Chicken is one of the most versatile meats you can cook with. It takes on other flavours really well, and is a great base for all sorts of different recipes from across the globe.
But don’t fall into the trap of cooking mainly with chicken breast. As well as succulent white meat, the dark meat and different joints have masses to offer. We’ve pulled together a guide to help you get the best from different cuts of chicken below.
Roasted, grilled, pan-fried or barbecued – chicken is not only delicious, it’s also packed with protein and is a great source of B vitamins, which boost our nervous and metabolic systems. It’s also a source of phosphorus, which helps to keep our bones and teeth healthy. Aim to buy RSPCA-assured meat as a minimum, then trade up to free-range or organic where you can.
Arguably the most popular part of a chicken, you can buy breast either whole or pre-sliced, and with the the skin either on or off. It’s the leanest cut of the bird and, without the skin, becomes leaner still. Chicken breast can be pan-fried, stuffed (this Kiev recipe is pure indulgent pleasure), baked, roasted or barbecued. Smaller pieces can be added to stews, stir-fries and pies – just beware of overcooking, as this can make it quite dry. Try this healthy chicken Caesar for a delicious lunch or go for traditional Italian flavours in this moreish roasted chicken breast with pancetta, leeks & thyme.
The cheapest cut of the bird, chicken wings, are absolutely fantastic to eat! They come on the bone and when roasted, grilled or barbecued, their skin becomes crispy and delicious. They’re higher in fat than breast meat, with a similar fat content to thighs and drumsticks. Bring out the richer, meaty flavours of the wings by coating in a sweet, sticky glaze. Marinate these little beauties overnight for the most flavoursome results the next day. The top, meatier half of a wing can be used separately and is called a ‘drumette’. It’s a great little cut to use in dishes such as this chicken paella.
Drumsticks are the chicken’s shins. Like wings, they come on the bone and are cheap and easy to cook. They’re also a big barbecue favourite – watch DJ BBQ show you how to cook drumsticks perfectly over those hot grills. We also love this really simple one-pot wonder, from our friends the Food Allergy Mums. It’s perfect for the little ones and doesn’t create too much washing up! If you fancy something a bit spicier, drumsticks work well in curries, too – Jamie’s pukka yellow curry is a great-value meal that tastes amazing and really looks the part in the middle of the kitchen table.
Arguably the tastiest part of the chicken, thighs are little parcels of tender, juicy meat from the top of the bird’s leg. You can buy them bone in, or bone out, and with the skin on or off. The meat is darker and firmer than the white breast meat and needs slightly longer to cook. The firmer texture means they hold together brilliantly on these cracking chicken tandoor-style kebabs. Or go for a no-fuss knockout dish with this easy tray-baked chicken with spiced Indian potatoes. The best way to cook skin-on thighs is to roast them, then finish off under a grill to crisp up the tops.
Instead of dividing the legs into drumsticks and thighs, try leaving them whole, then roasting them in the oven or grilling them on the barbecue. They look great served whole on a platter with hearty, punchy flavours like these barbecued Thai chicken legs. Cooked on the bone in a rich and fragrant stew, the chicken leg becomes a thing of real joy. Try this recipe for tender & crisp chicken legs with sweet tomatoes to get you started.
Whether you roast the bird whole, or break it down into the different cuts yourself, buying an entire chicken is often the most economical way to enjoy the meat. Poaching chicken is a wonderful way to retain all the flavours of the bird, or roast it simply with a lemon and some herbs in the cavity. See our handy guide to roasting meat for whole chicken cooking times.
If you break down the bird into the separate cuts, make sure you retain the carcass and use it for incredible homemade stock. This traditional Russian kurnik recipe turns every part of the bird, including stock from the bones, into a sumptuous pie. When it comes to barbecuing the bird, sit the chicken upright for a super-juicy beer butt chicken, or flatten it out as a spatchcock and cover in marinade in order to cook it more quickly on the grill. Here are a few more clever ideas for using the whole chicken, too.