Monday, October 28, 2013

Cheap Food Factfile: Chicken

Whole Chicken- Battery £2.50 per kg  (Free range is about £3 per kg)
Skinless Chicken Breasts- £9.23 per kg (Free Range)
Skinless Boneless Chicken Thighs- £7.61 per kg (Free Range)

The chicken is a domesticated bird, and is one of the most common and widespread domestic animals in the world. It is the most populous species of bird in the world. They are omnivorous, living on We keep them for their meat and of course for their eggs as well. Despite how yummy chickens are, chicken’s weren’t firstly domesticated for their meat- sadly the first domesticated chickens were bred for “Cock fighting” in India. From India, chickens were imported to America, Africa, Europe and the rest of Asia and Africa-chickens are mentioned in ancient Greece and Egypt as early as the 5th century BC. The Egyptians were fascinated by chickens, describing them as “birds who give birth every day”.

There are hundreds of different chicken breeds. They are classified based on size, feather colour, “comb” type (the funny bit on the top of the heads), skin colour, number of toes, amount of feathers, egg colour and place of origin. Some breeds are also preferred for their eggs, or preferred for their meat. The most popular chicken breeds in the UK are separated into “heavy breeds”- larger birds that do not lay as many eggs, and also get “broody”, so are more often used in meat farming. These include such breeds as light Sussex, rhode island red and Plymouth Rock. Heavy breeds also often lay brown eggs. Light breeds are often quite colourful birds, yet normally lay light coloured or white eggs, and are normally smaller than heavy breeds. These include varieties such as the white leghorn, Ancona and Minorca.

When it comes to the chicken in our shops, you may have seen “Corn fed chicken”- this chicken has a brighter yellow skin, as it has been fed primarily on corn/maize. This is a bit of a posh myth really, as despite it being much more pricey corn-fed chicken has been found to not taste much different at all to normal chicken, and normal chickens are fed a mixture of maize/wheat anyway.

A “poussin”, which you may have seen in the shops, is basically just a baby chicken.

Should we be going free range? Yeah, I think so. I understand this is a “cheap food factfile”, but the conditions they keep battery farmed chickens in seem quite cruel to me. Theres not too much of a price difference either. I don’t think we have to go organic, but free-range will do nicely. Battery farmed chickens have much shorted lives than normal chickens- normal chickens are slaughtered after 1-2 years of life. Battery chickens, known as “broiler” chickens, through the use of chemicals/steroids and things, are fattened up and slaughtered after only 6 weeks of life!!  And their bones are often not very well formed and they tend to be “fat” birds, but fairly malnourished. If you are roasting a whole chicken, you will definitely be able to tell the difference between a battery farmed bird and a free range one- because a lot of the flavour of a good roast chicken come from big healthy bones in the bird. With breast meat, it’s harder to know if something is battery farmed/free range because of the blander flavour of this cut. Anyway, ethical rant over!!

Here is a list of the “cuts” of chicken, for your interest: Breast (whole, sliced into “breast steaks”,  wings, drumsticks (the chicken’s “shins”), thighs, legs, “Supreme” (breast of chicken with the wing attached), Oysters (2 small round pieces of dark meat on the back, considered a delicacy), chicken mini fillets (small mini fillets, attached to the back of chicken breasts, which are also sold separately in packs). A “Spatchcocked” chicken is a chicken that has been cut down the back and flattened out, usually in order to be cooked quicker. A “Butterflied” chicken breast is a breast that has been cut down the middle and opened out (sometimes flattened out for dishes, sometimes stuffed and/or rolled for cooking).

Health Benefits
Chicken (particularly if consumed without the skin) is one of the leanest meats you can eat, so are a fantastic low fat source of protein. Chicken also has a high ratio of polyunsaturated fat- to saturated fat (unlike red meats such as pork and beef, which depending on cut have fairly high saturated fat contents). There are no carbohydrates or sugars in chicken, so it is suitable for those on a low carbohydrate diet such as Atkins or South Beach. It is also a very good source of Niacin (Vitamin B3) and Selenium. Chicken also contain essential amino acids, including a high level of “tryptophan”, which is an amino acid connected to improving serotonin levels in the brain (aka: eating chicken makes you happy!!).

Nutritional Information (per 100g, roast chicken meat and skin)
Calories- 300kcal
Protein- 25.9g (52% of RDA!)
Fat- 21g
(of which saturates)-  6g
Niacin (Vitamin B3)- 6.7mg (34% RDA)
Selenium- 22.5mcg (32% RDA)

The biggest producers of chicken in the world are the United states of America (with the four biggest poultry companies in the world being in the US), followed by China and Germany. Whilst America and China export their chicken to a lot of other countries, in Germany 90% of the chickens produced are consumed within that country.

Interesting Chicken Facts
The term “rooster” is an American word, with the European official term for a male chicken over 12 months being “cock”. Female chickens over a year old are hens, whilst younger ones are generally called “pullets”- although in the egg industry, the chicken stops being called a “pullet” once it has started laying eggs, at around 16-20 weeks of age.

There are a couple of islands off the coast of New Zealand called the “Hen and Chicken” islands. Despite being named this, the islands do not have chickens on them, nor have anything to do with chickens- they believe they are called this based on a deviation of an old name for a star constellation!!

Most chickens live from 5-10 years, but the oldest chicken that ever lived, in Alabama, known as “Matilda”, lived to a ripe old age of 16!

Ways we like them
Every country loves chicken, so I will just mention a few basics in this one:

Chicken soup is a popular dish all over the world, and is often cooked in different ways. The English/Americans enjoy creamy blended chicken soups (normally cooked with milk or cream). The Jewish cook chicken soup, also known as “Jewish penicillin” (for it’s healing properties) which normally includes chicken, vegetables, broth and dumplings of some sort. The Chinese and Japanese eat a lot of chicken noodle soups also, the Japanese often call these “ramens”, due to the addition of a clear broth and thin noodles. The indian soup “mulligatawny”, despite often including beef in English recipes, traditionally was a spiced thin broth with chicken, ground pepper and turmeric.

Chicken is a popular “flavour” for many food items- anything from crisps, to instant noodles, to packeted soups/instant rice dishes.

Chicken stock is made by boiling the carcase of a chicken in water, usually with the addition of vegetables (celery/carrots/garlic/onions) and herbs (parsley/ bay leaves/ thyme). Stock cubes are made through the concentration and dehydration of this strained carcase liquid. A sign of a good homemade chicken stock is the concentration of gelatine within the stock once it has chilled.

Chicken can be frozen or brined in order to increase shelf life.

Britain- we love our roast chicken, often as part of a traditional “Sunday lunch” meal. This will include a roasted whole chicken, gravy, roasted potatoes, vegetables, stuffing- and then traditionally served with “bread sauce” (a white savoury sauce made with bread and milk). Chicken is also a very popular ingredient in casseroles. The Chicken Tikka Massala, a popular dish served in Indian restaurants, was invented in Scotland, and is supposedly our country’s favourite national dish! Chicken and mushroom, chicken and ham and chicken and leek pies are popular pie flavours in the UK.

Russia- The chicken “kiev” is a Russian/Ukranian dish, invented in Kiev in Ukraine. However, the Russians believe they may have invented the dish first, in Moscow. It is a chicken breast that has been carefully sliced, stuffed with garlic butter, breaded and then baked. It should be made carefully so the garlic butter does not leak out during the cooking process. This is a very popular ready meal in the UK.

America- I have never been to a KFC, but I have heard it is delicious. Southern fried chicken is a very famous American dish from the Deep South, which is chicken (traditionally on the bone), coated in seasoned flour, dipped in a type of “batter”, and deep fried. “Buffalo” wings are very popular in America, which are deep fried and coated in a spicy cayenne/vinegar sauce, and usually served with ranch or blue cheese dips. They are called “buffalo” because they were invented in Buffalo, New York. Chicken nuggets are a popular dish that is available world-wide, made very popular by Macdonalds (“McNuggets”!).  Chicken burgers are also a very popular fast food option. A “Cordon Bleu” dish is meat wrapped around cheese/ a cheese filling, which is then breaded and then pan-fried. Chicken cordon bleu is very popular, and should not be confused with the cookery school of the same name, as this dish was invented in New York.

France- Firstly, there is the very famous “Coq Au Vin”, traditionally an old rooster is jointed into 8 pieces, and slow cooked with red wine, shallots, bacon, and little mushrooms. Chicken chasseur is a similar dish to coq au vin, except it often contains tomato. The French also live to use the chicken livers, to make chicken liver pate/parfait, which is very popular in the United Kingdom as well- normally consumed as a starter to a meal, with thinly sliced toast. Chiicken chasseur is a sautéed chicken dish usually in a creamy white wine sauce.

Italy- Chicken “Parmigiana” is a dish of breaded chicken cutlets, layered with aubergine, tomato sauce, a generous topping of parmesan and baked in the oven. It is one of Americas most popular dishes consumed in Italian restaurants. Chicken “Cacciatore”, which means “Hunters Chicken” , is a popular dish in the North of Italy, and is essentially a chicken, tomato and bacon casserole (often cooked with whole legs of chicken).

China- Chicken is popular stir-fried in numerous dishes, popular ones include kung po chicken (which is a spicy dish with peanuts, vegetables and plenty of chilli), chicken chow mein (chicken fried with noodles, onions and beansprouts)and sweet and sour chicken (chicken with pineapple in a tangy sweet and sour sauce). The Chinese and many other Asian countries, consume the head and feet of the chicken as delicacies (in fact my local authentic Chinese restaurants serve chicken feet dim sum!).

Chicken is a popular ingredient in Thai curries, such as Thai Green or Thai red curries. Chicken Satay- usually chargrilled marinated strips of chicken served with a spicy peanut sauce, is also very popular in Thailand.

In India, chicken is called “Murgh”, and is used in a variety of different curries. Popular dishes include chicken korma (chicken in a sweet, creamy coconut based sauce) chicken Balti a medium spices chicken recipe traditionally served in a “Balti dish”), and chicken biryani (chicken fried with rice, garnished with egg and cucumber, and served with a curried vegetable sauce) . Chicken is often marinated in yoghurt and spices, and cooked in a tandoor oven- this dish (tandoori chicken, or chicken tikka) is very popular in Indian restaurants in the UK.

Africa- In Morocco, chicken is often added to tagines and stews instead of the traditional lamb. In Egypt, chicken is often marinated in lemon, garlic and olive oil, and barbequed. “Piri Piri” chicken, which is kinda a South African/ Portugese invention, popularised by the restaurant chain Nando’s, is usually roasted or griddled chicken, marinated in a sauce made of the spicy piri piri chillies, lemon and garlic.

In Germany, chicken schnitzels (chicken coated in flour egg and breadcrumbs and fried) are very popular- this was a dish that traditionally should use veal, but chicken is a cheaper and ethically more sustainable meat to use.

One of Hungary’s most famous dishes, “Chicken Paprikash”, is traditionally made with chicken thighs, peppers, paprika, and sour cream.

In South America, chicken is often used for fajitas/ fillings in enchiladas, toppings for tostadas/tacos. Chicken with rice meals are a staple for south American cuisine as it is cheap. “Tortilla Soup”- a dish from Mexico, is chicken and vegetable soup, garnished with crushed tortilla chips.  

Certainly some of my favourite ways of eating chicken are mentioned in the above list. Chicken noodle soup would most likely be the meal I would choose as my last on this earth- whether it’s my home made “Get better in a bowl” chicken noodle soup (recipe on the blog), or some sort of Japanese ramen/udon chicken noodle soup. Roast chicken, with all the English trimmings, has again got to be one of my favourite meals- as long as there’s a good tasty gravy to go with it, otherwise it’s rubbish! My favourite parts of the chicken are the skin (specially when all crispy and roasted) and the oysters (just like in the film Amelie, love it). As some of you know, both my parents are vegetarian- but I asked them both if they went back to eating meat (they “converted” in their late teens so they never will go back to carnivorous life now, lol) what they would eat. Mum said chicken casserole, cooked with cream and white wine. Dad said his mum’s chicken salad- leftover roast chicken mixed with mayonnaise, sultanas and bananas (ewwwww…..)!!

Some of my own favourite created recipes with chicken over the years has got to be my Cider, mustard and red onion chicken (recipe on blog)- with creamy mash and buttered savoy cabbage. Also, my chicken fajitas with tomato and spring onion salad is a must. I recommend if you are meat eaters trying to get by on a cheap food budget (although I have realised fairly recently it is SO much cheaper to be a vegetarian!!), chicken is a very good way to go- but if you do, make the extra effort and buy/cook a whole chicken. Your bank balance will thank you later, trust me- a big whole chicken can be turned into several meals if used economically (I often make a roast dinner, leftover curry, leftover sandwiches, then leftover soup! Or if you are cooking for one, or for two (not a family)a good thing to do is to roast a whole large chicken, get all the meat off the bird, and then weigh up portions of the meat in bags and freeze it.  

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