Americans eat a lot of chicken.
In recent years, the affordability and fairly neutral taste of chicken has catapulted the fowl into a coveted spot on many families’ menus, and into the language itself.
“It tastes like chicken” has become a familiar saying for a seemingly exotic food that still pleases the American palate.
In 2009, according to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, Americans ate 55 pounds of chicken per person, using the boneless, trimmed weight. In 2010, the organization said sales of broilers topped $23 billion, with Louisiana 14th in the nation in slaughtering young meat chickens.
Broilers, according to Barron’s “The New Food Lover’s Companion,” are chickens that weigh up to 31/2 pounds and are slaughtered young, about 21/2 months old. The youth and low-fat content of these chickens make them best when, as the name suggests, broilers are fried.
More flavorful roasters have a higher fat content and are generally larger, from 21/2 to 5 pounds, and are slaughtered when older, up to 8 months old. These chickens are best suited to the slower process of roasting, while stewing chickens, 10 to 18 months old and from 3 to 6 pounds, are less tender but better suited to moist cooking methods.
Other varieties of chicken include capons, a rooster castrated when young, fed a high-fat diet and brought to market before it’s 10 months old; rock Cornish game hens, which are miniature chickens slaughtered around 4 to 6 weeks of age.
Where the chickens are raised also factors in to the taste and cooking methods of the finished bird. Free-range chickens each have a 2-square-foot living area indoors and the freedom to roam outside.
These chickens are also usually fed a special vegetarian diet and are not given growth enhancers or antibiotics. Special diets and more room usually mean a costlier chicken, but proponents swear by the flavor.
Barron’s goes on to say chicken should be meaty and full-breasted, with short, plump legs and smooth, soft skin. Avoid chickens with a bad odor or bruised or torn skin. Raw chicken may be refrigerated up to 2 days and cooked chicken for three days. Raw chicken should be kept frozen no more than two months and cooked chicken up to a month, so as to preserve the flavor.
In recent years, food safety has been a concern with poultry. Chicken should never be eaten raw, and USDA guidelines maintain chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.