An excellent source of protein, lean (once the skin is taken off) and rich in brain-protecting, cancer-busting niacin and other energy-boosting B vitamins, chicken is one of the most popular foods in the world and chicken recipes are plentiful.
Chicken appeals for myriad reasons: aside from the health benefits, this humble bird has a smooth texture and a mild taste which appeals to both adults and children. Chicken is also outlandishly versatile – it can be eaten any which way you want: roasted, boiled, broiled, grilled, fried, poached, spiced, diced and sliced. This ubiquitous bird has a global reputation; there are chicken recipes in almost every indigenous cuisine.
Protein-rich foods, so the Atkins Diet indoctrinates us, help us lose weight quickly. If you’re looking for wholesome recipes for chicken it’s worth noting that a 2008 Australian study concluded that lean chicken breast is the best meat to use in stir-fry recipes, as it contains the lowest fat content and maintains its nutrients better. The chuck is a dieter’s best friend.
Throughout the ages, chicken soup has been the go-to dish to treat those most-common of illnesses – colds and flu. A traditional peasant dish, its curative qualities are so feted that it’s also known as folk medicine or ‘Jewish penicillin’.
Every country of any culinary note has a chicken soup of sorts: Japan has its cleansing Torijiru; Mexico its hearty Caldo de pollo; Greece its lemony avgolemono; Scotland its simple cock-a-leekie. Although the health benefits of this elixir have been disputed by the medical profession, mere science hasn’t diminished its almost mythical status as a cure-all. Even books and plays have been named after it: Arnold Wesker’s play ‘Chicken Soup and Barley’ and the self-help bible ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ to name a few.
But not all chickens are as nourishing as the food industry would have us believe. The health rewards of eating a factory-farmed bird pumped full of antibiotics and hormones aren’t the same as a consuming a free-range or organic chuck. Outdoor-reared chickens tend to be more tender and flavourful. They’re also significantly more expensive but a little goes a long way –a 1.5kg bird will feed four, plus leftovers and stock for subsequent meals.
Of course, all those health benefits mean zilch if the chicken isn’t cooked properly. Taking care that raw chicken doesn’t come into contact with other foods, defrosting frozen chicken in the fridge rather than at room temperature and not serving undercooked chicken will ensure that the chicken recipes you prepare are a resounding success, not a fowl failure.