Chicken is the most popular main course in the country, but there are a lot more fowl choices out there than just the standard 3-4 pound broiler/fryer that we all know and love.
There is a correlation between size, age, tenderness and flavor of all of these feathered creatures. Basically, the smaller they are, the milder the flavor and the more tender they are. May, our teacher, regaled us with the different kinds before we jumped in to cut up and cook our chickens.
The smallest of these birds are the “dwarf chickens.” Examples of these are the Poussin (pronounced Poo-sin) and the Cornish Game Hen. Poussin are about 1 ½ pounds each. French in origin, they’re single serving birds that are about a month old.
Cornish Game Hens are also sometimes referred to as Poussin, but are actually a bit bigger, around 2 pounds. Cornish hens are actually hybrid chickens. Both types are usually roasted.
Next are the standard broiler/fryers we find in most stores. We call them broiler/fryers, but you can do a LOT more with them. These types of birds are best for cooking with dry heat, like roasting, grilling and frying (as you’ll soon see).
Roasters are the larger types of standard chickens, averaging about 5-7 pounds. Guess what you do with these? Because these birds have longer life spans, they’ve developed more fat under the skin and more muscle. The more muscle a bird has, the more flavor, so these birds cook beautifully. The skins keep the meat moist and makes the flavor really come out.
Capons are castrated male birds. I had no idea, did you? These birds range from about 7-10 pounds. Capon is a lovely alternative to turkey for those who want a change of pace around the holidays.
The largest of the chickens is the Stewing Hen. These average 8-9 pounds and are around one year old. This makes the meat a bit tough, so stewing and braising these birds is best. This will keep the flavor, but tenderize the meat.
Want to get fancy? Try cooking some game birds. One of my favorites is Duck. People always freak out over all the fat under the skin, but if cooked properly, it’s amazing. The fact is, duck meat is very lean, so the fat under the skin helps keep it moist. Plus, duck is very easy to cook and most people can cook duck breast easily at home. Score the skin, sear the breast with the skin side down until it’s crunchy, flip it over until it starts to brown and finish it in the oven for a bit. Ta-da! Make a lovely fruit sauce on the side and you’re ready for company.