Cooking Perfect Poultry

If your chicken is more hockey puck than succulent bird, fret no more because help has arrived.

The kitchen detective himself, Chris Kimball, founder and editor of Cooks Illustrated magazine, visits The Early Show to provide a few foolproof tips for making your poultry perfect every time.

Kimball says there are a few things to consider when working with chicken.

Look out for packages with huge variances in weight per breast. A solution is to use a family pack with six or more breasts, and freeze the leftovers for stir-fry.

To avoid contamination from raw poultry, Kimball says to add salt and ground pepper to a small ramekin, throwing out the leftover salt when done.

For a great taste when cooking chicken breast, Kimball offers the following tips. All will yield good texture and moistness:

High Roast Chicken Breast
Start with a whole breast on a broiler pan with a rack covered with foil. Place salted butter under skin then rub skin with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Keeping the skin on provides the necessary fat need to keep the chicken moist while cooking.

Key Points: Use 450 degree F oven, place salt/butter combo under skin, use whole breast (not halves), and rub skin with oil.

Oven BBQ Chicken

Have saucepan with BBQ sauce already thickened and chicken breasts already browned off to the side.

Add chicken breasts to the pan, skin side up, and spoon some sauce over them.

Have finished dish in pan. Remove one of the breasts to a cutting board, slice it into pieces and spoon some sauce over it.

Key Points: Make your own quick sauce, reduce it in pan to thicken, brown breasts separately, and then bake in a low oven (325 degrees F) and then finish under the broiler (browning just enough).

If you want to use a commercial barbeque sauce, Bulls-Eye is one that Kimball recommends.

Resist the temptation to use a nonstick skillet. Most nonstick skillets are not broiler-safe. Kimball says you should make this recipe only in an in-oven broiler; do not use a drawer-type broiler. Finally, be aware that broiling times may differ from one oven to another. For instance, in one editor's powerful professional-style oven, the chicken took just 4 minutes to reach 160 degrees. So Cooks Illustrated urges you to check the chicken for doneness after only 3 minutes of broiling. You may also have to lower the oven rack if your broiler runs very hot.

Oven Baked Chicken

Have buttermilk-brined chicken on a rack over a jelly-roll pan.

Have the Melba toast coating in one bowl and the egg mixture in another. Dip one piece of chicken in to the egg mixture and then into the crumbs. Place on a rack set over a foil-lined jelly roll pan.

Key Points: Use a buttermilk brine, air dry in refrigerator, use Melba toast and mustard for coating, and use 400 degree F oven.

The Recipes

Roasted Chicken Breasts
Serves 4

Purchase two similarly-sized whole breasts with the skin fully intact. We prefer breasts around 1-1/2 pounds. Choose slightly larger breasts over smaller ones. The skin will be crisp when the meat is cooked (roast 5 to 10 minutes longer). If a broiler pan is not available, use a roasting pan fitted with a baking rack. While the volume of salt is a personal preference, Kimball says he likes the more seasoned, tender and juicy meat along with crispier skin that more salt provides. If using a large roasting pan or large broiler pan, you can cook three or four whole breasts at once.

2 large, whole bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (at least 1-1/2 pounds each), patted dry with paper towel, excess fat trimmed
3/4 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
fresh ground pepper

Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Cover bottom of broiler pan with foil, place broiler rack on top, set aside. Using a fork, blend salt into softened butter. Sprinkle the underside of the breasts liberally with salt and pepper. Gently loosen the bottom portion of the skins covering each breast. Using fingers or a teaspoon, gently lift the skin and rub about 1-1/2 teaspoons of butter all over each side of breast meat. Rub the skin of each whole breast with 1-1/2 teaspoons oil and sprinkle liberally with pepper. Using both hands, pull the rib bones away from the breast to create a stable stand when placing on the broiler rack.

Roast until the thickest part of breast registers 160 degrees F on instant-read thermometer (about 35 minutes). Transfer chicken to cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. To remove the meat, cut straight down along one side of the breastbone, using a chef knife. Run the knife down along the rib cage to remove the entire breast. Repeat with other side and other breast. Slice each breast crosswise on the bias, making long thin slices. Serve immediately.

Sweet and Tangy Oven-Barbecued Chicken
Serves 4

Real maple syrup is preferable to imitation syrup, and "mild" or "original" molasses is preferable to darker, more bitter types. If you are content to use bottled sauce, we had the best luck with Bull's-Eye Original, winner of a blind tasting held last year. Use 1-3/4 cups of sauce and, in step 2, reduce the sauce cooking time from 4 minutes to 2 minutes.

Some notes on equipment: First, to grate the onion, use a Microplane grater or the fine holes of a box grater. Second, resist the temptation to use a nonstick skillet; most nonstick skillets are not broiler safe. Third, and most important, you should make this recipe only in an in-oven broiler; do not use a drawer-type broiler. Finally, be aware that broiling times may differ from one oven to another. For instance, in one Cooks Illustrated editor¹s powerful professional-style oven, the chicken took just 4 minutes to reach 160 degrees F. So, check the chicken for doneness after only 3 minutes of broiling. You may also have to lower the oven rack if your broiler runs very hot.

1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons finely grated onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 6 to 7 ounces each (with tenderloins), patted dry with paper towels
salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position, about 5 inches from upper heating element; heat oven to 325 degrees F. Whisk ketchup, onion, Worcestershire, mustard, molasses, maple syrup, vinegar, chili powder, and cayenne in small bowl; set aside. Season chicken with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in heavy-bottomed, non-reactive, 12-inch ovenproof skillet over high heat until beginning to smoke. Brown chicken skinned-side down until very light golden, 1 to 2 minutes; using tongs, turn chicken and brown until very light golden on second side, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to plate and set aside. Discard fat in skillet; off heat, add sauce mixture and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up browned bits on bottom of skillet. Simmer sauce over medium heat, stirring frequently with heatproof spatula, until sauce is thick and glossy, and spatula leaves clear trail in sauce, about 4 minutes.

Off heat, return chicken to skillet, and turn to coat thickly with sauce; set chicken pieces skinned-side up and spoon extra sauce over each piece to create thick coating. Place skillet in oven and cook until thickest parts of chicken breasts register 130 degrees F on instant-read thermometer ( 10 to 14 minutes). Set oven to broil and continue to cook until thickest parts of chicken breasts register 160 degrees, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to platter and let rest 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk to combine sauce in skillet and transfer to small bowl. Serve chicken, passing extra sauce separately.

Oven Fried Chicken

This recipe uses table salt (not kosher) in its brine.

To make Melba toast crumbs, place the toasts in a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag, seal, and pound with a meat pounder or other heavy blunt object. Leave some crumbs in the mixture the size of pebbles, but most should resemble coarse sand.

Serves 4

1/2 cup table salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
3 medium heads garlic, cloves separated
3 bay leaves, crumbled
7 cups low-fat buttermilk
4 whole chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs and skin removed

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 box (about 5 ounces) plain Melba toast, crushed (see note)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

For the chicken: In a gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag, combine the salt, sugar, paprika, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. With a rubber mallet or flat meat pounder, smash the garlic into the salt and spice mixture thoroughly. Pour the mixture into a large non-reactive bowl, stockpot, or Dutch oven. Add the buttermilk and stir until the salt is completely dissolved. Immerse the chicken in the brine and refrigerate until fully seasoned, 2 to 3 hours. Remove the chicken from the brine and shake off the excess; place the chicken pieces in a single layer on a large wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate uncovered for 2 hours. (After 2 hours, the chicken can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 6 hours longer.)

Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil and set a large flat wire rack over the pan.

For the coating: Drizzle the oil over the Melba toast crumbs in a shallow dish or pie plate; toss well to coat. Mix the eggs, mustard, thyme, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder and cayenne (if using) with a fork in a second shallow dish or pie plate.

Working with one piece at a time, coat the chicken on both sides with the egg mixture. Set the chicken in the Melba crumbs, sprinkle the crumbs over the chicken, and press to coat. Turn the chicken over and repeat on the other side. Gently shake off the excess and place the chicken on the rack in the pan. Bake until the chicken is a deep nutty brown and the juices run clear, about 40 minutes. Serve.