So, I have been married for going on eleven months now. (Woo hoo!) This is about the same length of time over which my cooking ambitions have transpired. But there was one food item that I cooked with even before getting married and trying to learn my way around the kitchen: chicken breasts. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts. It’s funny now to think back on when I first started cooking them the year I moved out of the dorms… I was usually a bit daunted and afraid of messing them up, and I really didn’t know what to do to give them flavor. I usually added a bunch of garlic. (Actually, that’s something I would probably still do today.)
On the one hand, chicken breasts are a great thing to stock in your freezer. Chicken is both cheap and very versatile, workable in many different kinds of cuisine; it can be used in a variety of ethnic dishes and in anything from soups to stir-frying. You can shred it, dice it, fry it, saute it or bake it. You can buy a whole bag of it at the store, forget it’s there and it’ll come to your rescue to make up a quick weeknight meal.
On the other hand, good quality chicken breasts are not necessarily a cheap cut of meat. At our local food co-op, where I usually buy our meat, it can be around $7-9 for a two-pack of full-sized chicken breasts. That’s fairly expensive. But frankly, I don’t feel comfortable buying those $6 bags of chicken from the regular grocery store anymore. From the online research I’ve done, the brand that our store carries is the same one mass-distributed at Wal-Marts all over the country… which, to me, is pretty indicative of a company that does industrial large-scale farming, something I’m not interested in supporting.
The versatility of chicken breasts can be both a blessing and a curse, though. It seems like it’s the norm to find “quick weeknight” recipes that include chicken breasts, but not many other cuts of meat “make the cut” (wah wah wah) in the same way. My opinion, influenced by my nonstop food fanaticism, is that chicken breasts are becoming passe’ – fairly boring and overused when there are other options. I also don’t think God intended for them to be the main source of meat we consume. There are so many other cuts of meat out there – chicken or otherwise – that frankly, I would rather eat a meatless meal and save the money I pay for meat for something more interesting and flavorful. Even just buying a bone-in thigh or leg is cheaper and tastier. I’d try it out if you don’t believe me.
If you really want to make buying chicken worth your while, the best thing to do is buy a whole chicken, or buy a pack of cheaper cuts (such as a tray of whole thighs or legs). I gotta say, having (whole) roasted chicken or turkey is one of my favorite meals. It’s somehow elegant, yet very rustic, simple and naturally satisfying. Once you’ve eaten the meal, depending on the size of the bird, you can save the bones to make stock and shred the rest of the meat to use in chicken salad, soup, or whatever you feel like making. And in reality, the meat from a roasted bird is probably going to have better flavor than just a plain ol’ chicken breast.
To emphasize the point, I’m linking here to a roasted turkey recipe that’s also in my Gourmet cookbook that Willy got me for Christmas. I made this sometime this winter when Willy’s parents were in town visiting and honestly… it was amazing. I’ve always gotten the impression that fixing a whole turkey is hard, but I found it totally easy and totally worth it to make. In this recipe, the only real work you have to do after preparing the bird a little and sticking it in the oven is maintaining a little bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan (which makes the heat in the oven more moist, yielding tender juicy meat)! And honestly, I didn’t maintain the water as well as I could have, left the bird in the oven longer than necessary, and it was some great turkey.
Here’s how good it was: the skin (which had nothing done to it except being seasoned with salt and pepper) tasted like it was from fried chicken. If that’s not a message from God that natural food is the best way to eat, I don’t know what is.
PS – I didn’t make the gravy in this recipe, but if you did, I’m sure it’d be good.