At present, approximately 150,000 – 200,000 households in the U.S. are estimated to raise small numbers of chickens on their family property. Dozens of cities across the country have recently updated or passed new laws or ordinances for “urban chickens,” with many cities setting a cap at five or six chickens per family and their residing a minimum distance of 25-50 feet away from neighboring houses.

Commercial production of chicken in the U.S. has grown continuously and dramatically over the past 30 years. In 2010, production of broiler chickens surpassed 35 billion pounds and is expected to surpass 40 billion pounds by 2020. Per capita chicken consumption was approximately 50 pounds per year in 1985 but grew to nearly 85 pounds per year in 2005. Consumption of chicken presently exceeds consumption of beef by approximately 35%.

The United States is the world’s largest producer of broiler chickens and the U.S. states, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina produce the most chicken for meat purposes. (In terms of egg-laying flocks: Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Texas are states with the most production.)

Chicken (not deep-fried) is a great alternative to red meat. It’s low in fat — without the skin — and it’s very tasty, if it’s prepared correctly. Chicken is a great source of protein and, as an added bonus, it’s less expensive than beef. But remember, there’s always the risk of E. coli infection when you’re dealing with chicken. Be sure to cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. to avoid any problems.

Many diet plans recommend dieters choose white meat instead of dark meat chicken, because dark meat usually contains more calories than white meat. But dark meat chicken isn’t quite as unhealthy as you may have been led to believe. Dark meat chicken is rich in myoglobin, a compound packed with iron found in muscle cells. The dark meat parts of the chicken, like the chicken’s legs, are rich in myoglobin, whereas white meat chicken contains no myoglobin at all. In addition, dark meat chicken contains more zinc and B vitamins than white meat chicken.

The bottom line is dark meat chicken still contains more calories and fat than white meat, although dark meat does pack greater nutritional value. Occasional consumption of dark meat chicken is also a healthy option.

On average, a 6 oz. piece of white meat chicken breast with skin has approximately 340 calories. If you remove the skin from that same piece of chicken breast, it will contain only 240 calories. Chicken skin mostly consists of fat, so by removing it, you’ll be able to save at least 100 calories per 6 oz. serving. A 6 oz. skinless piece of chicken breast contains 3 g of fat, but that same piece of chicken with skin contains 14 g of fat.

Chicken is a great source of protein. One 6 oz. serving of chicken contains 48 g of protein. Chicken is also rich in potassium, calcium and contains no carbohydrates. The nutritional makeup of chicken makes it a healthy, filling food option. By eating healthy cuts of chicken, you’ll consume only a small amount of calories and your stomach will stay full for hours. This decreases your likelihood of snacking on unhealthy foods later in the day.

Although chicken is a naturally healthy food, it’s easy to make it unhealthy. The best preparations for chicken are grilling (broiling) and baking. You should avoid deep frying and use healthy marinades.

When purchasing whole chickens, look for ones that have a solid and plump shape with a rounded breast. Whether purchasing a whole chicken or chicken parts, the chicken should feel pliable when gently pressed and it should not have an “off” smell. Do not buy chicken if the sell-by date on the label has already expired or the packaging is broken. The color of the chicken’s skin, white or yellow, does not have any bearing on its nutritional value. Regardless of color, the skin should be opaque and not spotted.

If purchasing frozen chicken, make sure that it is frozen solid and does not have any ice deposits or freezer burn. Additionally, avoid frozen chicken that has frozen liquid in the package as this may indicate that it has been defrosted and refrozen.

Shopping for Chicken

Buy organic. Organic standards help lower risk of contaminated feed and organic chicken usually has higher quality and taste. However, remember that organic by itself does not guarantee a natural lifestyle for the chickens.

Ask for Pasture-Raised

Go beyond organic by asking for pasture-raised. Don’t get sidetracked by the confusing array of labeling terms. You are likely to find phrases like “pasture-raised,” “pastured,” free-range” and “cage-free” on chicken meat packaging, but labeling laws allow products to display these terms even if the chickens spend little or no time outdoors in a pasture setting. Talk to your grocer or the chicken farmer and find out how the animals were actually raised.

Consider Local Farms

Organic, pasture-raised chicken may be available from local farms with small flocks and a natural lifestyle for their chickens. Two websites that can help you find small local farms in your area are http://www.localharvest.org and http://www.eatwild.com. Both sites are searchable by zip code.

Chicken should be stored in the coldest section of your refrigerator. If the store packaging is intact and secure, store it this way since this will reduce the amount of handling. Yet, if the packaging is not secure and it seems as if the chicken liquids will leak, rewrap it securely before storing. This is very important to make sure that the chicken does not contaminate other foods in the refrigerator. Refrigerated raw chicken can keep for two to three days.

To freeze chicken: remove it from its packaging and pat it dry with paper towels. Using either aluminum foil or freezer paper, wrap the chicken parts carefully so that they are as airtight as possible. Well-wrapped frozen chicken can keep for about one year.

Wash hands, tools and counters completely after working with chicken.

Lemon Chicken Breasts with Capers

Serves 4

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 oz. each)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
  • 4 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, patted dry, and chopped
  • 1 lemon, zest finely grated, and juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup lower-salt chicken broth

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F. Make a lengthwise horizontal slice almost all the way through each chicken breast and open each up like a book.

Flatten the chicken with a meat mallet until it is 1/4 inch thick. Put the Parmigiano, bread crumbs, 3 tablespoons capers, lemon zest and 1 tablespoons parsley in a mini chopper or food processor and pulse a few times to combine.

Sprinkle the mixture on top of the chicken breasts. Fold each breast closed and secure with toothpicks. Sprinkle the breasts with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter and the oil in a large (12-inch), heavy-duty, oven-proof skillet with a cover over medium-high heat until the butter melts and starts to foam, about 2 minutes.

Add the chicken and cook, without moving it, until it browns and easily releases from the pan, about 2 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook the other side until browned, about 2 more minutes.

Add the garlic and the remaining 1 tablespoon capers to the skillet, transfer the pan to the oven and roast uncovered until the chicken cooks through (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part should register 165°F), about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and tent with foil.

Set the skillet over medium-high heat; add the chicken broth and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits, until it reduces by about half, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Adjust seasoning, if needed.

Serve the chicken drizzled with the butter sauce and sprinkled with the remaining 1 tablespoon parsley.

Chicken Cacciatore

The secret to really great tasting cacciatore is to make it a day ahead, refrigerate overnight and reheat the next day.

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs chicken cut up or use all thighs, skin removed
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
  • 1 large onion, diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced (about 3/4 cups)
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 (26-oz.) container Pomi brand crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lb. spaghetti

Directions

Arrange the chicken in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or plate. Season with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a ziplock bag. Place a few pieces of chicken in the flour and shake until the chicken is coated. Return to the baking sheet and flour all the chicken.

Place a large Dutch oven over high heat for several minutes. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat until shimmering. Add a layer of chicken and brown on both sides. Remove to a large plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil and brown the remainder of the chicken.

Add the remaining oil and vegetables; reduce the heat to medium and sauté until the vegetables are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the tomatoes and the chicken to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for about 1 ½ hours or until the chicken is very tender.

Remove pot from heat and cool. Remove chicken to a large baking dish and pour the sauce from the Dutch Oven over the chicken. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day heat oven to 350 degrees F. and heat chicken covered for one hour.

Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions. Serve the chicken over the cooked pasta.

Roasted Chicken with Apples and Sage

Servings 6

Ingredients

  • One 4-pound roasting chicken
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 medium apples, cored and quartered
  • 3 small onions
  • 2 ribs celery 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup fruity white wine, such as Riesling
  • 3/4 cup apple juice or cider

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Rub the inside of the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Chop 1 apple, 1 onion and the celery into 2-inch pieces. Toss the apple mixture with the garlic and 1 tablespoon sage and place it all in the chicken cavity. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wings securely under the chicken.

Mix the butter and mustard to a smooth paste and rub half of the mixture over the chicken and sprinkle with the remaining salt and white pepper. Place the chicken in a medium roasting pan. Roast in the lower third of the oven for 30 minutes.

Brush the remaining mustard-butter over the chicken and continue to roast for 1 hour. Baste the chicken with the pan drippings and sprinkle with remaining sage and thyme.

Scatter the remaining apples and onions around the chicken, tossing lightly to coat with the drippings. Add the white wine and roast the chicken 20 minutes more.

Baste the chicken and toss the apples and onions again for even browning. Continue to roast until juices run clear and the meat between the leg and thigh reaches 165° F.

Remove from the oven and transfer the chicken to a serving platter with the apples and onions.

Prepare the au jus: Tip the roasting pan so the liquid pools to one end and use a large spoon to remove any excess fat from the pan juices. Add the apple cider and place the pan over medium-high heat. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan and then pour the au jus over the chicken, apples and onions.

Slow Cooker Rosemary Chicken with Artichokes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary 
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • Snipped fresh parsley
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs

Directions

In a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker, combine onion, garlic, broth, tapioca, 1 teaspoon of the lemon peel, the snipped rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper. Add chicken.

Sprinkle chicken with the salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

Cover and cook on a low-heat setting for 5 to 5-1/2 hours or on high-heat setting for 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

If using the low-heat setting, turn cooker to high heat. Add thawed artichokes and pepper strips. Cover and cook for 30 minutes more. To serve, sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon of lemon peel. If desired, serve with hot cooked rice. If desired, garnish with rosemary sprigs. Makes 6 servings.

Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breasts 

Ingredients

  • 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (1 1/2 pounds)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Half a 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, toasted
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (3 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Place 1 chicken breast half between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Pound lightly with the flat side of a meat mallet into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Remove plastic wrap. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat with all the chicken breasts.

For the filling: in a medium skillet cook shallots and garlic in the 2 teaspoons hot oil until tender. Remove from heat; stir in spinach, nuts and mozzarella. In a shallow bowl combine bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling on each chicken breast. Fold in the bottom and sides; then roll up. Secure with wooden toothpicks.

Lightly brush each roll with the 1 tablespoon olive oil; coat with bread crumb mixture. Place rolls seam side down in a shallow baking pan.

Bake, uncovered, in a 400 degrees F. oven about 25 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and registers 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer.

Let rolls rest, covered with foil, for 5 minutes. Remove toothpicks before serving. Makes 6 chicken rolls.

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