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Chicken: White & Dark Meat Cooked to Perfection

Q: Often when the white meat is cooked to perfection the dark meat is underdone &, when the dark meat is cooked to perfection the white meat is overcooked & dry. What tips do you have for cooking poultry in a way that insures that both the light meat & the dark meat are cooked to perfection? Naomi


A: Naomi, I am a huge roast chicken fan and your question poses one of the challenges of making a really moist and juicy chicken.  When preparing chicken parts, it's easy to control the doneness.  I usually start the legs and thighs first or place them in the hottest spot in my skillet, giving them a leg up (sorry for the pun, I couldn't resist), this helps insure the dark meat will be cooked through and the white meat will not dry out.  But, when roasting a whole bird, it is not as easy.  Here are a couple of things you can do to increase your odds of keeping both the fans of white and dark meat happy, without having to make 2 chickens.

1. Create a filling for the breast meat that you sneak under the skin so the breast is basted from the inside out.  I like to saute shitake mushrooms with chopped shallots, minced sage and thyme.  I then separate the chicken skin by carefully slipping my fingers in between the skin and the breast meat.  Tuck some of the mushroom mixture under the skin and season the rest of the bird as you would normally with lots of kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, garlic powder, paprika and rub the outside with some oil. If you like, place a half a lemon or an onion, peeled and cut in half in the well-seasoned cavity. The breast will remain juicy as the dark meat cooks to an internal temp of 165-170 degrees.

2. Trussing the bird not only makes you look like a pro, but you will cook like one too.  By bringing the legs up across the breast you expose them to more heat on their surface area and you protect the breast from that same heat source, so you are killing two birds with one truss (sorry, that's two puns and my limit). Trussing sounds complicated, but it is really nothing more than bringing the legs up and across the bird and then tying those legs together.  There are now cooking bands that you can buy and simply tie the legs together as you would with a rubber band- it's that easy.

3. Turn your bird over midway during cooking.  Using your roasting pan like a tanning bed, start the chicken breast side up at 425 degrees.  This helps lock in the moisture and begins developing a crisp skin.  After 20-30 minutes,(size does matter, so cooking times will vary) carefully turn the bird over, by inserting a spoon in the cavity- you don't want to tear the skin or pierce the bird.  Let it rest on its tummy for another 20-30 minutes.  This helps the juices flow back into the breast and gives the bird's backside a chance to cook more evenly.  For the final 20-30 minutes, turn the bird back over, baste with its juices and voila- a perfectly cooked and moist bird.

In The Kosher Carnivore I offer many more tricks and tips and lots of yummy chicken recipes.  From a beer can in the tush, to a combination of frying then steaming the bird for perfect fried chicken – you will make a chicken worth crossing the road for every time!

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