All About Chicken - Pressure Cooker Knowledge
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The chicken is a descendant of the Southeast Asian
red jungle fowl first domesticated in India around 2000
B.C. Most of the birds raised for meat in America today
are from the Cornish (a British breed) and the White
Rock (a breed developed in New England). Broiler-fryers,
roasters, stewing/baking hens, capons and Rock Cornish
hens are all chickens. Here are definitions for these
Shopping for chicken in the supermarket or at the
butcher shop can be a bit confusing. You'll find chicken
marketed in a variety of ways--by weight, age, growing
method, whole, halves, pieces, boneless, skinless, and
on and on--and sold at a wide variety of prices. A range-fed
chicken may sell for over $2.00 a pound, while the "regular"
chicken is only 59¢ a pound.
So, which chicken should you choose, and
how should you prep it? Well, as with most things, there
is no one answer that's right for everyone. In the material
that follows, I'll do my best to shed some light on
things so you can make educated decisions that work
best for you.
Keep frozen at 0ºF or below until ready to use.
For best quality, use frozen chicken within 6 months
of receipt. Date the package before putting in your
home freezer. When ready to use, take out of freezer
and thaw in refrigerator. Place on a plate or platter
to catch drips in a refrigerator that maintains 40ºF.
Set on lowest shelf away from other foods. Chicken will
defrost in 1 to 2 days. Do not thaw chicken at room
Once the raw chicken defrosts, it can be kept in
the refrigerator an additional 24 hours before cooking.
DO NOT REFREEZE. Do not cook frozen chicken in the
microwave or in a slow cooker. However, chicken can
be cooked from the frozen state in the oven or on the
stove. The cooking time will take longer. Chicken
may be marinated in the refrigerator for 24 hours before
To eliminate fat, should I trim away the skin
before eating the meat?
It makes little difference in the fat content
whether the skin is removed before or after cooking,
but the meat is more moist and tender when cooked
with the skin on. The skin is easier to remove
after cooking and the fat can be skimmed off.
Why do some chickens have different colors?
Chicken skin color varies from cream-colored
to yellow and is a result of the type of feed eaten
by the chicken.
Sometimes the meat looks dark gray when I cut
into cooked chicken, is this bad?
Darkening around bones occurs primarily in young
broiler/fryers such as the kind used in commodity
frozen whole chicken. Since the bones have not yet
calcified (become hard as in adulthood), pigment
from the bone marrow can get into the porous bones.
Freezing can also cause this darkening of the bone.
When the chicken is cooked, the pigment turns dark.
It is perfectly safe to eat chicken meat that turns
dark during cooking.
How can I tell when a chicken is done?
Always use a meat thermometer when testing for
doneness. According to the February 2001
issue of Sunset Magazine, "The color of the
juices in any part of the bird is not a good indication
of whether it's done. In the body cavity, the juices
are usually pink; at the thigh joint, they are not
always clear, even at 180*F." Regarding thigh
meat, "it's almost always a little pink when
you first cut into the joint, even when overcooked."
But if the thigh has been properly cooked, "the
meat will lose its rosy tint very quickly on contact
with the air." Rubbery pink meat and pink juices are signs
that the chicken needs additional cooking. Whenf
the chicken has reached 180ºF, the juices run clear
and the meat is tender but looks pink, it is safe
to eat. The pink color in safely cooked chicken
is due to the hemoglobin in tissues which can form
a heat-stable color. Smoking or grilling may also
cause the reaction, which occurs more in young birds
than older ones. USDA guidelines state
that bacteria found in chicken are destroyed by
cooking to 160*F or higher. These include salmonella,
staphylococcus aureus, campylobacter jejuni, and
listeria monocytogenes. It is not necessary to rinse
chicken before cooking, since bacteria will be destroyed
with proper cooking.
When I open the packet of giblets they are
sometimes different colored, what dose this mean?
Giblets (liver, gizzard and heart) color can
vary, especially in the liver, from deep dark brownish-red
to yellow. The type of feed, how the chicken breaks
down food and the breed of the chicken account for
the variation in color. If the liver is green, DO
NOT EAT IT. This is due to bile in the liver. The
rest of the chicken meat is safe to eat.
Does chicken need to be washed before cooking?
According to Foster
Farms, "From a food safety standpoint,
it's not necessary to rinse raw poultry before cooking.
Proper cooking will destroy bacteria present in
the juices. However, for aesthetic reasons, you
may want to rinse poultry."
When determining the quantity
of chicken needed consider that a chicken
has eight pieces - -two wings, two breasts,
two thighs, and two drumsticks. I usually
figure on serving four people per whole
chicken (two pieces each). A lot depends
on the size of the chicken pieces and the
appetites of your family. If your
family has hearty appetites then you may
need more, or stretch your food dollar by
adding plenty of sides dishes, or use meats
in combination recipes for soups, stews
There should be no red or pick tinge
to the juices when chicken is fully cooked.
When cooking a whole chicken always
use a meat thermometer to be certain the
meat if cooked through. For more information
on temperatures see the Temperature
Processed chickens may
be classified into one of seven different
USDA defined groups. The groups are:
broiler, roaster, capon, rock Cornish
hen, rock Cornish fryer, hen and rooster.
Rock Cornish Hen
A chicken ranging in age from 7 to 13 weeks and weighing from
1-1/2 to 4 pounds. Their meat is very tender and they can be prepared by most
any cooking method, such as broiling, braising, frying, roasting, and grilling.
Depending on their size, a broiler-fryer will generally serve 3 or 4
A chicken ranging in age from 3 to 5 months and weighing from 3-1/2 to 7
pounds. Their meat is tender and more flavorful that the broiler-fryer chickens.
They make a good roasting chicken but can be prepared by other methods and are
good in other dishes. A roaster chicken will generally serve approximately 5 to
A mature chicken, which is over 10 months old and weighing in the
range of 4 to 7 pounds. Their meat is very flavorful but tougher than that of
the broiler-fryers and roasters. They are best used for stews and soups, or
should be cooked slowly with a moist heat method such as simmering or
Male chickens that have been castrated. They are generally under 8
months old and will weigh in the range of 5 to 9 pounds. The capon has more
white meat but generally has a higher fat content. Their meat is the most
flavorable of all the chickens and it is very tender. Capons are great roasting
chickens and will serve approximately 6 to 9 people.
Rock Cornish Hen:
: The offspring
of a Cornish chicken or a Cornish chicken
crossed with another breed of chicken.
The Cornish hen is a young, immature
chicken, usually 5-6 weeks old, with
a dressed weight of not more than 2
pounds. They are readily available in
most supermarkets, though sometimes
frozen, and will serve two people per
bird. Usually roasted whole.
chickens that are slaughtered at three
to four weeks of age and weigh about
1 pound. They are commonly used in restaurants
for single servings and tend to taste
better than game hens. They are purchased
at high-end grocery stores and specialty
meat retailers, usually frozen.
A mature female chicken.
Chickens of this classificaiton are
generally spent hens. Referred to as
fowl, hens may be further classified
as heavy or light depending on their
breed or weight. Hens may be used for
stewing, baking or may be deboned for
use in processed meats.
Cock or Rooster:
male chicken with coarse skin and toughened,
dark meat. Roosters are generally spent
breeders that are deboned for use in
processed meats. Requires long, moist
One does not typically
know the breed of chicken being purchased,
since it's not disclosed by most producers.
All chicken sold in retail stores in the
U.S. is inspected for wholesomeness by either the USDA
or a state agency using equivalent standards. Grading
is voluntary and takes into account meatiness, appearance,
and freedom from defects. The USDA describes Grade A
chicken as having, "plump, meaty bodies and clean
skin, free of bruises, broken bones, feathers, cuts
Hormones, Antibiotics, and Additives
According to the USDA, no hormones or
steroids are used in the production of chicken in the
U.S. Antibiotics can be used in the raising of chicken
to prevent disease and increase feed efficiency. However,
a "withdrawal" period is required to allow
these substances to leave the chicken before it can
be slaughtered, ensuring there are no residues in the
bird. The USDA does not allow the use of additives on
fresh chicken. If chicken is processed, additives like
salt or MSG must be listed on the label.
What is Fresh and Natural
To the consumer, this term is deceptive.
You'll see the words "fresh" and "natural"
used a lot when it comes to chicken. These terms have
official government definitions. Here's the USDA definition
of "fresh": "The term 'fresh' may only
be placed on raw poultry that has never been below 26*F.
Poultry held at 0*F or below must be labeled 'frozen'
or 'previously frozen.' No specific labeling is required
on poultry between 0 and 26*F. "...the term 'fresh'
should not be used on the labeling of raw poultry products
that have been chilled to the point they are hard to
the touch." So in the context of chicken, "fresh"
has to do only with the temperature at which it's been
maintained from the time it was processed until the
time you bought it at the store. It has nothing to do
with how long it's been sitting in the display case
at the store. And apparently, there's no name to describe
chicken that's in limbo between 0 and 26*F!
Now let's define "natural".
USDA guidelines state that any product can be labeled
"natural" if it does not contain any artificial
flavoring, coloring, chemical preservative, or synthetic
ingredient, and has been minimally processed. When it
comes to raw chicken, "minimally processed"
means it has only been handled as necessary to slaughter,
clean, and make it ready for cooking. You'll notice
that "natural" has nothing to do with the
conditions under which the chicken was raised, what
it was fed, how stress-free its life was, whether it
ever received antibiotics, or whether organic farming
practices were employed.
Conventional, Kosher, Range-Fed, Free
Range and Organic Chicken
The methods and conditions under which
chickens are raised and processed have an impact on
quality, pricing, and marketing. Large regional and
national producers raise chickens in high volume using
modern agricultural methods, in accordance with USDA
guidelines, and deliver a product that is tasty, safe,
and inexpensive. For lack of a better term, we'll call
this "conventional" chicken.
Kosher chickens are raised and
processed in accordance with Jewish religious law and
are clearly labeled as kosher. These chickens are hand-slaughtered
rather than killed by machine and are dunked in cold
water to remove feathers rather than scalded. The carcass
is buried in salt for about an hour and rinsed to remove
blood and impurities before packaging, in what amounts
to a short brining process. Of course, kosher chickens
cost more than conventional chickens because they are
produced in smaller numbers and require more labor to
The market for "range-fed",
"free-range", and "organic" chickens
is dominated by small regional producers that offer
their birds as a higher quality, better tasting, and
more humane alternative to conventional chicken. They
also command a higher price as a result.One grower,
describes their free range chickens as having "old-fashioned
flavor because they are grown longer (9-10 weeks when
marketed) and fed a high quality, flavor enhancing,
corn and soybean meal vegetarian diet containing no
animal fat or animal by-products." They go on to
say their chickens are grown in a stress-free environment
in spacious houses and they have an outside yard in
which to roam. Their chickens are never given antibiotics,
and if a chicken does get sick, antibiotics are administered
and the entire flock is removed and sold as "conventional"
"Organic" chickens go
even further. Organic chickens are raised using "materials
and practices that enhance the ecological balance of
natural systems and that integrate the parts of the
farming system into an ecological whole." In addition
to outdoor access and no antibiotics, organic chickens
are fed certified organic feed for their entire life
containing grains and soybeans grown in soil that has
been free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers for
a period of three years. There is an audit trail of
the entire chicken's life, from hatched egg through
growing, processing, and distribution. Finally, the
whole operation is certified by an outside, non-profit
environmental organization to ensure everything is being
done in accordance with organic principles.
Of course, producers of conventional chicken
believe their products represent a better value and
are just as natural, healthy, and tasty as range-fed
and organic products. Note that the price
of free-range chicken can be many times higher than
conventional chicken, and organic even higher than that.
In the end, let your taste buds, your conscience, and
your pocket book be your guide.