Back to basics with poultry
Here, we offer some top tips for buying, handling and cooking poultry
The humble chicken is one of our favourite meats here in Ireland and for most people forms the basis of many lunches, dinners and snacks. And what’s not to love? Chicken is versatile and a great source of protein and, if you use the entire bird, can be an inexpensive choice for meals. Replacing chicken with other poultry such as duck, turkey, guinea fowl or quail will offer distinctive flavours and new recipe ideas.
The basics when cooking with poultry all start with food safety measures. Firstly, keep it cold – storing poultry at room temperature encourages the growth of bacteria. Store raw poultry in the coldest part of your refrigerator and use it within two days. Cooked chicken should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours: place in an air-tight container and keep it in the fridge for up to two days.
Ensure that frozen poultry is thawed slowly – this can take 24 hours or more for a whole chicken to thaw in the refrigerator, or about 3–10 hours for cut-up chicken pieces. To speed up the process slightly, you can run cold water over it or alternatively defrost it in the microwave. However, never thaw frozen chicken by leaving it out at room temperature.
Before preparing, rinse the bird with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Be very careful not to cross-contaminate raw and cooked meat: clean all surfaces, utensils, cutting boards, knives and hands with hot, soapy water after handling raw poultry and keep a separate cutting board specifically for working with raw meat.
Not only do marinades add great flavour to poultry, they also help to ensure that your bird stays moist and succulent when cooking. Always marinate your meat in the refrigerator and be careful not to baste cooked chicken with marinade that has touched raw chicken: instead, make extra and set aside for basting, or boil for a few minutes to kill any bacteria. Skinless, boneless chicken pieces can be marinated in 30 minutes, while a whole chicken needs 6–8 hours.
Poultry are domestic fowls – including chickens, quails, turkeys, geese and ducks – raised for the production of meat or eggs. A recent addition to this list regarding definition is guinea fowl.
Gary’s Top Tips
For Gary O’Hanlon, head chef at Viewmount House, it’s all about connecting food to a place in time. Here he shares his foodie memories associated with poultry and offers some tips for buying and handling the birds.
“With duck, it was my grandfather Duncan killing one and showing me how to pluck it. My dad is a very plain eater but duck is one thing he loves… cooked to within an inch of its life though sadly. My first proper ‘Dear God’ taste of quail came in a restaurant in Glassan when I ate a beautiful quail dish with red cabbage from chef Michael Brooks of The Village Restaurant. It was perfect.
Growing up though, it was a roast chicken dinner with ‘chicken gravy’ from my Auntie Katie B. Katie B cooked the most incredible chicken dinner imaginable. It was out of this world. I used to beg her to make it. Mammy’s was the same… both of them always finished their roast chook dinners with a cracking gravy. For me, that’s what made it.
As the years went by and I grew as a chef I decided to play around with some ingredients and I found that lemon and pepper worked incredibly well together with chicken so I’ve given you my take on it in my recipe feature
When it comes to poultry it’s the various uses that attract me to it – from sandwiches and soups to roast dinners, braises and confits. In my view, it’s always worth trying to go free-range: we’ve all seen or heard of the horrid conditions battery chickens live in so it’s worth the extra few euro. Buy from a reputable store and stick with it. And buy from a busy store. I rarely shop in a store that doesn’t have high customer turnover. This way you’re pretty much guaranteed stock isn’t sitting too long. Look for plump birds, free of any disfigurements (bone breaks), cuts, skin tears and bruises. Make sure it has been properly refrigerated and covered before buying it.
If you decide to buy frozen, make sure you buy a bird that has no ice crystals forming on the packaging, that the packaging isn’t torn and it’s so cold it’s difficult to touch. Allow 1lb per person (450g) when buying poultry. This gauge will generally see you produce an adequate portion for each of your guests. Double bag your poultry when leaving a store and keep away from everything else. This will avoid cross contamination. Do not wash poultry at the kitchen sink. All you’re going to do is splash germs all over the sink and counter top.
If you don’t plan on cooking your poultry within two days of purchase then freeze it. Always store in a fridge between 0ºC–4ºC. Oh, and BUY IRISH!”
For the birds
- Chicken One of the most common and widespread domestic animals, there are more chickens in the world than any other species of bird. Organic chicken is the most expensive, as farmers must adhere to strict standards of production, including allowing the bird to roam outside during the day and being fed a mainly organic diet. Free-range chicken should have had some access to the open air and are cheaper than organic. Factory-reared chicken, sometimes called broilers, are the most commonly available kind. Buying local is always an advantage, although the most prized chook internationally is the French Poulet de Bresse. A breed of chicken originating from the Bresse area of the Rhône-Alpes region of France, they are highly valued for their gamey depth of flavour, yet with fine, tender flesh and delicious, clean-flowing fat. Most Poulet de Bresse is only available in France however as demand in the home market is so great.
- Duck Rich in flavour, there are many varieties of duck. Farmed duck, domesticated from the wild mallard, is the most commonly available. Often paired with fruits such as oranges, cherries and cranberries, duck is a popular choice in Chinese and Thai cuisine, as well as in European cookery. Silver Hill Foods, based in Emyvale, Co Monaghan, is Ireland’s only fully integrated family-owned artisan duck company and has been producing award-winning Peking duck for over 45 years.
- Quail A small, land-dwelling bird, quails boast a very lean meat with a distinctive flavour. They are also valued for their tiny eggs. Available all year round, they produce a delicate, sweet-flavoured meat.
- Turkey A non-flying bird and a very popular form of poultry, turkey is a traditional Christmas choice at Irish tables. There are three main varieties: white, bronze and black. The broad-breasted white is the commercial turkey of choice for large-scale industrial production and is the most widely consumed variety of the bird. Turkey eggs (unlike chicken, duck, and quail eggs) are not commonly sold as food due to the high demand for whole turkeys and lower output of eggs as compared with other fowl.
- Goose An alternative to turkey at the Christmas table, goose is a fullflavoured option with a high fat content. As this fat sits just under the skin rather than in the meat, much of it melts away during cooking, and goose fat drained from the cooked bird is popular for roasting potatoes with because of its great flavour.
- Guinea Fowl Offering a drier texture and gamier, nuttier flavour than chicken, the key is not to overcook guinea fowl as it loses its succulence quicker than other poultry. Its darker meat, however, makes it a great foundation to flavourful stocks.