When it comes to cooking, techniques are the thing. Recipes are helpful, but do not do a very good job of making you a better cook. This is because recipes seldom get sufficiently into the core processes of cooking – how to braise beef, how to make a pastry crust, how to cook an egg – that are really the important things to know. And they’re often simple. Once you do know the techniques, you can instantly apply them to any recipe and make it better. Master the techniques, grasshopper, and you will master the kitchen.So this is the first of what should be many installments on the core techniques of cooking. I don’t know about you, but I really liked the video/recipe format from the savory bread pudding post. So here at Portable Chef World Headquarters we decided to run with that. Each technique will be set to only 16 bars of music, meaning all the info needed to master the technique will be contained within 30-40 head-bobbing seconds.
First up: cooking a cut-up chicken, among the most useful techniques for any home cook to know. I grew up cooking chicken in a pan on the stovetop, which can work very well, but what you really want to do is stick it in the oven. Two key reasons: first, it’s no muss, no fuss – you set the chicken, cook it, flip, cook. That’s it. It’s trickier in a pan. Secondly, the skin, which should be the best part of the chicken, is wasted in most preparations – it ends up a rubbery, fatty mess. Done properly in the oven, the skin come out thin, crisp, and delicious. So to recap: Upside – easier and tastier. Downside – none. Let’s move on.
I used drumsticks in the video, but this method works equally well with thighs and wings. Breasts are best cooked using a different approach (stay tuned) – I recommend making two meals of the chicken, one of the wings, thighs, and drumsticks and another of the breasts (or if your family needs more than that, buy two chickens and combine and split them into an all-dark meat meal and an all-white meat meal). If this sounds like too much fussin’ you can cook breasts using this method as well, but watch them – they will require much shorter cooking times.
If you’re buying a whole chicken and cutting it up yourself, then I recommend cutting it up into nine pieces: two each of wings, thighs, and drumsticks, the back (save for stock), and two breasts (boneless). A good instructional video for carving can be found here, though the bones are left on the breast; for boneless breasts follow steps 11-14 here.
This preparation works for almost any chicken recipe. Make your favorite sauce and add it – be sure to use the drippings and rendered fat in the pan – or eat the chicken plain. If you like a recipe that requires marination, then marinate the chicken instead of salting, and follow the same broiling technique.
One last thing. If you try this at home, buy a good chicken raised the right way – outdoors, having led a chickeny life – and straight from a farmer if you can. Remember, much of the supermarket/Whole Foods jargon related to chickens is effectively meaningless. Chickens may never see the light of day and they can still legally be sold as “free range;” “100% vegetarian feed” means the chickens are kept inside, most likely in cages (where they can’t reach the occasional worm that would invalidate the veggie feed claim).
And chicken’s cheap – a whole chicken raised right can be had for about ten bucks in New York City, less just about everywhere else. And a chicken raised the right way is delicious, a totally different thing from the industrially-produced stuff we’ve grown accustomed to.
A word about the music: there were some tempting (and titularly relevant) choices like “Funky Chicken” by Rufus Thomas (jaw-dropping live performance footage, including the crown prince of dance in a cape and matching shorts doing some really good clucking), but today’s 16 bars are from “What is Hip?” by Tower of Power. The track, an all-time classic, is available for download here. These dudes rock.
So here goes! Watch and learn. And boogie.