whatever herbs you like (sage and rosemary are good choices), place the meat in the pan, add a half cup of water with a chicken bullion cube dissolved. Put the lid on it and into the oven at 350 for two hours. You can add potatoes and carrots at the one hour mark to cook with the chicken. Once done, remove meat and vegetables, mix a tablespoon of cornstarch with milk and make a gravy from the pan drippings.

I can’t really explain how learning to roast meats will make you seem like a rockstar in the kitchen. It lets you take the toughest cuts of meat and turn them into mouth watering tender portions on the plate. Combined with a few simple side dishes (will be covered later) and the pan gravy, you’ll be able to serve a houseful of guests with just a few hours of prep.

Pan frying, this means you actually have to buy boneless cuts (or cut the bones out yourself, but I didn’t include a boning knife in the essentials because you can by an economy bag of boneless skinless thighs or breasts in the frozen foods section for pretty cheap). Thaw your chicken, in the microwave or on the counter doesn’t matter. Heat your skillet over medium, lightly salt your meat and rub a little cooking oil on each side. Once the skillet is hot, add a little oil and spread evenly, then add the meat. Cook 4 to 7 minutes per side or until done. If you have a meat thermometer you can use that, but really the best way to do this is to do it a bunch of times until you figure out your range. The chicken will be bland, so make a honey mustard sauce with equal parts honey and mustard, or the meat thinly and serve over salad with salad dressing (vinaigrettes are delicious).

Soup. Making soup is easy, if you bought your chicken bone in, bring a pot of water to boil, add salt, then add your meat with skin and bones attached. Boil for 15 minutes then reduce to simmer.  Add chicken bullion cubes (at least two), and chopped carrots, clove of garlic, half an onion (I totally recommend caramelizing them first in the skillet), whatever herbs you like (basil, sage, and rosemary are good here), and either small potatoes or cubed larger potatoes. Once the meat is “falling off the bone” cooked, remove the chicken from the pot, and wait for the chicken to cool. Once cool, remove the skin and bones, and add the meat back into the soup. Simmer until the carrots and onion are fork tender. Tip, use way more veggies than chicken. You can add noodles if you like.

There are enough recipe sites on the internet that I didn’t want this series to turn into a recipe book. More of a how to go about the actual cooking part of cooking, from stocking a pantry and spice rack to the techniques that you need to transform ingredients into food.

Comments are open and encouraged.

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