Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Second Helping of Rubber Chicken

Dear Tricia, Chicken: no matter what I do, it is dry.   I've marinated it, quick fried little tenders, and they only time its not dry is when i do "chicken in a pot" stuffed with lemons and oranges and surrounded by veggies and drowned in white wine.  

Well kudos to you and your pot o' chicken.  Lemons and oranges?  That's so fancy sounding!  

I covered chicken waaaaay back when I first started blogging (here and here if you want to go back a couple of years), so its about time I talk tips on chicken again.  

The absolute easiest way to cook chicken without turning it into a mouthful of boot is wrapped in foil, in the oven.  Whether you prefer chicken breasts, thighs, tenders, whatever- season it, wrap it in foil, and cook it at 375 degrees until its done.  If you cook chicken tenders or something smaller in size like that, just line a pan with foil, put the chicken on it, and cover it with foil.  You don't have to individually wrap them or something.  That would be a HUGE waste of time and foil.  The great thing about cooking chicken this way is that you don't have to do much, just throw it in the oven and let it go.  This is when I make a cocktail, but that's just me.  Tenders are usually done in 10 minutes at the most.  Chicken breasts, depending on how large they are take closer to 25-30 minutes.  You can also experiment with new ways to season chicken without putting in a bunch of thought or energy.  Even if you just throw a clove of garlic and some sprigs of fresh herbs (hello, that's like ZERO effort) in with the foil, the chicken is still going to get some great flavor because its steaming inside the foil.  Steaming is what makes flavors infuse into the chicken.  Infuse- use that one to impress your girlfriend next time you cook dinner for her.  

If you want to step it up and put a little more effort into your dinner, you can start with a hot pan, add some oil, and just sear the chicken on both sides to get it brown.  Then finish it off in the oven like I talked about in the effort-less paragraph, but have your oven temperature at 400 degrees.  This helps keep the chicken juicier than just cooking it entirely in the pan, which tends to give you a chewy outside and some rawness in the middle.  This also gives you a lot more color on the chicken because the proteins brown in the pan.  That's called the Maillard reaction- when proteins brown. The name comes from a guy named Maillard.  It's not french for anything (actually its French for "buff" whatever the hell that means), he just wanted to name something after himself.  

Ok, here's a little secret if none of these tips are working for you: FREAKING EVERYONE overcooks their chicken.   That's one of the reasons why I get emails about chicken being dry or rubbery.  It's really that simple- don't cook it as long.   I wonder if people are so afraid of the slim-to-none chance of getting salmonella, or some other strange illness that Fox News is trying to make you live in fear of, but either way, there is a difference between cooked chicken and chicken that's been cooked until its awful.  Get a thermometer if you're not sure.  165 degrees is the magic number.  If you're cooking by color, pink chicken might even be safe, depending on what you've marinated the chicken in and how much hemoglobin happens to be in the tissue.   

What to do when your chicken is already over cooked?  Easy- make tacos.  I wrote a blog on making authentic pulled tacos that taste like Mexico and not North Dakota.   All you have to do is pull the chicken apart into little pieces and follow the directions on the sauce, you just skip the part about cooking the chicken, since you've already cooked the daylights out of it.   Mmm Mmm pollo.

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