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Whether you're making chicken breasts with artichoke olive sauce or mustard glazed chicken legs, it's always ideal to start with a whole bird as opposed to buying pre-cut pieces. How else are you going to make the best chicken stock? If you're out of practice or not used to breaking down a whole chicken, however, don’t fret. None other than Marcus Samuelsson, chef at Red Rooster and Chopped judge, has a great tip for mastering this delicate operation.
“You want to make sure the chicken is as cold as possible. That way, you can separate the skin if you want to,” he explains. All the better for seasoning, which Samuelsson knows a thing or two about.
“You want the chicken to be as dry as possible, also,” he says.
Of course, the jury is still out on whether or not you even have to wash chicken before cooking it. Ina Garten, for one, believes washing is unnecessary. But even if you opt out of washing your chicken, the skin can sometimes be a little slimy once it’s removed from the packaging, so you’ll want to make sure your chicken is completely dry regardless.
“What can happen when you debone the chicken, if it’s too wet, it can get slippery on the cutting board, and you can cut yourself,” Samuelsson warns. “It will happen. And when you cut yourself, you cut yourself bad.”
And he should know. Chicken is one of Samuelsson’s go-to ingredients because it’s so versatile: The thighs and the legs can be fried, simmered, or braised, and still taste great as leftovers (as demonstrated by his recipe for chicken soup, for which he actually uses two whole chicken carcasses). The breast meat, on the other hand, is “perfect if you want to quickly sear or steam.”
Chicken breast, however, tends to lose its flavor after a day, so Samuelsson uses it for a chicken salad or sandwich—dishes that can be served as a light lunch.
“Pound it out, throw it on the grill, add it to a light salad, and you’re home, you’re done,” he explains. “If you want to do something heavier, like a stew, go with the dark meat.”
However you're using the meat, just make sure it's cold and dry before cooking, and you'll be golden.