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Do You Know Your Chickens?

January 6, 2010

behind La Provence restaurant in Lacombe, Louisiana

A few weeks ago I headed to my favorite bookstore, The Strand, and like many other foodies I bought Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking along with her biography My Life in France.  Mmm…any guess what movie I had just watched?  For those of you not into the current cinema scene (which I normally qualify for), Julie and Julia starring Meryl Street and Amy Adams was recently out in theaters.  I’m not going to lie.  I didn’t love it.  It was nice and all but…

Well, what I did pick up from it was an even greater admiration for Julia Childs, hence my sudden need to get her books.  She was just such a strong, motivated woman who I really admire, and her dedication truly shows in her masterpiece of a cookbook.  Obviously the recipes in Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking all look fabulous, but I especially love the detail she provides.  She doesn’t just write a recipe, she explains the recipe.  Also each section of the book starts with a lesson.  Seriously, how much fun is that?

While preparing for a dinner that I am cooking this weekend for friends, Julia has been teaching me about chicken.  Did you know that chickens have different classification types?  I’ve heard the terms “broiler”, “fryer” and “roaster” used in describing chickens, but I thought that they were just interchangeable adjectives.  I have since learned that there are actually many terms used to describe chickens that are based primarily on their age and weight.

Dalat, Vietnam

After further research, I also learned that the best method for cooking a chicken depends on the type.  This is due to the ratio of surface area to volume of the chicken.  Smaller chickens have less volume in comparison to their surface area, so heat enters more quickly into the bird but there is less meat to cook.  Therefore, faster methods of cooking like frying are recommended for them.  Larger chickens on the other hand have much more volume and need more time to cook.  Since their surface area in relationship is smaller, this means that a slower method is necessary in order not to burn the surface hence why slow roasting is recommended.

So here are the most common types of chicken:

Broiler – These are 2 to 3 months old and are 1.5 to 2.5 pounds.  The best methods for cooking them are broiling, grilling, or roasting.  In addition to the the quicker methods being necessary due to the ratio of the birds’ volume to surface area, quick methods are needed for broilers since their skin is more tender.  As Julia points out, a slower method of cooking (particularly in a liquid) would cause the delicate skin to become dry and stringy.

Fryer – These are 3 to 5 months old and usually weigh 2.5 to 3.5 pounds.  It is best to fry, saute, roast, fricassee, or poach them.  When you purchase pre-cut chickens, they are often fryers or broilers.

Roaster – These are normally older chickens that weigh 4 to 6.5 pounds.  Since they take longer to reach their final point, they also tend to be more expensive.  As you learned above, the best ways to cook larger birds are slow methods.  You should roast, poach, or fricassee them.

a tribal village near Pai, Thailand

For you more sophisticated readers, there is also squab.  Squab is a baby chicken weighing 0.75 to 1 pound, and it is best to cook them via broiling, grilling or roasting.  On the other end of the scale, there are Capon and Caponette chickens.  These are specially fed castrated male roosters (yes, you read that right) that are usually 4 to 7 pounds.  They are known for being tender, juicy and flavorable.  It is best to roast, poach or fricassee them.

So there you go.  Probably more information than you thought you would ever know about chickens.  And on that note, I will leave you with a joke…

Why did the chicken cross the basketball court?

He heard the referee calling fowls.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Day permalink
    January 7, 2010 11:26 am

    What a great post! I really like what you have done with the new Pearl Onion website. It is great to learn about types of foods before preparing / eating them. Hopefully the knowledge will also help me in my next game of Trivial Pursuit. Thanks so much!

  2. Mat permalink
    January 9, 2010 11:39 am

    I am stuck in notting hill, standing at a freezing bus stop and snow is blowing horizontally in my face.
    Well that was 2 mins ago. Now on no 28 heading through kensigton. Anyway the reason for the blurb is that I have had pearl onion to keep me company, and as I mildly obsessed abouy food, I found your information about chickens weirdly comforting.

  3. January 10, 2010 2:04 pm

    apparently i did not know my chicken. 🙂
    thanks for this, and for coming by my blog and leaving such a kind comment. you are so right about the love for kitty.

    i hope your sick kitty is OK….

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