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.
For the birds
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.