Don’t Be Chicken
FOOD FOR THOUGHT - September 10, 2003 Mark R. Vogel - Epicure1@optonline.net - Archive articles
See Also: Chicken Cooking & Safety; Safe Chicken; Chicken Cooking Tips; Chicken Feathers; Chicken a la King; Chicken Trivia; Chicken Quotes
Tonight I’m roasting a chicken. I will fill the cavity with chopped onion, lemon, garlic, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper. I will then truss it, (this allows the entire bird to roast evenly. If the legs are loose they can burn by the time the internal section is properly cooked). Next I will brush it with olive oil and sprinkle it with rosemary, salt and pepper. Then I will place it in the roasting pan on top of a bed of chopped carrots and celery. Finally, I will cook it at 375 degrees until the deepest part of the thigh meat reaches a temperature of 165 degrees. (The thigh takes the longest to cook). I will not rely on the color of the juices to determine doneness. Most chickens are slaughtered young before sufficient calcium has built up in their bones. Thus, blood can seep from the bones creating an illusion that it is undercooked. Temperature is the only reliable way to know.
As I thought about my menu tonight I found my mind pondering the array of reactions individuals have to this wonderful fowl. I think about things like that. That’s why I’m a food writer.
There are a variety of “issues” that people have with chicken. Distinct dichotomies exist in its consumption. Some people will eat the dark meat, other’s will not. Likewise for the skin. The dark meat is “dark” because the leg and wing muscles are used more. Thus, they require more oxygen. Myoglobin is an iron containing protein that transfers oxygen from the blood to the muscles and in turn alters their color. The dark meat is also higher in intramuscular fat which is why it is juicer than the dry, dull breast. (Did you see that? I just slipped in one of my own prejudices).
Many people consider chicken a “dirty” bird. I’m not exactly sure what this means. A woman I know washes her chicken like a surgeon sterilizing her pre-operative hands. Her husband, afflicted by the same phobia, will not eat any chicken unless she has prepared it.
The truth is, every land animal we consume lives and dies in slop. Trust me when I tell you that your average pig, cow, or bird is not washing its hooves or feathers with anti-bacterial soap or practicing good hygiene when Mother Nature calls.
The point is, it doesn’t matter. Cooking food to the proper temperature is what destroys bacteria. You can wash your chicken till the cows come home, (with dirty hooves), and you’re still not protected from the real threat. Heat kills salmonella, not soap and water. I even heard about one woman who scrubbed her fowl with Brillo, causing the meat of course to become infiltrated with strands of steel wool. This is almost as crazy as the man I know who will not eat chicken because he’s afraid he will take on the chicken’s attributes. How the chicken became the object of such paranoia I will never know.
This is not to say that there are no risks with chicken. Rather, it is a matter of applying the appropriate techniques to prevent them. First, check the date on the chicken before you buy it. Freeze it unless you’re using it within 24 hours. Do not thaw your chicken at room temperature. Use the microwave, the refrigerator, or place it in a bag in cold water. Change the water every half hour to keep it cold. I do rinse my chicken first to remove any grit or other UFO’s (unidentified foreign objects) that may be lurking on its surface from handling and packaging.
You must also be leery of cross contamination with all raw meat but especially chicken. Cross contamination is when a raw item touches one surface to which other food items or utensils come in contact. If you cut your raw chicken into pieces, you cannot use that knife or cutting board for anything else. You must wash it before reusing it. But wait a minute, isn’t that a contradiction? First I tell you washing your chicken does not kill the bacteria but then I advise you to wash the implements that touched it. That’s because most of the salmonella in the chicken is internally imbedded in its flesh, safe from the running water. But any bacteria transferred to your knife or cutting board can be washed off the surface. The one exception is if your chicken has been in contact with a wood cutting board for a period of time. Wood is porous after all. After washing the board, disinfect it with a bleach or iodine solution. Or, you can avoid the entire ordeal by only cutting chicken on a plastic cutting board. The final safeguard is cooking it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. You can even go as high as 170 in the thigh.