How to cook chicken?
November 16, 2005 9:38 AM   Subscribe

CluelessVegetarianFilter: I've been a veg for about 6 years now. My girlfriend isn't. Normally this isn't a problem, but I'm looking to do something nice for her: Cook meat...

The problem is, while I'm an accomplished amateur chef, my skills are a direct result of having to provide for myself in the kitchen. She's something of a picky eater and has gladly abided my risottos, my frittatas etc, but keeps a stock of chicken nuggets in the freezer. I'd like to cook for her, chicken somethingorother, but I've got two big problems. One: I have no chicken recipies. I am utterly clueless. Any favorites? Two: And this is the big one, how does one cook chicken? When is it done? Is there any prep work to it? I may as well be taking Swahili here. Any tips are well appreciated!
posted by GilloD to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ha, funny. Find a recipe for "Meatless [Anything]", and re-substitute meat for the tofu, soy crumbles, or whatever was substituted for meat in the first place.

Frozen chicken nuggets are designed to be cooked in one fashion only: reheating in the oven. They are not a cooking ingredient. If you want to make something other than warm chicken nuggets, you'll have to purchase some chicken, beef, or whatever.

Chicken is actually slightly difficult to cook since the window between underdone and overdone is small. You might want to start with ground beef, which is nearly impossible to under or overcook.
posted by jellicle at 9:48 AM on November 16, 2005

Get a chicken breast per person, a few veg (your choice, I like carrots and mushrooms), an onion, some chicken stock and some white wine.

Fry the onions, and then add the breasts, whole. Fry those until they are white all over (or possibly a bit browned, doesn't matter), then stick in the vegetables, fry those for a short while, then pour in a glass of wine or so. Top up with chicken stock so that everything is covered, and then leave simmering.

Eventually the liquid will all boil away into a very tasty sauce. Serve with your favorite type of potatoes (mashed, baked, roast, whatever) and some green veg. Enjoy with the rest of the wine.
posted by Orange Goblin at 9:51 AM on November 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

A lot of this depends on what you have in mind.

Roasting a whole chicken, for example, is best done on the basis of temperature. Shove a meat thermometer into the bird and take it out when it's reaches 160 (if you started with a high temperature and then switched to low) or 155 (if you started low and switched to high to finish). You'll want it to reach 165, but thermal coasting should do the rest.

Cooking chicken parts in the oven or a skillet is usually done more on a basis of time, and any given recipe should tell you what those times are. As long as you are actually reaching the expected temperatures, those time guidelines should be fine. Once you think it's done, a quick cut into the larger piece to see if the juices run clear (rather than pink) and the meat looks opaque ensures it's finished, but this will also tend to make that piece a bit drier, especially if you do it repeatedly.

Personally, my favourite way to prepare chicken is cut into strips floured and fried in a blend of palm and sesame oils. I then top it with a fresh fruit salsa made with mango, kiwi, papaya and shallots. I don't really have a recipe for it, though.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:52 AM on November 16, 2005

Do your usual veggies but roast a small chicken or cornish game hen for her. Go to or for specifics.
posted by Sara Anne at 9:53 AM on November 16, 2005

You could broil chicken breasts for her, that usually takes only a few minutes and is quite yummy. There are dozens of marinades on the market nowadays that are great for this sort of thing.
posted by angeline at 9:56 AM on November 16, 2005

Cacciatore. That is all.
posted by The White Hat at 9:59 AM on November 16, 2005

I was in a similar boat a few years ago — I eat meat, but I learned to cook while I was living in a student house for vegans (long story) so I never learned to cook meat.

First of all, a lot of vegetarian recipes are really omnivore recipes with the meat taken out. If you know how to cook veggie chili, for instance, it's not that hard to switch to meat chili: just add ground beef to the pan, stir it around and let it brown before you add the other ingredients.

Adding meat to veggie curries or stews is also easy. I found chicken thighs were good for this because they stew well — they're rich in flavor and don't dry out like breasts do. Just take the skin off, add them to the pot with the other ingredients, and simmer them for half an hour or so. If you're worried about undercooking, you can err a little on the long side for cooking time — like I said, they don't dry out, so the worst that will happen is they'll get a little mushy.

Roasting a chicken is also easy, but it's a little more intimidating if you're used to veggies. Veggie dishes you can taste-test as you go, but when you're roasting a chicken you just have to follow the directions and trust it'll turn out. It helps if you know the directions are good. Maybe you can get your girlfriend's mom to give you a roast chicken recipe?
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:59 AM on November 16, 2005

Okay, this one is great.

Coq au vin.

-one whole chicken
-pearl onions, 24, peeled
-button mushrooms, 24, quartered
-1/2 lb of bacon, cut into lardons
-salt, pepper, garlic
-one bottle of white wine
-one liter of chicken stock
-butter, flour

Sear the chicken on all sides in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Remove to plate
Cook the bacon in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, remove to plate
Cook the mushrooms and onions until brown and soft
Make a roux with equal parts butter and flour, and the stuff that is left in the pot
Add wine and chicken stock slowly to roux, allowing it to thicken. Simmer.
Add dark meat/bacon/vegetables, allow to cook for 15 minutes
Add white meat, allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
posted by jon_kill at 10:01 AM on November 16, 2005

Here is my own invented (but fairly) standard recipe for chicken curry - it makes about 3 portions but you can adjust the quantities accordingly.

Sorry for self-link, it seemed to make more sense than typing it up and adjusting various things. (In other words, I'm a bit lazy.)
posted by Lotto at 10:02 AM on November 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Here's my favorite. It's quick and easy:

Preheat your oven with a cookie sheet in it to 500F.

Flatten 1 chicken breast per person to about 1/4 in thickness. I do it either between a couple sheets of plastic wrap or in a big plastic bag and use the bottom of a heavy glass to do the pounding.

In one bowl mix up equal amounts of dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar. You'll need a couple teaspoons or so of each per breast. In another bowl mix panko flakes (Japanese style breadcrumbs) with some Parmesan cheese (sometimes I leave out the cheese if I don't have any--it's still good.) You'll need maybe 1/4 cup of flakes and a teaspoon or so of cheese per breast. Slather the flattened breasts up in the mustard/balsamic then transfer to the other bowl and coat with the panko. When you have them all coated, pull out the cookie sheet (very hot!) and put the breasts on it. You won't need any cooking spray. Cook the breasts for 15 minutes. Don't open the oven to check or move them. Be careful of the steam blast when you do open it when you're done.

They should be nicely done with the breadcrumbs nice and crispy. Heating up the cookie sheet will help get the bottom crispy too, though in my experience it won't be perfect.

I make it with green beans or asparagus usually. You can marinate them however you like and throw them in the over for the last 5 minutes or so (yeah, yeah you'll have to open the oven for this). I suppose you probably have the vegetables covered.
posted by sevenless at 10:08 AM on November 16, 2005

Get a meat thermometer to help you determine when your dish is really done. Place it so the tip of the probe is in the middle of the meat; not pierced through or touching bone. Either one of those situations will throw off your reading. For chicken, aim for an internal temperature of 175 degrees.

A recipe to try:
1 roasting chicken
2 small cans of apricots, drained
1/2 cup dried cherries or craisins
1/2 cup of almonds, crushed
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce

Make a tin-foil pouch for the chicken, or place in a baking dish. Make a mixture of the honey and soy-sauce. Baste the chicken with the mix, using a little under the skin of the breast. Place the fruit on top of the chicken. Season to taste. Close off the tin foil pouch or create a little tent for the baking dish out of foil. It should be well sealed, but not air tight. Bake at 350-375 until the thermometer reads 175, then open up the pouch and bake for an additional 10 minutes to crisp up the skin. Serve with cous-cous, salad and bread.
posted by boo_radley at 10:12 AM on November 16, 2005

I have had good luck with Joy of Cooking and with a pamphlet on meat from Whole Foods Market that seems designed for recovering vegetarians like me.
posted by alms at 10:13 AM on November 16, 2005

12 answers in such a short window. I knew going from long time listener to first time caller was a good idea.

Thanks for the tips! I've actually got a small fortune in new and old cookbooks laying around (The end result of an independent study course), so I'll sift through those. Thanks for the recipies and heads up on method etc. Any info at all goes a long way.
posted by GilloD at 10:29 AM on November 16, 2005

Just a couple of sanitary rules for chicken, if you're new at cooking it.

1. If it has skin still on it, like a whole roasting chicken or thighs do, rinse them clean under cold water and pat them dry with paper-towel before you cook with them. (ESPECIALLY do this with a roasting chicken, inside and out.)

2. Clear juices mean it's done. If you cut cooked chicken and the juices are anything other than clear, it's not finished. (Note: letting a fully cooked chicken rest for a few minuets on the cutting board with a little foil tent will stop all of the tasty juices from running out of it when you do carve it/slice it/whatever.)

3. Whatever you touch with raw chicken, knives, cutting board, your hands, etc, wash with warm soapy water BEFORE you use them to do ANYTHING else. If this means washing your hands and knife three times, so be it. (Do this for all poultry. Other meats can be handled slightly less carefully, but always be wary of what's touched raw meat and what hasn't.)

If you keep these rules in mind, you can pretty much go nuts with anything you like. Chicken makes a great vehicle for carrying other flavours, particularly acid, herbs or fruit flavours. You can make it light or make it rich depending on how you cook or sauce it. lets you browse by ingredients and cooking methods. It's a fun resource for recipes.

Good luck!
posted by generichuman at 10:31 AM on November 16, 2005

Doing up a whole chicken for just one person is overkill. That is a family-sized amount of food and would last a single individual days (I regularly roast for myself and SO and find myself nearly at wit's end). I'll second the Cornish Game Hen option. They are quite tasty and almost toylike in scale. Its a practical option as a "bird for one" dish.

I grill a lot and use the "prod & cut method" for determining done-ness of chicken breasts: a done chicken breast when pressed down upon gently with a cooking utensil should feel roughly like the fleshy bit on your palm just under your thumb. The cuttage method has been described above, though you can also take a quick peek if you're unsure -- should be opaque and non-pink. The old thermometer is safer to be sure, but not always readily available.

Joy's "Spice-Rubbed Chicken with Lemon and Garlic Oil" is a great grill item if you've got access to said grill. I've got my own working copy here. A quick google for "Oven Fried Garlic Chicken" will also turn up some good recipes which make good lunch leftovers.

Good luck!
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:41 AM on November 16, 2005

I find that the Cook's Illustrated "Best Recipe" cookbook methods work really well and are almost foolproof. Certainly, I use their chicken breast method all the time (modified slightly for my tastes):

You'll need:
- chicken breast, skinless
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (chili powder, whatever)
- 1/4 tsp ground corander or cumin seed


- heavy frypan or skillet (cast iron is best here)
- splatter guard (one of those wire mesh affairs)
- tongs
- small pointy knife
- (optional) meat thermometer


- take your chicken breast. You'll notice that it has a bigger lump, and one or two kind of flappy bits attached to the bigger lump. You'll also notice that the kind of flappy bits sit nicely against the bigger lump. This is how it should be throughout this entire process
- Pat the outside of the chicken breast dry with paper towel, and dispose of the towel.
- make a mix of the dry ingredients. Roll the chicken breast in this mix so that the outside is coated in a thin layer. Don't get flour in between the big lump and the flappy bit, since you want them to remain stuck together.
- wait a couple of minutes and do it again. You'll get more flour mix sticking this time, but you still only want as much as stays on by itself -- don't pack it on.
- heat a skillet/large frypan without oil in it. Get it hot. Pop in a dash of oil (I use canola, since it has a higher smoke point than olive) and plop the chicken breast down in it, flappy bits on the bottom. Put the splatter guard on top of the pan and turn the heat down to medium
- wait 4 minutes. Don't touch the chicken. Don't stir it, move it, talk to it, look at it, read to it, play music at it, or even think about it. Leave it alone. It's busy.
- After 4 minutes, turn the chicken over, once. Put the splatter guard back on, and wait a further number of minutes. For a small breast, 3 may be enough. Medium sized = 4, large = 5.
- when clear juice starts to push up from the seam between the flappy bit and the big lump, take the breast from the pan and put it on a plate. Cover it with tinfoil for 3-5 minutes, while you deglaze the pan and make your pan sauce (next lesson).
- serve. Bask in radiant adoration.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 11:39 AM on November 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oh, and WASH THOSE RAW CHICKEN COVERED THINGS! Yes, hands too, before you touch your nose, a vegetable, the wine glass, anything. Wash them now!
posted by 5MeoCMP at 11:41 AM on November 16, 2005

Tell her to grow up and stop being picky, geesh. Why is it so many adults approach food the same way they did as kids (scared, distrustful)?

OK, sorry, I always feel the need to inject my unwanted opinion when I hear about finicky grownups.

Anyway here is an easy chicken recipe for you:

- get a whole 'fryer chicken'
- rinse it. leave the giblets inside in for extra nutrition.
- put in a big pot, fill with water so water is 1 inch above
- boil for one hour. skim the gunk that appears.
- skim the fat that floats to top.
- after one hour take the chicken out and allow to cool a little.
- continue to cook the stock that is left behind. you can add a few cans of chicken stock if you want
- when the chicken is cool pull all the meat off the bones in small pieces. set aside in small container and refridgerate. You can leave the giblets out now, they are kind of 'ew'.
- put some spices in the stock: bay leaf, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, white pepper, oregano, parsley; pinches of thyme, sage -- use reasonable amounts
- cook the stock for awhile to reduce it a little
- cut up potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic. use reasonable amounts (2-3 potatoes, 2-3 carrots, 1-2 sticks of celery, 1 onion, 1-2 leeks, 1-2 shallots, 1-2 cloves garlic)
- put the veggies in the stock. when the veggies are cooked put the chicken back into the pot and let it simmer for awhile
- it's ready!

freeze leftovers
posted by jockc at 11:41 AM on November 16, 2005

Of course, doing a whole roast chicken for one person nets you a whole lotta leftovers, which will keep your gf in frozen chicken for a while.

My new favorite marinades are Drew's. The lemon goddess tahini makes everything it touches better, from grilled chicken to tuna sandwiches.
posted by Biblio at 11:44 AM on November 16, 2005

I have two surefire chicken recipes, both lifted from Marcella Hazan.

First, roast chicken with two lemons, possibly the easiest thing ever. Wash a whole 3-4 pound chicken, drain/pat it dry, and remove all the innards and loose skin. Rub the cavity with salt and pepper. Take two baby lemons and stab them each at least 20 times with a sharp object (icepick, tapestry needle, toothpick). Put them in the cavity and close the opening with toothpicks, then run string from the knuckle end of one leg to another. Put the chicken breast down in a roasting pan. Cook at 350 for half an hour, then flip the chicken breast up. Cook for another 30-35 minutes, then turn up the heat to 400 and cook for an additional 20 minutes. (The book says here: "Calculate between 20 and 25 minutes' total cooking time for each pound.") Voila! No basting needed, and you only have to flip it once.

The other one is a little fancier but not particularly difficult. I've scaled it down to a two-serving version, since usually I'm making this dish for myself. Anyway, you need:

a whole split chicken breast, or two half-breasts (not boneless/skinless)
1 T. vegetable oil
1/4 c. dry white wine
1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in 1c. warm water for a half-hour
the filtered water from the porcinis
one small roma tomato, blanched and cut up coarsely
1 T. butter
salt and black pepper

Wash/pat dry the chicken. Put the oil in a saute pan, heat to medium high, and brown chicken pieces well on both sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, turn, and add the wine. Scrape the residue loose with a wooden spoon while the wine simmers briskly for 30 seconds or so. Add the porcinis, porcini water, and the tomatoes. Stir everything up a bit, reduce to a slow simmer, and cover the pot (slightly ajar). Cook for about 45-50 minutes and turn the pieces occasionally. When the chicken's done, spoon out all but a little fat and reduce the pan juices until thickened. Swirl in the butter and pour it over the chicken. It's painfully good.
posted by Vervain at 1:11 PM on November 16, 2005

Take four boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Put them in a casserole dish and cover with Italian Dressing (not the lowfat kind). Marinate in the fridge from at least a couple hours to as long as overnight. Bake, covered, at 350 degress for one hour. For the last five minutes or so, toss in a handful of cherry tomatoes. Serve with or without rice or bread.
posted by JanetLand at 1:29 PM on November 16, 2005

I know you are aiming for chicken, but one person above recommended ground beef. Just in case you're going to try that next, here is a tip.

It made me think of one thing I had never learned about ground beef since I never ever ate it -- you have to drain the horrible buckets of liquid fat out of your pan once the beef is browned, or your chili will revolt one and all including the dog. If you use ground chicken, you don't have to worry about draining. Ground beef is usually made with a quantity of mesenteric fat cut into it, unless you get the butcher to custom-grind you a piece of chuck.

If distaste at handling the raw chicken is one reason your proposed adventure is going to be new and frightening, the easiest prep is to buy skinless, boneless breasts and just put them in a frying pan with a little oil and some crushed garlic. They can go straight from package to pan, and you can trim off any fat or boingy stuff after they're cooked.

If you're cooking something that requires strips or bite-sized pieces, you can buy those already cut in most meat departments, or you can cook, cut up, and then return them to the pan to brown.

One thing that you might ponder after dinner that you haven't had to think about before is food storage. Dishes with cooked chicken should be refrigerated promptly, and can be eaten safely within three days. A roast chicken will keep longer if you pick the meat off the bones for storage.

If you're storing raw chicken, restaurant rules say cook, freeze or toss in two days, but three is safe at home, if it came straight from grocery meat cooler to your fridge and did not stop to visit on the way home. And refreezing previously frozen meat usually turns out poorly.
posted by Sallyfur at 6:10 PM on November 16, 2005

Here's something easy that my vegetarian girlfriend cooks for me, when I'm lucky...

Buy a chicken breast from grocer,

Cut off anything white (the grocer doesn't cut the fat off, it would make the breast weigh less)

Cut into strips about 1" thick

Marinade Chicken in favorite sauce (BBQ, Lemon, Carribean Jerk, Cajun Spices... anything, really...)... for at least an hour... you can marinade tofu at the same time....

Take pyrex baking dish, line with non-stick foil, throw chicen on there, throw in the oven at 400 degrees. Depending on the thickness of the chicken strips, it'll take around 20 minutes to cook. Throw your marinaded tofu in there, based on how much you like your tofu baked...

Make some rice-a-roni, or lipton noodles, cheap and easy dinner.

Also, if she decides she likes it, and is sick of chicken nuggets, I marindate chicken strips, then freeze them tightly wrapped in tin foil... the girlfriend pulls them out if she decides she wants to cook me something... puts them straight into the oven @ 200* for 20-30 minutes, then turns up the temp to 400 for another 15 minutes...

If you wrap your chicken correctly (fold over edges to make a seal), its nearly impossible to overcook it this way, so when traffic is bad and I'm 30 minutes late, the chicken is still perfect...

AND she never has to touch it!
posted by hatsix at 7:18 PM on November 16, 2005

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