Chicken—a versatile ingredient that is part of every savvy homemaker’s grocery list. It’s affordable, easy to cook, and can be served in a myriad of ways. You can fry it, stew it, grill it, or roast it to perfection. You can use a family recipe that’s been handed down from generation to generation, or try an exotic dish from a faraway land. In fact, every country, every form of cuisine, has an arsenal of chicken recipes. You’ll never run out of ways to cook it!
But whatever recipe or cooking method you choose, the secret lies in choosing a fresh chicken. Since most women don’t raise and pluck hens in the backyard, you need to sharpen your shopping skills. Here are some tips.
1. Check the chicken’s color.
Fresh chicken is pink. Veer away from any bird that has grayish meat or transparent looking skin, which is a sign that it’s been sitting around in the supermarket freezer for a while. Be sure to peek in the crevices, like under the wings and thighs. It’s also important to to examine the chicken skin for any tears or signs of rough handling. ‘Damaged’ skin and meat tend to deterioriate faster.
2. Check the chicken’s packaging.
Many supermarkets sell fresh chicken pieces in plastic-wrapped trays. The plastic should be clear, and securely wrapped around the base. Leave any containers that have loose plastic. This means that the package has been handled by a lot of people (an indication of age). Plus, microbes can seep into the gaps in the plastic.
3. Avoid ‘bloody’ chicken.
Packaged chicken that has a lot of blood is another sign that it’s been roughly handled by several people, which increases risk of bacterial contamination. Or, it can mean that the meat has been frozen and thawed multiple times.
4. Press against the chicken.
Fresh chicken has skin that ‘springs back’ when you press against it. If the skin sinks, or feels hard, the meat has been sitting around for a long time. You also need to check if the chicken feels ‘bloated,’ a sure sign that it’s been injected with water to fool customers into thinking that it’s heavier than it really is.
5. Smell the chicken.
Fresh chicken should have no smell. You’ll know rotting chicken when you smell it, but since your nose can be desensitized from inhaling the odors of spices (or other things sold in the supermarket or farmer’s market) buy your chicken first.
6. Keep your chicken fresh.
Once you get home from shopping, immediately place chicken in the freezer. Don’t let it sit in the kitchen sink. If you bought several chickens or chicken pieces, divide these into the portions you will use for cooking. Store in plastic freezer containers and label with the date of purchase and how you plan to cook it (ex: chicken drumsticks, frying, Oct 9). This spares you a lot of headache later on. Once frozen, all chicken pieces look alike!
7. Avoid food spoilage.
Defrost chicken in the refrigerator, not the kitchen counter. Since this takes longer, do this the night before you plan to cook it. You can also microwave it.
Cooked chicken keeps longer, but it’s still best to buy just the right amount for your family so you avoid clogging your refrigerator with unwanted leftovers. While portions can vary according to the appetite of your family and even the recipe (obviously, a thick chicken stew is more filling than a light sauté) in general a three-pound roast chicken can feed three to five people, and a pound of chicken drumsticks can serve two people. Two whole chicken breasts can make about 2 cups of chopped, cook meat.