There are several varieties of chicken available to the consumer, such as regular chicken, Cornish game hens, and poussin, also known as spring chicken. Cornish game hens are very small pump chickens that are a cross between a Cornish and Plymouth Rock chicken. They produce a greater amount of white meat in comparison to their dark meat, than other birds and the meat is very tender. The Cornish hen generally weighs between 1 and 2 pounds and is prepared as a single serving. A poussin is an extremely young, small chicken, and it provides a very mild flavor. Because it is so young, it has very little fat. Regular chickens are classified according to their age. Listed below are the common classifications.
||A chicken ranging in age from 7 to 13 weeks and weighing from 1-1/2 to 4 pounds. Their meat is very tender and they can be prepared by most any cooking method, such as broiling, braising, frying, roasting, and grilling. Depending on their size, a broiler-fryer will generally serve 3 or 4 people.|
A chicken ranging in age from 3 to 5 months and weighing from 3-1/2 to 7 pounds. Their meat is tender and more flavorful that the broiler-fryer chickens. They make a good roasting chicken but can be prepared by other methods and are good in other dishes. A roaster chicken will generally serve approximately 5 to 7 people.
||A mature chicken, which is over 10 months old and weighing in the range of 4 to 7 pounds. Their meat is very flavorful but tougher than that of the broiler-fryers and roasters. They are best used for stews and soups, or should be cooked slowly with a moist heat method such as simmering or braising.|
||Male chickens that have been castrated. They are generally under 8 months old and will weigh in the range of 5 to 9 pounds. The capon has more white meat but generally has a higher fat content. Their meat is one of the most flavorful of all the chickens and it is very tender. Capons are great roasting chickens and will serve approximately 6 to 9 people.|
||Cornish Game Hen
|The picture above illustrates the difference in size between some of the|
various types of chickens.
Chickens are also classified according to the method used to raise them. Each method has an effect on the quality of meat. Shown below are some of the methods used.
||Chickens can be labeled as "natural" if it does not contain any chemical preservative, artificial coloring or flavoring, or any other synthetic substance. It can be processed using traditional methods, such as freezing, smoking, roasting, and drying. These minimal USDA standards allow even chickens that have been treated with antibiotics and growth enhancers to be classified as "natural."|
Chickens labeled "free-range" have only one requirement, which is that it must have had access to an outside environment. Free-range chickens are thought to have more flavor meat, but it is generally tougher. The chickens may have been exposed to antibiotics, growth enhances, and steroids.
||Chickens labeled "organic" must be certified by a certification entity. To be certified the chickens must be fed organic feed that is made up of grains and soybeans that have been grown in soil that has not been exposed to chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other harmful chemicals. They cannot be treated with any drugs or antibiotics, and they must have outside access. Organic chickens are available for those concerned with consuming a healthier meat and promoting a healthier environment for animals and humans.|
||A kosher chicken must be raised and processed with strict guidelines under rabbinical supervision. The chickens are fed only grain and are free-range. They are never given any antibiotics and they are individually inspected. When they are processed, the chickens are soaked in a salty brine solution to give the meat a unique flavor. |
||Conventionally raised chickens are raised under confined conditions without exposure to natural sunlight or access to the outside environment. Due to these conditions, growth enhancers are sometimes used to promote growth and the need for antibiotics is greater. Often the conditions are overcrowded and the feed used has potentially been exposed to harmful chemicals. Chickens raised under conventional methods have less flavorful meat than those raised by other methods, such as free-range or organic.|
There are other descriptive terms used to identify chicken that should be understood. Some of the terms, which can apply to most any chicken type and chickens raised by most any method, are listed below.
||Chicken meat freezes at about 26° F. Any chicken labeled "fresh" in a food store has never been allowed to be cooled to a temperature lower than 26° F. Chickens that have been frozen and then defrosted before they are sold, cannot be labeled "fresh". They are usually labeled as "previously frozen". A fresh chicken should be cooked no later than 3 days after the "sell-by date" printed on its label.|
In order to be considered "frozen", a chicken must be cooled to a temperature below 0° F. A chicken that has been defrosted before it is sold may be labeled "previously frozen". A frozen chicken may be safely prepared as long as a year after it was originally frozen. A frozen chicken that has been thawed should not be refrozen until after it is cooked.
Prestuffed chickens can be purchased with a variety of stuffing flavors. Prestuffing and freezing a chicken at home can be dangerous because home freezers cannot freeze as quickly as commercial freezing processes. The stuffing increases the rate of harmful bacteria growth, which may multiply rapidly before the chicken has a chance to freeze properly when using a home freezer.
A frozen self-basting chicken is injected with various ingredients, such as oil, juices, and seasonings, before it is frozen. When the chicken is roasted, the added ingredients keep the meat moist and tender.
Pieces of white or dark meat that have the bone removed before freezing. The boneless chicken adds convenience to the preparation and requires less effort when eating.
||Chickens that are hard-chilled are cooled to temperatures between 0° F and 26° F. They are not considered fresh or frozen and so they are not labeled as such.|
||Chicken is often cut into parts, packaged and sold fresh or frozen. Some of the cuts available include: halves or splits which are the two sides of a broiler-fryer cut in half; the breast quarters which is made up of the breast, wing, and back; the breast which is available bone-in, boneless, with skin or skinless; the wings are a cut that contain white meat and a lot of bone; the leg quarter is a cut that includes a thigh, drumstick and part of the back; the leg is all dark meat and consists of both the drumstick and the thigh; the drumsticks are the lower portion of the legs; the thighs are the top portion of the legs; the giblets include the neck, heart, liver, and gizzard, which are generally packaged together and inserted in the cavity of a whole chicken. Most cuts are available both fresh and frozen.|
|Whole Cut Up Chicken
||A whole broiler-fryer chicken that has been cut into individual cuts and packaged together as a single unit. The cut up chicken generally consists of two drumsticks, two thighs, two wings, and two breasts. The giblets are sometimes added to the package also.|
||The white and dark meat of the chicken is deboned and then ground. Generally the two are combined together, but if requested, a butcher could grind just one or the other. The dark meat contains more saturated fat than the white.|