Today, chicken makes its way onto more dinner plates than any other protein. Learn about the history of this delectable bird and all the ways you can bring its gourmet goodness to life.
Home chefs love the wonderful versatility of the chicken. With its clean, mild flavor and juicy, succulent texture, this awesomely affordable bird makes an ideal addition to everything from soups, salads, and tacos to pasta, rice, and stir-fried vegetables. Not to mention, chicken is pretty simple to prepare. Just sauté it over the stovetop or pop it in the oven, and consider dinner ready.
But how exactly did the chicken come to be? Why is it so incredibly popular across America? And why do we all crave Chick-fil-A on Sundays?
Here’s a brief rundown on the chicken’s history—with a few yummy recipes thrown in for good measure. Start by raising a glass to this lip-smacking poultry, and start clucking your way to culinary greatness.
Why is chicken so popular in the United States?
Although the very first recorded encounter with chickens goes back all the way to ancient Greece, this winged wonder hit our soil way before ‘America’ was even a thing. Historians say that Christopher Columbus brought chickens to the New World on his second voyage, but it would be awhile before the bird caught on.
Flash forward to colonial times, and our founding fathers were gorging on heavy red meats like pork and beef. The chicken was still considered a fussy choice for common folk—too costly and time-consuming to prepare.
It was not until the 19th century that Americans started to understand the affordability of the chicken in all its practical glory. In fact, African-American slaves were the first to embrace the chicken as a main dish since they were barred from owning cattle and other livestock. This dark time in our history made way for some pretty amazing culinary changes.
Over the next century, folks like Perdue and Tyson would come on to the scene, helping chicken infiltrate American households during wartime and throughout the remainder of the 20th century.
What kinds of chicken can I cook?
This bird has a ton of parts, just like us people! But to break it down, chicken is usually first classified in two ways—white or dark meat. From there, shoppers typically choose from the butchered bird’s thighs, wings, breasts, drumsticks, and feet. So, how do they measure up?
- Chicken thighs – flavorful, fatty, inexpensive
- Chicken wings – small, tender, fabulous when fried
- Chicken breasts – lean, clean, perfect main dish
- Chicken drumsticks – super moist, great for barbecue
- Chicken feet – mostly used for making tasty broth
- Ground chicken– processed down for tacos, patties and more
You like your hens hot?
The remarkable thing about almost every cut of chicken is that it serves well either hot or cold. Of course, you can NEVER eat raw chicken, for fear of salmonella, E.coli and the very serious threat of food poisoning. But once they’re cooked, you can refrigerate your bird’s parts and serve them again cold in a classic chicken Caesar salad or yummy chicken salad on toast.
How is chicken served across the globe?
While Americans gobble up their chicken nuggets, sandwiches, roasts, barbecue and more, people around the world have a slightly different take on the chicken phenomenon. Over the years, international chefs have brought their country’s various flavor profiles to poultry, resulting in diverse chicken trends.
For instance, over in Korea, you often see chicken marinated in tangy sauces, battered, and fried as a street food. In China and other Asian locales, chefs also add sautéed strips to stir-fry, finishing the dish with a rich teriyaki sauce. Meanwhile, all the way across the Earth, Mexican foodies are shredding their feathered friends for use in enchiladas and other spicy fares.
Modern Italian dishes often call for pounding the chicken thin, covering it in breadcrumbs and frying it to a golden brown. If you haven’t tried this Italian-American chicken parmesan, then you’re not truly living. And finally, head over to India, and discover the miracle that is chicken curry.
What’s the easiest way to cook chicken in the kitchen?
Food safety experts recommend an internal temperature of 165° F for chicken to be safe, which applies to both white and dark types of meat. This means there are plenty of ways to prepare a perfectly eatable bird right in the comfort of your kitchen.
Let’s cut the options down to 4 choices:
- Sauté – Use a classic sauté pan or large skillet to cook the chicken directly over the stovetop. This option is great for breasts and requires some kind of liquid agent such as butter, oil or a rich broth to help bring the chicken to temperature.
- Sear – For a crispy brown exterior, use a cast iron skillet over the stove, or ideally, a broiler pan in the oven to blast the chicken’s exterior with a ton of heat. You can then finish the dish at a lower temperature to ensure the inside stays moist.
- Grill – Coat your parts in barbecue sauce, honey mustard, Italian dressing or sesame soy glaze, then pop it on the grill to bring out that deep, smoky flavor.
- Boil – Want some serious comfort food? To make chicken soup, stews or similar slow-cooked meals, start by boiling the chicken in water. You can then shred it into smaller bite-sized pieces.
Did you love learning about this beloved bird? Stay tuned for more awesome recipes