February 9, 2012
Before children, other than the occasional Sunday roasted bird, I’d all but stopped eating chicken. I ate out more frequently than I do now and restaurant chicken rarely excites. Then, at home, when I cooked meat, I was much more interested in roasting legs of lamb, braising osso bucco, and slow cooking or crisping hunks of pork. But, alas, with children came chicken.
It doesn’t have to be that way. I encourage you to make lamb burgers and carnitas, serve proscuitto and chorizo. See what happens! But despite my willingness to change it up and also the fact that I limit meat to 3x’s a week, I still find myself cooking chicken. Often.
If you’re in the same boat, allow me to share my most important tip on cooking chicken: forget chicken breasts.
Seriously, if you ask me, boneless, skinless chicken breasts offer very little value to your cooking. Instead, consider these options:
There’s no doubt that chicken breasts are easy and quick cooking. But you know what? So are cutlets, a thinner cut of the breast. In fact, cutlets are easier and cook faster. They are, without a doubt, the way to go if you need to to fry, grill, sauté or broil dinner in a matter of minutes. I don’t buy them often, but they are my go-to when I need a chicken dinner that comes together in 30 minutes or less.
My Five Spice Chicken Cutlets (recipe below) are a new addition to my Monday night meal rotation, when the Hungry Boy and I get home from swim class at 5 pm. Served with quick sauteed snap peas with almonds and steamed quinoa, dinner’s on the table in no time.
The Whole Bird
If you plan on taking time to cook succulent chicken, super lean breasts are most definitely not the right choice. Instead, consider a whole bird or, if that feels unmanageable, ask your butcher to cut the whole bird into pieces. Leave the skin on—the fat will keep your bird moist and flavorful. You can always pull it off once on the plate.
Try Coconut Mango Roast Chicken for an easy alternative to traditional roast chicken. It’s perfect with veggies and a side of rice and beans.
Need something in between? Thighs are the answer. They are a versatile cut of darker, (slightly) fattier meat that is easy to find with the bone in or boneless, with or without skin. Boneless, skinless thighs are a straight substitute for boneless, skinless breasts. They quick cook any way that you need them to and have much more flavor. They also won’t go dry as easily. Leave the bone in for braises and stews and also the skin on if you want to brown the chicken for extra flavor before you start slow cooking. And speaking of slow cooking, thighs are a great cut to throw in the slow cooker.
Maple Mustard Glazed Chicken comes together in 30 minutes flat.
Give cassoulet a Spanish twist with this Roast Chicken with Chorizo and Garbanzo Beans
Throw drumsticks in the mix and try making this delicious Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives and Artichokes.
No matter what cut you use, consider buying chicken from your local butcher who will cut your meat to order and hopefully even tell you where it came from. You may also want to ask for organic or free-range meat. I’m not going to lie—it’s more expensive to buy meat this way, but it doesn’t have to extend your overall budget. Cut down on the number of meat-based dinners you make in a week and shift the savings to a higher quality meat (you’ll be doing good by your health and the planet, too)
What cut of chicken do you use most and what’s your favorite way to prepare it? Do tell!
Five Spice Chicken Cutlets
(can be shared with kids 8+ mos)*
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons five spice powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 lb skinless chicken cutlets
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Lime wedges, for garnish (optional)
Cilantro, for garnish (optional)
1. In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together flour, five spice and garlic powder. Dredge each cutlet through the flour, coating completely and shaking off excess.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pan set over medium heat. Place cutlets in hot oil making sure not to overcrowd; you may have to fry the chicken in batches, in which case you’ll need to add up to 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan between batches. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and cook for about 2 minutes, until the side facing down browns. Flip and brown the other side, about 1 minute.
The chicken is done when both sides have a nice golden brown color and the chicken is cooked through. If you like, serve with lime wedges and cilantro. This also makes a great sandwich on french bread.
*Note: While there is nothing in this chicken that cannot be safely shared with younger eaters, I recommend it starting at 8 months or when baby can begin managing small bites of soft meat. If you want to share with younger eaters, puree or pulse (with quinoa or rice, if you like) to a consistency that your baby can safely manage.