I love a whole roast chicken (what omnivore doesn't?), and have devoted a non-negligible portion of my working life to cooking it, experimenting with it, and writing about it (). That being said, I will be the first to admit that for all the wonderful attributes it has to offer, a whole bird has its share of shortcomings.
For starters, it's not all that versatile. Other than sticking it in the oven or simmering it in a pot of liquid, there aren't that many obvious ways to cook it. Sure, you can (and should) spatchcock and grill it, but most people don't. Second (and this is a big one), getting crispy skin on a whole roast chicken is really hard to do. (Quick rant: 99% of the time when people talk about roasting a whole chicken with crispy skin, they're really talking about golden brown skin. In practice, most whole roasted chickens, once they're carved and brought to the table, are not crispy at all. When it's actually crispy, chicken skin crackles like a potato chip. When was the last time you heard that sound from a whole bird?)
I digress. The point is that when you cut a whole chicken into parts (or use parts that have already been cut up), a lot of possibilities open up to you. Truly crispy skin (try roasting chicken thighs in a hot oven) is one, techniques like braising and sautéing are others. Not to mention the fact that bone-in chicken parts also retain their moisture better during cooking.
Here are 9 mini-recipes that celebrate the ease, versatility, and downright deliciousness of chicken parts. There are three categories: roasted, sautéed and braised, each with three options based on the same simple cooking technique. They're all easy to make, and, though they're not necessarily lighting fast (bone-in chicken is done when it's done), they're all fair game to throw together on a reasonably distracted weeknight.
A few quick logistical notes: The highest quality—and tastiest—chickens are usually sold whole, and cutting up a chicken yourself saves money and supplies you with trimmings for making stock. But prepackaged parts come with their own advantages: not only are they convenient (and ubiquitous), but they also let you mix and match your favorite pieces. There’s no sadder sight than a devout dark-meat eater having to settle for a breast.
These recipes apply only to bone-in chicken parts, something that no longer goes without saying in a world obsessed with boneless breast. To serve four, start with a 3- to 4-pound cut-up whole chicken or 2 or more pounds of parts. Bone-in breasts remain pretty juicy when cooked in the following recipes, but if you’re worried that they’ll dry out, just pull them off the heat a few minutes before the dark meat is done. Judge the doneness with an instant-read thermometer (breasts and thighs should fall somewhere in the range of 155–165°F) or visually: when the juices run consistently clear (not pink), the meat is done.
Happy cooking, and see you Friday.
Yes, there is a certain majesty that comes with serving a whole chicken, but you open up a lot of possibilities for yourself when you break it down.
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