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What is it?

When people say, “It taste like chicken,” it just shows how ubiquitous this domesticated fowl is. Raised around the world for its eggs as well as its meat, chicken takes well to just about every cooking method, and its rather mild flavor goes well with all kinds of flavorings and accompaniments.

Don’t have it?

When a recipe calls for chicken cutlet, turkey, pork, or veal cutlets can often substitute. Rabbit can often substitute for chicken in recipes where the meat is braised. For a whole roast chicken, you can substitute a small turkey.

How to choose:

Chicken comes packaged in a variety of ways, whole with giblets stuffed inside the cavity; in pieces with bone in and skin on, and boneless and skinless. If buying skin-on chicken, know that the skin color can range slightly depending on the chicken’s feed; but do look for birds with smooth, intact skin—a sign that it was handled well.

If you want the best-tasting, most humanely raised chicken with no unnatural additives, look for one or more of these labels on the wrapping:

Best bet:

USDA Organic Certified: The official organic seal means the chicken was raised under a specific set of humane guidelines, including requirements for shelter and an organic diet without antibiotics or synthetic pesticides.

Next best:

No Antibiotics Used: These chickens are not necessarily organic, but they have been raised without antibiotics of any kind.

Certified Humane: Chickens with the Humane Farm Animal Care seal meet requirements for humane treatment, which include access to clean water, no antibiotics, and no cages.

Pastured Poultry or “Grass-Ranged” Poultry: This term is most often used to label chickens that have been raised on small farms in uncrowded conditions and been allowed to feed on grass in addition to grain.

Keep an eye out for:

Air-Chilled: Most chickens are chilled in water, but a new process called air-chilling prevents them from absorbing excess water, which can mean a tastier, crispier bird. There are brands that are both air-chilled and certified organic.

Kosher: Kosher chickens are slaughtered according to Jewish dietary laws. The process includes brining the chicken in a salt solution, which not only removes any remaining blood and bacteria but enhances flavor as well. There are brands that are both kosher and organic.

Don’t be fooled by:

100 % Natural: This means nothing. Many of these birds are injected with saline solution to add weight. They may also contain “natural” additives, such as carrageenan, broth, tenderizers, or marinades.

Hormone-Free: All chickens are hormone-free because the use of hormones in poultry is prohibited by law.

Cage-Free: The birds may still be tightly packed into sheds without room to move, access to the outdoors, or clean surroundings.

Free-Range: This popular label does not mean much other than the birds are “allowed” to wander outside the barn for a few short weeks of their lives.

How to prep:

Though many cookbooks may recommend rinsing whole chickens inside and out, it’s best to forego that step since it’s an easy way to spread bacteria. Remove any giblets stuffed inside a whole bird and cut away excess fat and skin from a whole bird of pieces.

How to store:

Store in the coldest part of your refrigerator or freeze for up to 3 months.


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