There are several things we should be aware of when choosing either whole chickens or such as chicken breasts, legs and thighs from supermarket shelves or anywhere else. The first thing we should be aware of are the descriptions “free range” and “organic,” and precisely what each means.
Free range chickens are chickens which have been allowed to roam free over a sizeable area of land, outdoors, while being reared. They have not been cooped up in battery cages or barns. The meat is consequently likely to be more plentiful and tasty.
Organic chickens may or may not also be free range but will always have been fed on naturally occurring food. They will not have been given food enhancers designed to stimulate their growth, for example, in an unnatural fashion.
Free range and organic chicken producers are regularly inspected to ensure that they are following the prescribed practises in relation to rearing their birds and if this is found not to be so, they are deprived of the right to advertise and sell their products as such. Free range and organic chickens are required to be labelled as such when being sold, so there should be little difficulty in determining which birds are which.
Chickens which are reared in battery cages, or to a lesser extent in barns, are certainly the cheapest to buy as these are the most cost effective methods for chicken “farmers.” Like anything else, however, we get the quality that we pay for and these birds will not be as meaty or as tasty as the organic free range ones. Another thing to watch out for when buying the cheaper chickens are purple patches of discolouration on the flesh. This is actually where the birds have sustained nitrogen burns as a result of being forced to stand in their own excrement in the battery cages.
When we have decided upon the bird or bird pieces we are going to buy, the next thing we have to decide is how we are going to cook it. Being so versatile, of course, there are almost any number of ways in which we can cook chicken but one golden rule always applies. The meat must always be fully cooked, with not a tinge of pink or red in the juices.
The easiest way to tell whether a chicken or piece of chicken is properly cooked is to take the bird from the pot or oven and poke a metal skewer in to the thickest part of the thigh, in the case of a whole bird, or simply the thickest part of the flesh in the case of perhaps a breast fillet. Remove the skewer and lay it across where you made your insertion and press down. The juices which flow from the hole you have made should be colourless – a little oily is okay – and if there is the slightest trace of red or even pink, more cooking time is required.
I hope that you will bear all of the above in mind the next time you are considering chicken – or any other form of poultry – for dinner and eat safely and well.