So, you think you know your chicken thighs from your chicken wings? If you think you know all about chicken, try these favorite fowl facts:
- Ounce per ounce, of all the chicken parts–thigh, breast, wing, or leg–which has the least amount of fat? (breast)
- Which is lower in fat: a 4 oz. chicken breast or a 4 oz. piece of salmon? (4 oz. chicken breast)
- Which has almost twice as much saturated fat as the other: ground round or ground chicken? (ground round)
- True or false: All poultry in the United States has been inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)? (true)
But did you know not all chicken is the same? A culinary chameleon, chicken certainly has something to offer everyone: a choice of dark meat or white, unlimited possibilities of preparing and serving, low in cost, and low in fat, too. One can eat poultry every day of the year without repeating a single dish.
The Skinny on Chicken
Considering its credentials, no wonder chicken is fast becoming the most popular meat in America. No meat is more versatile or nutritious. Health, not to mention taste, is the primary reason Americans choose chicken over other meats. Chicken is not only high in protein, but low in calories and fat, especially if the skin is removed. In addition to being loaded with niacin and other B vitamins, and minerals such as zinc, iron, and manganese, chicken is low in cholesterol and sodium, which fits in well with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
Some parts of the chicken contain less fat than their cousin turkey, to say nothing of beef, lamb, orpork. Contrary to popular belief, only about one-third of chicken fat is saturated; the rest is poly- or monounsaturated, which is better for you. Chicken fat is thus comparable to peanut oil in its fatty-acid composition. In any case, most of the fat is located in the skin and easily removed. Unlike beef and pork, chicken meat is not marbled. And chickens, in addition to their meat, give us vitamin and protein-rich eggs, which are as versatile as the bird itself.
Chicken can be steamed, roasted, baked, broiled, grilled, fried, sauteed, and barbecued.
- Steaming: The chicken, along with seasonings and any liquid, is set on a rack over boiling water. This is an excellent low-fat cooking method.
- Roasting: Roasting, another low-fat method, uses hot, dry air to cook the chicken.
- Grilling or Barbecuing: Whether over a charcoal or wood fire or the electric grill, this method is probably America’s most popular low-fat cooking method. A snappy, low-fat sauce or zesty marinade adds a special flavor without adding fat.
- Frying: Deep-fat frying uses enough cooking fat to submerge the chicken. Just remember, frying can add double, sometimes triple, the amount of fat.
- Sauteing: Although this method uses only a fraction of the cooking fat of frying, it still adds extra fat and calories to otherwise low-fat fare.
Here are some tips on how to pick and prepare poultry:
- Skin should be light-colored and moist; if wet, the chicken probably has been poorly frozen.
- A golden color is not a guide to quality. Yellow skin does not always indicate a cornfed bird but simply the use of yellow foodstuffs.
* A clean fresh chicken can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days. Chicken should be stored sealed in plastic or foil so it won’t contaminate other foods.
* When freezing a whole bird, remove and wrap any giblets separately. Never refreeze raw chicken, and do not freeze stuffed birds because the stuffing will not freeze sufficiently to prevent bacteria from developing.
* It is best to let a frozen chicken thaw completely in the refrigerator before cooking. Safety Note: A frozen bird should be cooked within 12 hours of thawing.
–Cleaning and Handling
* Do not rinse a whole chicken before cooking; just wipe out the cavity with a damp paper towel. If the chicken has been frozen, blot the skin with a dry paper towel to absorb as much moisture as possible.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after handling raw chicken. Chopping boards, knives, food processors, and any other equipment should be scalded with hot water and thoroughly washed before being used in preparation of other ingredients. These are preventive measures to destroy salmonella bacteria that could contaminate other foods.
Meals in the Fast Lane
What about eating out? It used to be impossible to find fast food that was low-fat or healthy. You’d have had better luck finding a Siberian tiger in your neighbor’s back yard. A wilted bowl of lettuce, a scoop of cottage cheese, or a ground beef patty were about the only alternatives–lean pickings at best. But today it’s possible to get a low-fat, tasty fast-food meal–if you know what to look for and choose properly.
Many restaurants provide menus with nutritional information to meet their health-conscious customers’ concerns. Check out the chart (at top) to help you make better choices if fast foods are your main fare. Just add some fresh fruit and non-fat milk to round out the meal.
Chicken adapts well to hundreds of low-fat, nutritious recipes, depending on how it’s cooked. Healthier choices include such dishes as stir-fry chicken prepared with a minimum of oil, chicken salad with a “lite” dressing, chicken kebabs, pasta paired with chicken, or chicken with steamed rice and vegetables. If an entree has a label, read the calories and fat grams; 0 to 10 grams of fat is an excellent choice; 11 to 20 is good.
Watch out for sauces. Some healthier-choice marinades or sauces include soy, ginger, herb, mustard, or one with a yogurt base. Try to steer clear of fat-laden sauces made with butter, oil, cream, or peanuts. For home-made sauces, nonstick cooking spray and a teaspoon or two of oil, preferably in a non-stick skillet, works well and keeps the fat content down.
The chicken’s ancestry goes back a long way–all the way to 2500 BC. It was during this time that the red jungle fowl of Southeast Asia, the ancestor of the modern chicken, was domesticated. Four and a half millennia have yielded us an abundance of chicken and a cornucopia of wonderful ways of serving our favorite fowl. No wonder we love this bird.
for more information
Consumer Pamphlets National Broiler Council Washington, DC 20005-2706 Pamphlets: “Chicken: Food for Fitness,” “Chicken Buying and Handling,” “Questions and Answers About…Chicken and Food Safety,” “Ethnic Chicken,” “Chicken-Great on the Grill,” “Chicken–Its Nutritive Value,” single copy of each free with self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope.
Publication Sales Department Food Marketing Institute 800 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 900 Washington, DC 20006 Brochure: “Nutri Facts: Consumer Chicken & Turkey,” single copy 50 [cts.] with self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope. Website at www.fmi.org
For information on safe handling tips for poultry, call USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-800-535-4555
A look at the label will reveal some useful information. The United States has strict inspection procedures as well as voluntary grading systems. The grading and inspection program of the USDA employs three recognizable marks:
- Inspection Mark: Indicates that the bird has been processed under sanitary conditions and is wholesome food. Look for the USDA compliance stamp on the outside of the package.
- Grade Mark: Indicates the quality, class, and kind–there are three grades: A, B, and C. Grade A is the highest quality and the only grade you are likely to see in the store. Grades B and C may be sold at retail, but usually are used in further-processed products in which the poultry meat is cut up, chopped, or ground.
- Grade and Inspection Mark: Poultry bearing the combined grade and inspection marks is guaranteed to be of top quality.
Item Fat (grams) Calories Chicken, white meat, 4.1 153 skinless, roasted, 3.5 oz. Chicken, dark meat, 8.8 178 skinless, roasted, 3.5 oz. Fried, 1 breast: "Extra Crispy" 19.7 342 "Original" recipe 15.3 283 Chicken fillet, grilled 17.0 408 sandwich, 1 sandwich Chicken fajita pita, 8.0 292 1 sandwich Chicken salad with nonfat 2.2 105 dressing, 1 1/2 cups