Chicken − the Original White Meat
Written by Charleston
History tells us that today’s chickens are descendants of wild fowl that roamed the dense jungles of primeval Asia. Thousands of years later, France’s King Henry IV stated in his coronation speech that he hoped each peasant in his realm would have “a chicken in his pot every Sunday” (a quote later paraphrased by President Herbert Hoover). It surprises many people that chicken wasn’t always the reasonably priced meat it is today. Until after World War II, only the affluent (and chicken farmers) could manage even the proverbial Sunday chicken. Today, thanks to modern production methods, almost anyone can afford this versatile fowl, which provides not only meat and eggs but feathers as well. Chickens fall into several classifications.
The broiler-fryer can weigh up to 3½ pounds and is usually around 2½ months old. These chickens, as the name implies, are best when broiled or fried. The more flavorful roasters have a higher fat content and therefore are perfect for roasting and rotisserie cooking. They usually range between 2½ and 5 pounds and can be up to 8 months old. Stewing chickens (also called hens, boiling fowl and just plain fowl) usually range in age from 10 to 18 months and can weigh from 3 to 6 pounds. Their age makes them more flavorful but also less tender, so they’re best cooked with moist heat, such as in stewing or braising. A capon is a rooster that is castrated when quite young (usually before 8 weeks), fed a fattening diet and brought to market before it’s 10 months old. Ranging from 4 to 10 pounds, capons are full-breasted with tender, juicy, flavorful meat that is particularly suited to roasting. Rock Cornish hen, also called Rock Cornish game hen, is a hybrid of Cornish and White Rock chickens. These miniature chickens weigh up to 2½ pounds and are 4 to 6 weeks old. Because of the relatively small amount of meat to bone, each hen is usually just enough for one serving. Rock Cornish hens are best broiled or roasted. Free-range chickens are the elite of the poultry world in that, in contrast to the mass-produced birds allotted 1 square foot of space, each range chicken has double that are indoors plus the freedom to roam outdoors. They’re fed a special vegetarian diet free (according to most range chicken breeders) of antibiotics, animal byproducts, hormones and growth enhancers. The special diet and freedom of movement is thought by some to give the fowl a fuller, more “chickeny” flavor; the added amenities also make these birds much more expensive than mass-produced chickens. Free-range chickens average 4½ pounds and are usually around 10 to 12 weeks old.
Insert from The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst