Types of Poultry & Poultry Basics
Poultry is one of the most commonly ate proteins for a good reason. It’s lean, plentiful and has a very neutral flavor that lends itself to be easily marinated. There are countless ways to prepare the types of poultry, and chances are you have a few secret recipes of your own that you hold near and dear.
Poultry consists of many varieties of domesticated birds. These types of poultry include guineas, geese, chickens, pigeons, and turkeys.
Chicken is the most widely eaten poultry in the world. It has both white and dark meats and has much less fat than other poultry. Young, tender chickens could be cooked by using any cooking method. Older birds are best suited to being braised or stewed. Chicken has the unique appeal of being extremely versatile and due to its neutral flavor lends itself to a variety of garnishing, marinating and can be stuffed, basted and paired with just about anything. If there is one thing that is universal, is the worlds’ love for chicken. Learning how to cook chicken is simple, with the most important thing to remember is cooking safely as chicken can contain dangerous salmonella.
There are several types of chickens that are defined into classes of age. Knowing these classes will help you decide on proper purchasing and cooking method to ensure accurate preparation.
Game hens are typically 5-6 weeks old and are young or immature progeny’s of a Cornish chicken. It is very flavorful. The best method of cooking is to split and roast or grill.
Young and with a tender meat and smooth skin, the fryer chicken is typically 6-8 weeks in age and is relatively lean. It will have a flexible breast bone which is a good indication of the age. It weights up to 2kg (4lb) and lends itself well to any cooking method as it is very versatile.
If there is one thing that is universal, is the worlds’ love for chicken.
A roaster is a few weeks older than a fryer and there is not much variation between a roaster and a fryer besides the age, which affects flavor and tenderness. It has tender young meat with smooth skin. The breast bone is less flexible than the fryer and is aged around 8-9 weeks. The weight is 2kg and over. It is suitable for any cooking method.
A capon is a surgically castrated male (Caponette will mean chemically castrated). It has tender meat with soft smooth skin. It is bred for good flavored meat and contains a high proportion of light meat to dark meat and has a relatively high fat content. A Capon is typically 4-6 months old and weight between 2-4 kg (6-10lb) and over. The preferred method for cooking a capon is roasting.
A fowl is a mature female. It is quite flavorful but less tender than a fryer/roaster. The breastbone has no flexibility. The age of the fowl is over 7 months and will weight 1kg (2lb) and over. The best cooking method for a fowl is to stew or braise.
Duck is one of my favorite types of poultry due to its exquisite fat and excellent texture. If you’ve never had duck before, I implore you to try it. There is nothing game-y about duck and it goes very well with a variety of sweet berry sauces, making it even more delicious. The most common type of duck used is a young duckling. It only contains dark meat and large amounts of fat and to make the fatty skin edible, you must render as much fat off the meat as possible. Duck has a high percentage of bone and fat to meat and a 2 Kg duck will only feed 2 people while a chicken of the same weight will serve 4. Duck can be eaten medium-well to medium and there is no danger of food borne illness.
A goose gontains only dark meat and has very fatty skin. It is usually roasted at high temperatures to render the fat. Roasted goose is popular at holidays and is often served with an acidic fruit-based sauce to off-set the fattiness.
Not as common as many of the other types of poultry out there, and in fact most of these types you’ll have to actively seek out, however the pigeon does have roots in history where it was an important part of a diet. The young pigeon is not the pigeon you find on the streets, but rather raised for the purpose of being eaten. Usually referred to as squad, its meat is dark and tender, suitable for broiling, sauteing or roasting. There is minimal amounts of fat on pigeon and would therefore benefit from barding.
We all know about turkey and we should all know the differences in cooking a turkey compared to cooking a chicken. The difference in size alone means that the cooking methods and cooking times change substantially. Turkey is the second most popular types of poultry. It has both light and dark meat and a relatively small amount of fat. Younger turkeys are much more economical and can be prepared in almost any manner. Best cooking methods for the typical young turkey is roast or cut into cutlets and sauteed or pan-fried.
Poultry is highly perishable and particularly susceptible to salmonella bacteria. As such, it is critical that the poultry be stored at the right temperatures. Be sure to store fresh chickens and other small birds on ice or at 0C – 2C (32F – 34F) for up to two days. Larger birds can be stored for up to 4 days. Freezing poultry is recommended at -17C (0F) or below and should be brought up to temperature gradually and always at cooler-temperature.
Foie gras is a bit controversial right now due to the manner of which it is harvested from the goose. However, it is still an important piece of the culinary arts and is important to know what it is and how to cook it. Foie Gras is the enlarged liver of a duck or goose that is considered a delicacy since Roman times. Today, it is produced in many parts of the world by methodically fattening the birds by force-feeding them specially prepared corn while limiting their movement and activity. Fresh fois gras contains two lobes that must be separated, split and deveined. The better foie gras will be smooth and lighter in color with a more delicate flavor than that of duck.
Fresh foie gras can be grilled, roasted, sauteed, or made into a pate. Keep in mind when cooking foie gras that if cooked for too long it can literally melt away due to the high amounts of fat within it. In 2007, foie gras was banned in some areas and a movement has started to ban it completely due to allegations of animal cruelty.
Because poultry has such a neutral flavor, it is common to see poultry used in marinating. Poultry is often marinated in a mixture of lemon juice, pepper, oil, white wine, herbs and spices. Lemon juice, being acidic, helps inject flavor into the poultry. Poultry also absorbs flavors quickly. If left too long in an acidic marinade the it may take on undesirable flavors. The maximum time to marinate chicken is 2 hours. Smaller pieces will require less time, while larger pieces requiring more.
If your marinade contains oil, be sure to drain it well so it will not flare up on the grill or broiler. Use a paper towel to wipe off excess moisture so the poultry will brown evenly and easily. If possible, use the excess marinade to baste the poultry as it cooks, but never use left over marinade served uncooked due to the danger of cross-contamination from the uncooked poultry that sat in it.
By applying the various cooking methods learned in earlier articles, you have a general idea of which cooking methods tend to be useful for preparing poultry. All methods are acceptable to use, and only certain classes of chickens require certain cooking methods. You will most likely only see fryer chickens available in grocery stores and being so versatile you can experiment and try different techniques including poaching in court bouillon, grilling, marinating, broiling and roasting. Stuffing poultry is a popular method of preparing chicken and the combinations are endless. Lemons and herbs go very well with chicken and I always like to stuff my whole roasted chickens with half lemons, pepper, salt, garlic and fresh herbs. I baste often and the finished product is always juicy and is herb-y with a hint of citrus.
An under appreciated method of cooking chicken is by poaching. When you dealing with chicken breast, there is very little fat to help keep the breast moist. By poaching, you help retain a lot of that flavor as well as incorporating flavor. Try a variation of a court bouillon that emphasizes a good flavor base and experiment!
You should always cook poultry to an internal temperature of 74C to ensure the destruction of harmful bacteria. I recommend picking up a digital meat thermometer so you can accurately gauge and pinpoint the exact time the poultry is cooked so you have no worry of under- or over-cooking the chicken. Once you have sufficient experience, you will learn how to tell if chicken breat is cooked by touching the thickest part of the breast. It should be firm and springy without feeling dry. An under-cooked breast will feel soft and not have that spring.
For whole-roasting chicken, you should always gauge the temperature between the leg and breast as this is the place where it takes the longest to fully cook. Another way to tell if chicken is cooked is to move the joints. If the joint is loose, then you know that it should be cooked. You can also check by visually looking at the chicken. Does it look like it could be done? Is it browned well? Fully cooked chicken juice will run clear when probed, while uncooked chicken will appear cloudy and possibly bloody.
Cooking is unique in that it requires you utilize all your senses. Using these senses you should be able to gauge the done-ness of any product but there is no substitute for a good thermometer either!