Chicken is one of the most popular meats in New Zealand ((New Zealanders each ate nearly 35 kilograms of chicken in the year to September 2006), however, it has also probably been one of the most controversial food subjects recently, with much discussion about how the birds are raised, processed and packaged.
There is a range of chicken available, including: certified organic under the Agriquality logo, free-range with a certified diet; free-range grain fed; free-range corn fed; and mass-produced barn raised, with no genetic modification.
In amongst the debate over how different birds are raised, it is important to note that no hormones or growth promotants can be given to poultry in New Zealand, and any antibiotics used are registered for use by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.
Consumers therefore need to seek out the best poultry available by being informed about the practices of individual manufacturers. Hopefully, this will mean those companies offering the most humane living conditions and producing a product that is delicious to eat, will be able to rely on the support of consumers so they can grow their businesses and maintain the ethical practices that should be mandatory throughout the industry.
Tips on food safety and rules to help prevent illness
Cross-contamination is one of the major causes of food-borne illnesses. Thoroughly wash your hands and any equipment used immediately after preparing poultry to help prevent this. Take care if you’re rinsing meat under the tap as any spraying of water can cause contamination of surfaces a fair distance away.
All raw meat should be well covered and stored in the bottom of the refrigerator to ensure its juices don’t drip onto other foods.
Cooked meat must never be placed back on the same plate the raw meat was on. Also be sure to use separate utensils, such as tongs, when handling raw and cooked meat.
When cooking, place the chicken in a pre-heated oven and ensure the meat is thoroughly cooked through, never rare or medium rare. If using a meat thermometer it should read 74˚C when inserted into the thickest part of the meat. To test with a skewer, insert into the thigh and the juices should run clear with no hint of pink.
Cooking poultry on a barbecue needs extra care. It’s a good idea to pre-cook any bone-in portions, then keep them chilled until ready to barbecue. If you aren’t sure whether the chicken is thoroughly cooked, place it in a hot oven to complete the process. The same testing methods are used as above.
Chicken is a versatile product and lends itself to a wide range of cooking methods: roast, braise, sauté, steam, poach, stir-fry, barbecue, grill and deep fry.
It is also used widely across different cultures, and therefore there is a huge variety of flavours to accompany it:
Italian: wine, Marsala, garlic, chillies, olive oil, butter, lemons, thyme, rosemary, basil, sage, fennel, carrots, celery, tomatoes, artichokes, olives, anchovies, capers, parma ham, prosciutto, pine nuts, porcini and mozzarella.
Suggestion – slice the chicken breast horizontally and flatten. Secure a sage leaf and slice of prosciutto on each piece with a toothpick. Dust the chicken in flour and cook on both sides in a sauté pan. Remove the toothpicks and top with a piece of mozzarella. Cover the pan to melt the cheese. Remove and deglaze the pan with Marsala. Pour over chicken.
Spanish: chorizo, red capsicums, jamon (cured ham), oranges, olive oil, thyme, olives, saffron, smoked paprika, cider, anchovies.
Suggestion – sauté chicken pieces and set aside. Make a sauce of oil, onion, red capsicums, tomatoes, wine, garlic, thyme, bay and sweet smoked paprika. Add the chicken and braise in the oven until the meat is very tender.
French: bouquet garni, wine, chestnuts, crème fraiche, olives, prunes, Dijon mustard, morel mushrooms, garlic, truffles, apples, sorrel, calvados.
Suggestion – brown chicken pieces, bacon, pickling onions and mushrooms until golden. Deglaze the pan with a bottle of red wine, add bouquet garni, a spoonful of mustard and then cook until tender and the sauce has reduced.
Greek: feta, walnuts, almonds, dried figs, vine leaves, dill, yoghurt, bay leaves, oregano, mint, cinnamon, lemons, haloumi.
Suggestion – make a thick paste of feta, chopped walnuts, yoghurt, oregano and lemon zest. Push under the skin of a whole chicken. Stuff with lemons and bay leaves and roast until cooked. Serve with almond skordalia and boiled waxy potatoes.
Middle Eastern: coriander, harissa, sumac, ras al hanout, baharat, chermoula, cinnamon, saffron, cumin, pistachios, dried mint, grape leaves, figs, eggplant, preserved lemons, quince, couscous.
Suggestion – make a paste of ras al hanout (a Moroccan spice mix which translates loosely as ‘house blend’ – it can include black peppercorns, fennel seeds, cinnamon, ground coriander, turmeric, sweet paprika and salt), garlic, lemon juice, toasted cumin seeds, oil and honey. Rub on butterflied chicken and roast. Serve on saffron couscous tossed with a pinch of cinnamon, sliced figs, preserved lemons and chopped coriander or flat-leaf parsley.
Indian: ghee, ginger, yoghurt, cardamom, tamarind, turmeric, garam masala, curry leaves, nigella seeds, cashew nuts, almonds, chillies, mint, lentils, coriander.
Suggestion – fry onions, in ghee with ginger, garam masala, garlic and curry leaves. Add ground cashew nuts and yoghurt. Add browned chicken pieces and simmer gently until cooked. Serve with rice or lentils sprinkled with extra toasted nuts and coriander.
Asian: lemongrass, galangal, coconut milk, chillies, soy sauce, palm sugar, coriander, ginger, shrimp paste, kaffir limes, shallots, garlic, candlenuts, turmeric, shaoxing (rice wine), lap cheong (Chinese sausage), mushrooms, star anise, bamboo shoots, five spice, Szechuan pepper, sesame oil, oyster sauce, bean pastes, fish sauce, shrimp paste, tamarind.
Suggestion – make a paste of lemongrass, ginger, garlic, coriander roots, candle nuts, chilli and shallots. Cook gently until fragrant, add coconut milk and chicken stock, simmer to infuse. Add thinly sliced chicken, lime juice, fish sauce and chilli. Serve soup with chopped coriander.