The Unparalleled Versatility Of Chicken Part 2
Handle With Care
You have to be careful with raw poultry. It's a hospitable environment for salmonella and other bacteria, creatures that need to be treated with respect. It's annoying to have to treat something you can't see with respect, but in the case of chicken-borne bacteria, it's essential - and it isn't hard.
The easiest way to keep bacteria from spreading is to work with raw chicken in a limited area; the sink is best. If you need a board or counter space, use as small an area as possible. Once you get the chicken in the oven (or the pot, or the broiler), clean everything - sink, board, counter - with soap and water. Don't forget the knife and handle, and make sure your hands are clean before you touch any other food.
Any bacteria in the chicken will be killed during cooking - thorough cooking, that is. The easiest way to ensure that your chicken is cooked past the danger zone is with a meat thermometer. Breasts should be at least 160 degrees F, and thighs 170 degrees F. If you don't have a meat thermometer, use a knife to test doneness: For a whole chicken, insert a knife in the widest part of the thigh; for chicken pieces, check both leg and breast. If the meat has just a tinge of pink at the bone, that's okay - it'll continue cooking when you bring it to the table - but its juices should run clear.
Fear of bacteria shouldn't drive you to dryness; a properly cooked chicken can be both safe and moist.
Roasting Chicken: The Debate Rages
If any chicken-related topic can be called controversial, it would have to be roasting. Everyone has a different technique for "perfect" roast chicken. Cover it; don't cover it. Turn it; don't turn it. High temperature; low temperature. Brine it? Truss it? Baste it? So many recipes for perfection, and no two the same! What does that mean for the cook? That you can breathe a sigh of relief. If there are so many ways to roast a chicken successfully (if not perfectly), it can't be that hard.
The central problem of roasting is that white meat cooks faster than dark meat. When the chicken is cut in pieces, as it usually is for most other cooking methods, that difference works for you. The white meat cooks faster, but the breasts are thicker than the legs, so all the pieces finish at about the same time. Not so with whole chickens.
But the difference is not so great that you can't make a respectable roast chicken by simply putting an untrussed bird (trussing exacerbates the problem of uneven cooking by making it harder for heat to circulate around the legs) in a 375 degree F oven and taking it out as soon as the dark meat reaches 170 degrees. The breast will be done a little past optimal, but it will be fine. It's way better to have poultry a bit overdone in order to ensure that all the juices run perfectly clear, or you may end up in the ER.