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Chicken: Preparation Tips, Serving Suggestions & Grades Chicken Quality With USDA

Thanks in large part to chicken’s low price, low fat, and high versatility, the amount of chicken consumed in the United States has increased exponentially. That wasn’t always the case. Even though chicken is one of the oldest living species of animal, it was a rarity on the dinner table. King Henri IV of France stated in his coronation speech that he hoped each peasant in his realm would have “a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” At one
time, only the rich (and chicken farmers) could manage the proverbial Sunday chicken. Today, thanks to modern production methods, almost anyone can afford chicken. In fact, adjusted for inflation, chicken is only a third the price it was 40 years ago. Chicken consumption also has increased because of increasing awareness of the need to reduce fat in the diet. Chicken, as long as the skin is not eaten, is generally lower in fat than most other types of meat. At least half of the fat in a chicken is in the skin.

Grades Chicken Quality With USDA

The government grades chicken quality with USDA classifications A, B, and C, which are based on meatiness, appearance, and how intact the skin and bones are. Grade A chickens, the highest grade, are usually found in markets. Grade B chickens are less meaty, and grade C birds are scrawnier yet. B- and C-graded chickens often are used for processed and packaged foods. The grade stamp can be found within a shield on the package wrapping, or sometimes on a tag attached to the bird’s wing. Many
ungraded chickens find their way to stores because grading is not mandatory. Chickens called “broilers” are butchered at about 7 weeks of age, when they weigh between 2 and 4 pounds. The term “fryer” is often given to larger birds from this age range. “Roasting chickens” generally weigh more than 4 pounds and are slaughtered when they reach 10 weeks. “Stewing chickens” — also known as hens or boiling fowl — range in age from 10 to 18 months. They can weigh between 3 and 6 pounds. Generally, they are used for stews and soups because their meat is tougher. Shoppers may also encounter other terms to describe chicken. A Rock Cornish hen (or game hen) is a chicken hybrid that weighs about 2 pounds when butchered. Because there is relatively little meat on the carcass, each hen is typically considered 1 serving. A tip for shoppers: larger chickens are a better buy because there is more flesh on the bones. With smaller chickens, you do not get as much meat and you pay for bones.

Preparation Tips

Keep chicken refrigerated until you are ready to use it, or freeze it and then thaw it in the refrigerator. Cut away any excess fat, but keep the skin on while cooking to provide flavor, then remove the skin for a healthier
entrée. Chicken lends itself to a variety of cooking preparations, including baking, broiling, boiling, roasting, frying, braising, barbecuing, stir-frying, and stewing. Boneless chicken requires less cooking time. However, this type of chicken will taste more bland because the bones and the skin add
that real “chickeny” flavor. Yet, boneless chicken picks up the flavors of other foods, herbs, and spices it is cooked with, such as tarragon, ginger, garlic, and vegetables.

Serving Suggestions

Chicken is extremely versatile. Because of its popularity, entire cookbooks have been written focusing on only this bird. It seems almost every ethnicity has its own way to use chicken — Indian curry chicken,
Chinese stir-fry, Mexican chicken enchiladas, Spanish paella, and Italian chicken parmesan. Chicken’s flavor is enhanced by almost any herb, spice, or condiment. Frying is also a popular way to serve chicken. However, this cooking method adds extra fat and calories, detracting from the health benefits of eating chicken. If eating at a fast-food restaurant, choose
grilled chicken instead of chicken that has been breaded and deep-fried.

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