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Chicken: Versatile, Lean Protein

by Berkeley Wellness

Chicken is the most versatile of meats. It can be prepared in many ways—roasted, broiled, grilled, or poached, in soups, stews, and potpies—and with a variety of seasonings, toppings, and sauces. No wonder, then, that chicken is a staple in practically every culture’s cuisine. In the United States, simple roast chicken is a favorite. In Italy, chicken is sautéed with tomatoes, mushrooms, and wine and served alla cacciatore. The Spanish combine chicken with shellfish and rice to produce paella.

More and more people have made a conscious decision to eat less red meat and more poultry in an effort to lower the fat in their diets. When cooked, light-meat chicken without the skin is 33 to 80 percent leaner than trimmed cooked beef, depending on the beef’s cut and grade. Chicken breast, the leanest part of the chicken, has less than half the fat of a trimmed Choice-grade T-bone steak. Moreover, the fat in chicken is less saturated than the fat in beef.

Types of Chicken

Chicken is divided into classes based on age and sex. The meat from small, young chickens is usually leaner than that from larger birds.

Chicken: nutrition

Chicken is comparable to beef in quantity and quality of protein. Both foods supply approximately the same amounts of vitamins and minerals, except that beef has slightly more iron and zinc. Although chicken is relatively low in fat, it depends on what cut you eat and whether or not you eat the skin. Dark-meat chicken, the thigh and drumstick, is higher in fat, but it also has a higher concentration of minerals.

Studies have shown that chicken soup—and other hot drinks—can help alleviate cold symptoms by increasing the flow of nasal secretions. The taste and aroma of chicken soup may also be part of the therapy. Nothing will cure a cold, but a bowl of hot soup offers as much relief as anything.

For a full listing of nutrients, see Chicken in the National Nutrient Database.

Antibiotics in chicken

Organic or free-range chicken has the same nutrients as any other chicken. And there is no assurance that organic chickens are safer from contamination than non-organic.

But these chickens likely don’t contain the same amount of antibiotics as other chickens. (Some growers give antibiotics to chickens to promote faster growth and prevent infection in crowded quarters.) Less use of antibiotics cuts down on the risk of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria emerging, and chicken raised in this manner supports more sustainable methods of food production.

How to Choose the Best Chicken

When shopping for a whole chicken, look for a well-shaped bird with a plump, rounded breast, and more breast than leg.

How to store chicken

Fresh chicken is highly perishable and should be stored immediately in the coldest part of your refrigerator.

To minimize handling, keep the chicken in its original store wrapping. Be sure that the fluids from the package do not leak onto other foods in the refrigerator. If the package seems leaky, place it on a plate to prevent the contamination of other foods. Fresh raw chicken will keep in a home refrigerator for two to three days. Once cooked, chicken will keep for three to four days.

If you buy a whole chicken with the giblets, store the meat and giblets separately since the giblets will spoil before the meat. Open the store wrapping and remove the giblets. Rinse the chicken, pat it dry with paper towels, and rewrap it loosely. The giblets should be discarded or stored in a container and used within a day. The giblets (but not the liver) can also be frozen and saved for making chicken broth.

How to Cook Chicken and Chicken Soup

The start to any chicken soup is chicken broth, and it's always best to make homemade broth; that way you can control the amount of salt you add and can remove fat after cooking.

How to freeze chicken

To freeze chicken, remove it from the store wrapping, wash it, and pat it dry with paper towels. Wrap it in freezer paper or aluminum foil, taking care that odd-shaped parts are fully covered and the package is airtight. Do not try to freeze a whole bird in a home freezer. Instead, cut the chicken into parts and freeze those.

Never thaw frozen chicken at room temperature. The outside thaws first and becomes susceptible to bacterial growth during the time it takes for the inside to thaw. Leave it in the refrigerator to defrost on a plate to catch the drippings. Allow three to four hours of thawing time per pound of whole chicken because chicken parts may thaw more quickly. Use a microwave oven for thawing only if you plan to cook the chicken right away, and if that’s not possible, refrigerate it until cooking time.

8 Ways to Roast Chicken

Because chicken is such versatile meat, you can experiment with all manner of seasonings. Try some of these delicious ideas.

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