POULTRY. Poultry are domesticated birds raised for food: chickens (including Cornish game hens and poussins), turkeys, ducks, and geese, plus minor species such as squab (young pigeons) and ostrich. Game birds such as quail and Canada geese can also be prepared in much the same ways, although their meat is tougher than that of birds raised on farms. Chickens and ducks are among the most widely distributed food animals in the world and are part of nearly every major cuisine.
Poultry were the last major group of food animals to be domesticated. Humans likely began by raiding the nests of wild birds to steal their eggs, just as nonhuman predators do. Eventually the birds themselves were caught and kept in confinement, or, when thoroughly domesticated, allowed to range around the farmstead or village to find their own food.
Chicken, in particular, has had an increase in popularity in the United States in recent years; according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sales climbed from 39 pounds per capita in 1970 to 77 pounds per capita in 2000. The surge in chicken's popularity is attributable partly to its low fat content as compared to beef. Three-and-one-half ounces (one hundred grams) of roasted chicken breast with its skin removed has only 120 calories and 1.5 grams of fat, while the same serving of cooked sirloin steak has 170 calories and 6 grams of fat.
Also propelling chicken toward the center of the nation's plate is its versatility and convenience. Chicken is convenient to prepare and less likely to be ruined by overcooking than the competition. Chicken has become a kitchen favorite for cooks who are both pressed for time and somewhat inexpert at cooking.
Cost is also a major factor in the rise of poultry's popularity. In constant dollars, the wholesale price of a whole chicken dropped 50 percent from 1978 to 2000, while the price of skinless, boneless breast dropped 70 percent.
In contrast to chicken and turkey, duck, goose, squab, and other minor species are expensive and are served mainly on special occasions in the home or in high-end restaurants or restaurants specializing in ethnic cuisine. Peking duck is a mainstay of Chinese cookery, for example.
The most prevalent of the domestic fowl worldwide, the chicken is descended from the Red Jungle Fowl, a bird whose native territory stretches from east India to Malaysia. It is not clear exactly where the bird was first domesticated, but it has been raised by humans throughout its range since ancient times. Polynesian explorers took the chicken across the Pacific as far as Hawaii. Chickens were exported from India to China as early as the fourteenth century B.C.E. and spread to the Near East via the trade routes, and thence to Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Domestic fowl are not mentioned in the Old Testament, but the ancient Egyptians kept fowl and developed large ovens capable of incubating thousands of eggs, indicating that they had large flocks. The Greeks had chickens by the fourth century B.C.E., and many a family in ancient Athens kept a hen to produce eggs. The Romans took up the bird and carried it throughout their empire and beyond; the Germanic and Celtic tribes north of the Roman frontier had chickens before the Christian era. Both Greeks and Romans gave chickens a prominent place in their cuisine and recorded elaborate recipes for cooking them. Poultry shops were so well-established in England by the fourteenth century that their proprietors prevailed upon the authorities to prohibit country people from bringing poultry into the city to sell in the streets in competition with them. Medieval and Renaissance banquets featured chickens along with other fowl: Pope Pius V (d. 1572) gave a banquet that included chicken pie—two chickens to each pie—and spit-roasted quails and pigeons.
A hen in her prime will produce from 100 to 250 eggs per year, a remarkable output for the size of the animal, so the chicken has always been kept more for its egg-laying capability than for its value as meat. Since a hen will lay eggs whether they are fertilized or not, and a single male bird can adequately service a large number of females to ensure reproduction of the flock, most of the male birds are superfluous to an egg-laying flock. They are, however, easily castrated when young, and the resulting birds, known as capons, grow fat and tender. From ancient times until quite recently, capons were the best choice for roasting, with older hens sent to the stew pot. Young male birds, known as cockerels, although smaller than capons, were also available for roasting or other forms of cooking.
Production of birds for their meat has traditionally been a sideline to the egg-laying business. Not until the 1920s were large flocks of chickens raised specifically for their meat, which are called broilers or fryers (the terms are interchangeable). Today about 97 percent of the chicken found in a U.S. supermarket consists of broilerfryers, with most of the balance consisting of stewing hens (older birds) and a few Cornish game hens. The capon, once a prized dish, is now rare.
The chicken has a short generation span, since the female reaches sexual maturity in about a year. Consequently, the development of different breeds can occur rapidly. Poultry keepers bred birds for desirable characteristics, which traditionally included prolific egg production. The Leghorn is the longtime champion of layers. More recent breeding has emphasized abundant meat production. Specialized breeding companies cross different breeds to attain the right mix of desirable characteristics.
The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo ) is native to the Americas and inhabited northern Mexico and what is now the eastern United States when Columbus arrived. All of the domesticated turkey breeds descended from this hardy bird, which was domesticated by the Aztecs and other Native Americans. Montezuma himself dined on turkeys, ducks, quails, and other birds, according to a Spanish eyewitness. Early in the sixteenth century, the Spaniards took the bird home, where it began a rapid spread through Europe. People were accustomed to eating large birds—swans and peacocks had graced noble tables since ancient times—and the turkey provided an abundance of meat. In this respect, the turkey was very different from the chicken, since the turkey has been prized chiefly as a source of meat rather than eggs.
The name given the bird by Europeans reflected mass confusion about its origins and perhaps a similarity to another bird, the guinea fowl, which had recently been reintroduced into Europe after an absence dating to the fall of Rome. The guinea fowl was called an "India chicken" by many, apparently because it reached Europe from the east and was thought to have originated in India, although in fact it is from Africa. When the turkey showed up, it looked like a bigger version of the same bird and was dubbed the "bird of India" in nearly every language: "coq d'Inde," cock of India (later dinde ), in French, "indianische Henn" in German, and variations on the same in other European languages. Eventually the turkey took sole possession of the "India" name and the guinea fowl was renamed after the Gulf of Guinea in west Africa. The only major exception was England, where the bird was called the "turkie cock" (or hen). This may reflect a belief that the bird came from Turkey, since many exotic products, edible and otherwise, had passed through the eastern Mediterranean on their way to western Europe. A more specific theory is based on the fact that English trade to that region was dominated by the Company of Merchant Adventurers Trading to the Levant, popularly known as the Turkey Merchants. Officers of the company reportedly stopped in Spain and picked up some of the birds on their way back to England, and the bird was named after them.
|Production of poultry meat and eggs, leading nations, 2001|
|In metric t ons|
|Nation||Poultry meat||Chicken meat||Turkey meat||Duck meat||Goose meat||Primary eggs*|
|European Union (15)||8,852,099||6,632,852||1,860,960||343,112||14,075||5,303,441|
|*Table eggs of all species, including chicken, duck, and goose.|
|Neg.: Negligible production|
|The production of poultry meat and eggs constitutes a large industry worldwide. Nearly every country produces chicken meat and eggs; turkey is popular largely in Europe, North America, and Brazil; duck meat production is found largely in China and Europe; and goose meat is largely Chinese. The United States is the leading producer of poultry products, particularly chicken (14 million metric tons produced in 2001) and turkey (two and a half million tons), in both of which it leads the world. China is second in chicken production with about nine million tons, and dominates the world in goose meat and duck meat production. In fact, 91 percent of all the goose meat produced in the world, and 68 percent of the duck meat, is produced in China.|
|Other major countries in chicken meat production include Brazil, France, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Thailand, while the leading turkey producers after the United States are France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada, and Hungary. France and Thailand are the leading duck meat producers after China, followed by Viet Nam, the United States, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom. The goose meat industry is very small outside China, with the biggest countries being Hungary, Egypt, Madagascar, and Poland.|
|China produces more than 23 million metric tons of eggs, or more than forty percent of the world's supply, which includes goose and duck eggs as well as chicken eggs. The United States is next with five million tons, followed by Japan with two-and-a-half million tons and Russia, India, and Mexico with about two million tons each. Japan is the leading consumer of eggs on a per capita basis, with China in second place. In the United States, per capita egg consumption has dropped in recent years, largely in response to concern about the cholesterol content of eggs.|
|SOURCE: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Statistical Databases; U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agriculture Service.|
Whatever the reason for its odd name, the turkey seems to have taken Europe by storm. It arrived in Spain around 1524, was mentioned by Rabelais in 1548, and was served at a royal wedding feast in France in 1570. In England, the bird was established even sooner, being mentioned in the sumptuary laws of 1541. Turkeys could be raised by peasants and by the turn of the seventeenth century were being husbanded throughout Europe. The Pilgrims recognized the local turkeys when they settled in Massachusetts and learned that the Native American name for the bird was amazingly close to their own. The natives called it a "furkee."
Ducks and Geese
Ducks and geese are distributed worldwide and were trapped and domesticated by humans in antiquity for both eggs—especially duck eggs—and their meat. Ducks were probably domesticated before geese, and both were certainly domesticated in most of the world long before chickens. Ducks were raised in China two thousand years b.c.e. The Incas of Peru kept ducks, and the Spanish brought home what became known as the Muscovy duck (continuing the tradition of naming birds for lands far from their own).
Ancient peoples in Europe and Asia tamed mallard ducks, which were the foundation of most breeds of domestic duck, such as the Pekin (or Peking) of China, the Aylesbury of England, and the Rouen of France. Most ducks consumed are slaughtered at a young age and thus termed ducklings; mature ducks are tough and are used mainly in processed products.
In the United States, modern production began when a clipper ship brought three Pekin ducks and a drake from China in 1873. All of today's Pekins are direct descendents of these pioneers. Strains of the Pekin were used to produce the Long Island Duckling, which became the most desirable breed. Production of these birds in the United States eventually moved largely to the Midwest, but only birds actually raised on Long Island for at least seven days and processed there may be labeled "Long Island Duckling." Birds that are otherwise essentially identical, but raised in Indiana or other states, are labeled "White Pekin Duckling."
Regardless of where it is raised, the White Pekin is a tender and juicy bird and is the most popular choice for the table. The Muscovy has a stronger flavor than the White Pekin. The White Pekin and the Muscovy have been crossed to produce the Moulard, which is raised mainly for the sake of its liver for foie gras. (Foie gras is a delicacy consisting of duck or goose liver that has been enlarged to many times its normal size by excessive feeding of the birds. In Europe, where goose is preferred, the bird is "crammed" with feed through a funnel put down its throat. [See photo on page 127.] In the United States, ducks are encouraged to overeat but are not crammed.) The familiar, green-headed Mallard is both raised on farms and hunted in its wild state. It is smaller and tougher than the White Pekin and tends to be quite greasy. Ducks are considered "red-meat" birds, and the breast meat when fully cooked will be pink, which in chickens and turkeys would be a sign of undercooking.
Geese have been domesticated since ancient times in many parts of the world, but the Greylag goose of Europe, which is still found in the wild, is the ancestor of most of the domesticated breeds in existence today. The all-white Emden and the all-gray Toulouse are the two most popular breeds in the United States today; many African and White Chinese are also raised. The Chinese goose is descended from the swan goose of Asia rather than from the Greylag.
Goose production is a small industry in the United States, representing only two-tenths of 1 percent of poultry production, and might virtually disappear were it not for the fact that geese also produce down, which is much in demand for its insulating properties. Down is used in ski jackets, comforters, pillows, sleeping bags, and other cold-weather gear.
Both Greeks and Egyptians kept geese and crammed them with grain to fatten them and enlarge their livers. The Romans apparently adopted geese from the Gauls; Pliny wrote of flocks of geese being driven to Rome from what is now Picardy. The goose was the most prized domestic fowl in Europe for hundreds of years after the heyday of Rome, and the Gauls and their descendents, the French, became the acknowledged masters of the art of creating foie gras by force-feeding the birds. The goose became a holiday bird in much of Europe and is considered an alternative to the turkey in the United States. The meat is all dark and has the consistency of roast beef when properly cooked.
Squabs are young pigeons that have never flown, usually slaughtered at four weeks old. If a squab is slaughtered much after four weeks or after it has begun to fly, the muscles will have hardened and the meat will not be as tender as when the bird was in the nest.
Pigeons are widely spread around the world and have been raised for their meat since antiquity. Pigeon keeping was widespread in ancient Egypt; by the first century b.c.e., dovecotes with one thousand nesting places were common. The design of the dovecotes, using earthen jars as nesting places, survived into modern times. Twenty thousand pigeons were served as a feast given by an Assyrian king in the ninth century B.C.E. Pigeons were popular in ancient Greece, Rome, and during medieval times.
Squab is considered a delicacy around the world today. In the United States, squabs are available mainly through specialty food shops or in ethnic and high-end restaurants.
Production and Life Cycle
All the major forms of poultry are produced in similar although not identical systems. The model in the United States is the highly efficient broiler chicken sector, which produces the vast majority of the poultry products consumed by Americans. Turkeys and other forms of poultry are raised under conditions that are similar to those of chickens.
The chicken industry was localized, with entrepreneurs buying surplus chickens from egg operations and backyard flocks for the city markets, until early in the twenthieth century, when more organized, long-distance shipping of live poultry commenced. New York and other cities received rail cars of live birds that were distributed to butcher shops or slaughtered and dressed at processing plants for distribution. In the 1920s, farmers discovered that large flocks of chickens could be raised specifically for their value as meat. These farmers needed regular batches of chicks, supplied by large-scale hatcheries, and feed, which they got from commercial feed mills. The hatcheries and mills typically had better access to capital and marketing channels than farmers, and they formed the core of the all-purpose companies that dominate the business today. In the mature industry, a single company typically handles the entire life cycle of a bird, including hatching, feed formulation and production, processing, and marketing. This business model is known as "vertical integration," and there are about fifty such companies in existence in the United States (as of 2001). Breeding of the animals for desirable characteristics is handled by either the integrated company itself or by one of a several specialized breeding companies. Once hatched, the birds are typically taken to privately owned farms, where they are raised to market weight by farmers working under contract to the company.
Production of turkeys is somewhat less centralized than the chicken business, although the turkey industry has been moving in the direction of greater integration. The duck industry is very similar to the chicken model. Most of the squabs in the country are processed and marketed by a cooperative. The goose industry is small and integrated.
The life cycle of a broiler begins with a specialized breeding flocks, where roosters and hens produce fertile eggs that are collected every day and taken to a hatchery, where thousands of eggs are kept in each incubator under carefully controlled conditions of temperature and humidity. The chicks hatch out on the twenty-first day and are taken to the farm where they will be raised for six to seven weeks. The typical growout facility is a barn-like, one-story structure about forty feet wide and four hundred feet long, which contains about twenty thousand birds. The trend in recent years has been to even larger houses holding up to thirty-three thousand birds. The birds have the run of the building, as cages are not used in broiler production.
Feed is made largely from corn and soybeans with the addition of animal fats for energy, animal protein, amino acids, minerals, and vitamins. Chickens eat almost continuously, pausing to digest each meal before going back to the feeder for more.
When the birds reach market weight of about five and a half pounds, they are collected and taken to the processing plant where they are stunned, killed, defeathered, eviscerated, inspected for wholesomeness by personnel of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, chilled, and either packed for shipment or, more typically, sent to another plant to be cut into pieces, deboned, and processed into a wide variety of products. The finished weight of a whole bird is usually about three and a half pounds, with birds destined for the fast-food market being typically smaller than birds being sold at retail.
Poultry companies market their products through supermarket chains, restaurant chains, and independent distributors. The process is highly organized and efficient. Unlike red meat, in which an in-store butcher handles the final cutup, poultry is usually packaged at the plant and shipped to stores ready for sale, with computerized scales at the processing plant weighing the packages and applying the price set by the retailer.
Approximately half the chicken consumed in the country is sold through supermarkets and other retail outlets while half is sold through fast food and other restaurants, cafeteria, and other food service outlets.
Chickens and other poultry are subject to a wide variety of diseases whether they are kept indoors or not. They are normally vaccinated against certain diseases while they are still in the egg and then again as chicks. One of the most prevalent problems is colonization of the chicken's gut by microscopic, parasitic animals known as coccidia. Most producers, even "organic" or "free range" ones, add chemical compounds to the chicken feed to control coccidia. Poultry flocks are monitored by the farmer and by company representatives for signs of other diseases, which, if they begin to claim more than a certain number of victims, will be treated with antibiotics administered through the feed or water. Some antibiotics, when used in the feed at low levels over a period of time, also result in measurable increases in the bird's weight. The exact mechanism for this "growth promotion" is not known, but poultry experts believe that the antibiotics eliminate organisms in the chicken's gut that would otherwise compete for nutrition. The practice of using antibiotics for purposes other than treating disease is somewhat controversial, and some experts in human health object to it on the grounds that low-level use of antibiotics, some of which are also used in human medicine, can promote the rise of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs. These can be passed to humans either on food products or by entering the environment and could create infections in humans that could be resistant to antibiotic therapy. The National Research Council has found that "there is a link" between the use of antibiotics in food animals and antibiotic resistant infections in humans and recommended further study.
Federal law prohibits producers of chickens and other poultry from giving artificial or added hormones to their animals. Producers are allowed to give only those pharmaceuticals or additives that are on the Food and Drug Administration's approved list, and there are no hormones on the list for chickens or other poultry raised for their meat. It would be impractical to give hormones anyway, since they cannot be given in the feed and have to be repeatedly injected as the animal grows, virtually an impossibility in a flock of twenty thousand birds or more.
Alternative Production and Processing Systems
Some have criticized the mainstream industry for its style of mass production, confinement of the animals, and use of antibiotics. The "free range" style of production is intended to address these concerns. In a "free range" system, the birds have access to a pen outside the growout house. Some producers provide a pen as large as the growout house itself, while others provide a much smaller fenced area. The pen gives the chickens the opportunity for exercise, sunlight, and fresh air. Chickens will not necessarily take advantage of the opportunity, however, if the food and water are located only inside the house. Many "free-range" birds thus do little actual ranging.
Since chickens will peck at anything in search of food, a small pen can be quickly denuded of vegetation. Some small-scale producers address this problem by confining the chickens in a covered, portable pen that is moved each day to a different plot of grass; this is called "pastured poultry." Few if any producers will actually turn chickens loose to fend for themselves, although some turkey producers will do so in an area in which forage is available, such as an orchard, in which the turkeys can feed on fallen fruit. "Free range" chickens generally cost considerably more than standard chickens, and they represent only a small portion of total production—probably less than 1 percent.
"Organic" production is another attempt to differentiate the product from those of large-scale producers. The term was used for years on a wide variety of food products without a consistent nationwide definition. The U.S. Department of Agriculture promulgated regulations in 2000, to take effect in 2002, which prohibit the use of the term "organic" unless the production and processing of the product is consistent with the regulation. A qualifying product can carry a "USDA Organic" label. Poultry labeled "organic" must be raised on feed made from organically grown grain that cannot contain animal byproducts; cannot be given antibiotics or anti-parasiticals; and must be given access to the outdoors, among other requirements.
Kosher Processing and Specialized Labeling
"Free range" and "gourmet" chickens are processed in a manner that is essentially identical to standard chickens and are killed by high-speed mechanical devices. Kosher chickens, however, are slaughtered manually by rabbis, not by machine, and are soaked in salt water to draw out the remaining blood to meet the requirements of Jewish law. As a result, Kosher chickens are generally more expensive than standard birds.
In France, the national ministry of agriculture and fisheries operates a program called the "Label Rouge," or "Red Label," which is intended to recognize higher-quality products. Products bearing the red label must employ more traditional methods of production than more standardized products. France offers the red label to qualifying producers of chicken, guinea fowl, turkey, capons, duck, and geese, as well as other animals.
Poultry has long figured in human symbolism and legend. Geese supposedly saved ancient Rome from a surprise attack in the fourth century b.c.e. by cackling loudly when the invaders tried to sneak up on the Capitol. Pigeons were offered as sacrifices by the Hebrews of the Bible. The sixteenth-century Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder—a great fan of fantastic-looking animals—used the turkey as a symbol of envy in his series of paintings on the seven deadly sins. But the domestic fowl most often used as a symbol is the ordinary chicken.
In ancient Greece, chickens were offered in sacrifice to the god of medicine, Aesculapius, to protect against disease, to thank the god for recovery, or to prepare for imminent death. Aristotle conducted the first known systematic study of embryology by opening hen's eggs at each day of incubation. Less scientific ancients used the birds for magic, sorcery, and divination.
The chicken has always been one of the most familiar domesticated animals since almost any family could afford to keep a hen, and chickens were kept in the city as well as the countryside. Humans therefore had abundant opportunity to observe the chicken at close range. They could hardly help but notice the insatiable sexual appetite of the male bird, which can copulate up to thirty times a day in his prime. The traditional term for the rooster—the cock—was given in slang to the male sexual organ, and the upright, strutting posture of the male, and his domineering behavior toward the females, seemed to symbolize traditional male supremacy.
The rooster's habit of crowing loudly at dawn has made it for centuries the symbol of awakening. The most famous example is the prediction by Jesus of Nazareth that his chief apostle, Simon Peter, would deny knowing him three times before the cock crowed twice. When Peter heard the crowing and realized the prediction had come true, "he went out and wept bitterly." The rooster's role as a herald has continued to this day. A rooster figures prominently in a tapestry hanging in the United Nations headquarters in New York that commemorates the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, presumably as a symbol of the world's need to awaken to the danger of uncontrolled technology.
Chickens, turkeys, and other types of poultry are produced on farms and processed in clean but not sterile plants, so their meat can carry microorganisms that potentially harmful to humans. For example, approximately 10 percent of raw chickens carry Salmonella, which can cause illness and even death in humans. Improved processing technology and stricter government regulations have improved the situation considerably in recent years, but consumers should always handle raw meat and poultry with care.
To ensure that poultry products are safe to eat and to avoid contaminating other foods with the bacteria that may be carried on raw poultry, the cook should keep four basic points in mind:
- Clean: Keep working surfaces clean. Wash cutting boards after cutting raw poultry and before using them for other foods, such as vegetables. Wash the hands before touching other foods. Wash utensils in hot, soapy water.
- Cook: Cook foods to the recommend temperature. Proper cooking deactivates bacteria and renders the food safe to eat.
- Chill: Bacteria such as Salmonella do not grow well at cold temperatures, so prompt refrigeration at 40°F or below will help control the growth of bacteria on raw foods. After poultry is cooked, in order to control the growth of molds, yeasts, and spoilage organisms, it should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Listeria is an exception to the rule, however, since it will grow at refrigerator temperatures. Listeria is sometimes found on products that were cooked at the plant, such as hot dogs and lunch meat. Vulnerable individuals—chiefly pregnant women, small children, the elderly, and immuno-compromised people—should reheat such foods until they are steaming hot before consuming them to eliminate the risk of Listeria contamination.
- Avoid cross-contamination: Poultry juice can contain millions of bacterial cells. Prevent poultry juice from dripping onto other foods by overwrapping the packages if necessary in plastic wrap.
Poultry comes in a dizzying array of forms ranging from a package of chicken wings weighing two ounces each to whole turkey weighing twenty pounds or more. The consumer can buy products based on specific meal plans or based on cost consideration, for example, stocking up on boneless chicken breast when it is on sale. In determining quantities, keep in mind that the edible yield from boneless products is far greater than from bone-in; in fact, while boneless chicken costs considerably more than bone-in, the price difference almost disappears when the bones are excluded. On the other hand, much of the weight of ducks and geese consists of fat that will drain off when the bird is cooked. As a rule of thumb, four ounces of skinless, boneless chicken will serve one adult, while a whole chicken will serve approximately one person per pound. For a whole turkey, figure on one pound per person. A whole duck or goose, which has less meat, bigger bones, and more fat than turkey, will serve three persons, or four if there are enough side dishes, while one squab is an individual serving.
Classes of Chickens
Chickens are classified primarily by the size, weight, and age of the bird when processed. Chickens are produced to meet specific requirements of the customer, which can be a retail outlet, fast food chain, or institutional buyer, among others. The weights given here are "ready to cook," that is, eviscerated or "dressed."
- —Chicken raised for meat products; of either sex; usually six to seven weeks old; often labeled "tender young chicken."
- —Less than twenty-four days of age and about one pound or less.
- Cornish Game Hen
- —Less than thirty days of age and about two pounds.
- Fast-food Size Broiler
- —two pounds four ounces to three pounds two ounces, (mostly two pounds six ounces to two pounds fourteen ounces), usually cutup, without necks and giblets, may have tail and leaf fat removed, and less than forty-two days of age.
- 3's and Up
- —three to four and three-quarter pounds, usually with neck and giblets for retail grocery; whole, cut-up, parts, and forty to forty-five days of age. Typical retail size.
- Broiler Roaster
- —five to six pounds, hens usually fifty-five days of age.
- Broilers for Deboning
- —five to six pounds, males usually forty-seven to fifty-six days of age. Deboned for nuggets, patties, strips, and similar boneless products.
- Heavy Young Broiler Roaster
- —six to eight pounds, sold fresh or frozen through retail grocery, both whole and parts, less than ten weeks of age. Typical "roaster."
- —Castrated male broilers weighing seven to nine pounds, and about fourteen to fifteen weeks of age. Considered to be very flavorful. Stewing Hen or Heavy Hen —breeder hens that are no longer commercially productive for laying hatching eggs, usually five to five-and-one-half pounds, about fifteen months of age, used for cooked, diced, or pulled meat. Sometimes sold whole at retail for use in homemade soup. While tougher than younger birds, the stewing hen has developed a deeper flavor.
The male bird, or "tom," tends to be bigger than the hen, although there is no noticeable difference between the two in the quality of their meat. Almost all the turkeys in the supermarket are young turkeys, slaughtered at about fourteen weeks of age for hens and eighteen weeks for toms.
Turkey breast is even leaner than chicken and is very widely used in sandwich meat and other delicatessen-type products, as well as sold fresh in the meat case. Turkey dark meat is also widely used in hot dogs, bologna, and other processed meat products. Whole birds are available year round but are especially popular as the main course at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Turkey parts are increasingly popular both year round and at the holidays: whole or half breasts, tenderloins, and legs.
Poultry is generally sold with a "sell-by" date on the package, which, for chicken, is typically ten to fourteen days from processing. Poultry should be cooked or frozen within a few days of purchase to maintain its quality. Fresh poultry should be kept in its original wrapping and stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator. If the package is leaking fluid, it should be overwrapped with plastic or aluminum foil.
Frozen poultry will keep six months or more in the freezer set at 0°F. Frozen whole birds or parts can be defrosted in the refrigerator, which can take twenty-four hours or more, or in cold water, which should be kept running or changed every 30 minutes. A whole turkey should be defrosted in water because defrosting in the refrigerator takes too long. Whole chickens and all types of parts can be defrosted in the microwave, but a very low power setting should be used and caution exercised to ensure that the product does not begin to cook during the defrosting.
A Note on Doneness.
Poultry parts reach the desired state of doneness at different internal temperatures. Boneless chicken breast cooked on an outdoor grill can be cooked without reaching 150°F (even though 160°F is usually given as the minimum temperature that breast meat should reach). Yet drumsticks, because of their dark meat and higher fat content, will not be done until they register 180°F. Bones conduct heat, so when taking the temperature of a part or a whole bird, do not let the thermometer rest against a bone.
Generally, boneless white meat such as chicken or turkey breast should be cooked to 160°F, bone-in parts usually need to reach 170°F; and dark meat should hit 180°F.
Poultry will usually be safe to eat before it is done. Any food is safe to eat at 160°F because bacteria are destroyed at temperatures over 140°F. One exception: it is impossible to make spoiled food safe to eat by heating it because spoilage organisms create toxins; even if the bacteria are destroyed, the toxins remain. Spoiled food cannot be fixed by cooking and must be discarded.
Methods of Preparation: Chicken
As befits its reputation as the most versatile of meats, chicken can be prepared in a host of different ways. Here are the principal methods of preparation and the chicken products most appropriate for them.
Roasting. A whole roast chicken is a magnificent sight, browned to perfection and rich in the promise of tender, juicy meat. Because of its small size relative, say, to a turkey, roasting a chicken takes only a couple of hours and is perfect for a Sunday afternoon dinner. Be sure to remove the giblets (heart and liver) from the cavity if present and discard unless you intend to make gravy with them. The chicken may be stuffed with any type of bread-based stuffing, although this increases cooking time. Some experts recommend cooking the stuffing in a sauce on the stove. To ensure even cooking and present a tidy appearance in the finished product, it is best to truss the chicken, that is, to use kitchen string or other clean white string to ties its legs over the cavity and secure its wings to the body.
Preheat the oven to 325°F and place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan or a deep baking dish. Use of the rack will keep the chicken from sitting in its own grease.
Roast for about an hour, basting occasionally with the pan juices. The chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 180°F on a thermometer inserted deep into the thigh without touching bone. Let stand 20 minutes to allow the juices to settle before carving.
Baking. Roasting and baking are essentially the same thing, the difference merely being that a whole chicken is roasted while parts are baked. Any poultry part can be baked, but the method is most appropriate for legs, thigh, and drumsticks. Preheat the oven to 400°F, place the chicken part in a lightly oiled roasting pan or in a deep baking dish, and place in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes. Use of a rack will help keep dark meat parts from picking up too much melted fat; it is not necessary for breast meat.
Broiling. In broiling, meats are placed several inches under the heat. This works well for all chicken parts, but especially for boneless or bone-in breasts. Preheat the broiler and broil the breasts for approximately 15 minutes per side. Bone-in breasts are placed six to eight inches from the heat; boneless breast lie flat and can be placed closer. Cook the rib side of bone-in breasts, or the rough side of boneless breasts, first, and then finish with the skin side of skin-on breasts or the smooth side of skinless, boneless breasts.
Sauté. Boneless parts such as breast or thigh can be cooked in a pan on top of the stove in a little liquid, which can be chicken stock, wine, butter, olive oil, or some combination. The trick is to brown the chicken on both sides before reducing the heat to cook it through. Boneless breast cooked in butter and olive oil and seasoned with lemon and rosemary is a delicious dish. It can be made even more delicate by slicing the breast portion in two with the knife held parallel to the counter, resulting in two breast fillets. A thin piece of breast will cook in just a few minutes on each side.
Fried. Fried chicken is a mainstay of southern cooking, although Southerners clearly did not invent it; a cookbook published in England in the eighteenth century included a recipe for fried chicken that could be used today. Fried chicken has fallen somewhat into disfavor, along with many other types of fried foods, due to its fat content and reputation for clogging arteries. However, the best fried chicken is not greasy and does not have exceptionally high added fat. The key seems to be to keep the frying oil very hot so that the skin of the chicken is sealed quickly, thus keeping the liquid fat out of the meat. Oil tends to lose its frying ability with use, so either start with plenty or keep heating up new batches of oil. Drumsticks and wings are the parts traditionally considered most suited to frying, but breasts and thighs will do just as well.
Southern cooks often recommend soaking the raw chicken in buttermilk and refrigerating for several hours. Then let the excess milk drain off, dredge the chicken parts in seasoned flour, and dunk into hot oil in a deep pan or heavy skillet. Many a cook has found the skillet lid a handy shield against spattering grease. Keep the oil at about 350°F until all the parts are added, then reduce the temperature to around 320°F and cook 10 to 12 minutes per side or until the juices run clear. (Five minutes per side for boneless breast.) The chicken is done when it turns golden brown. Drain on paper towels to get rid of as much grease as possible.
When frying wings, split them at the joints and discard the outermost and least meaty part, which is known as the "flapper." The meaty first joint is known as the "drummette." Wing portions make excellent appetizers.
Soups and stews. The stewpot was traditionally the destination of older and tougher birds that needed long, slow cooking to make them tender enough to eat. Old, tough birds are hard to find these days, although the chicken companies will sometimes market played-out hens in the dead of winter precisely for this purpose. Newer soup recipes, such as those based on Asian dishes, are light and delicate and perfectly suited to the young and tender birds that dominate the market.
Grilled. Chicken has ridden the wave of popularity of both outdoor and indoor grilling in recent years. Dark meat in particular, such as legs and thighs, stand up well to the intense heat of grilling because of its higher fat content and the presence of collagen, which melts and keeps the meat moist. Breasts should be marinated to keep them moist during grilling and will cook in no more than 15 minutes per side. Boneless breast will cook in about 6 minutes per side. Strong favors such as vinegar and soy sauce can be used with chicken bound for the grill. The grill itself should be brushed or rubbed with oil to keep white meat from sticking to it. If barbecue sauce is used, save it until you have turned the chicken skin side up.
Norman Rockwell knew his business when he chose a roast turkey as the symbol of abundance in his painting called Freedom from Want. There is nothing more American than the Thanksgiving turkey.
Roasting. Roasting a turkey can be a trying experience, especially one that tips the scales in excess of twenty pounds. It is hard to get the dark meat cooked through without overcooking the breast. One approach is to eliminate the dark meat entirely and buy a turkey breast (or two if the whole family is coming). The all-white meat breast is easily cooked according to the package directions, usually in a 350°F oven. If there are dark meat fans in the crowd or if cooking anything less than a whole bird seems somehow un-American, then satisfactory results can be obtained by roasting the bird at 325°F for 10 to 12 minutes per pound, shielding the breast with aluminum foil for the first hour, and continuing to cook until a meat thermometer registers 180°F when inserted into the deepest part of the thigh without touching bone. If the bird is stuffed, the stuffing must reach 160°F to ensure safety. Basting the breast with melted butter can help it stay moist. Another trick is to lay raw strips of bacon over the breast, letting the bacon release its fat to the breast as it crisps. Many turkey processors provide "selfbasting" birds, which are injected at the plant with oil to maintain their moistness. If you do not have a thermometer, the pop-up thermometers inserted at the plant are generally reliable. Or you can wiggle the legs and wings to see if they move freely, or insert a knife or fork into he bird to see if the juices run clear. Let the bird sit for 20 minutes after coming out of the over before trying to carve it. And give yourself plenty of time—an eighteen-pound bird that goes into the oven after breakfast will not be ready until early to mid-afternoon.
Turkeys are sold both fresh and frozen. It is a matter of opinion whether one tastes better than the other. One thing is certain, however—a fresh turkey will not have to be defrosted, which can be a difficult and time-consuming process. Just keep a fresh bird in the refrigerator until you are preheating the oven, when you can take it out, rinse it off, remove the neck and giblets from the cavity, and pat it dry. A frozen turkey should be placed in a clean sink or large pan and defrosted under cold running water. It takes several hours to defrost a large, solidly frozen turkey.
Grill. Turkey thighs and drumsticks can be grilled just like chicken parts. So can turkey cutlets, which are slices of skinless, boneless turkey breast. Turkey breast is the lowest in fat of all the cuts of poultry, however, so breast meat should be marinated or brushed with oil before being subjected to the heat of grilling.
Sauté. Cutlets sliced very thinly are called turkey scaloppini, and they lend themselves very well to being sautéed in a pan and finished with a flavorful sauce.
Other turkey products. Turkey is a major factor in the delicatessen counter, with turkey rolls providing lunch meat and the dark meat used very extensively in frankfurters and other already-cooked products. Since breast meat is tends to be quite dry, processors form breast meat into rolls and inject them with a saline solutions to keep the meat moist and easily carved. Ground turkey is a popular substitute for ground beef in many recipes due to its lower fat content, and turkey is turning up in sausages and other products as processors continue to try to get away from relying on holiday sales to carry them through the year.
Squab can be roasted, broiled or grilled. The bird weighs only about one pound and will cook quickly whichever method is used. The key is to cook the bird only until the breast meat is medium-rare, with the juices till running pink and the meat still juicy and pinkish. Broiled squab should be turned once and will cook in 15 to 20 minutes. If grilling squab, start with the skin side down to melt the fat under the skin. If grilling is desired, it is best to buy boneless squab and also discard the wings so that the bird will lie flat on the grill. Boneless squab can also be sauteed in a pan.
Cornish Game Hens and Poussins
Cornish game hens and poussins are simply small chickens. They are generally intended to be served whole, or, at most, split in two (although these birds, like other chickens, are marketed in larger sizes then they used to be). They can be roasted at 350°F for 25 to 40 minutes, depending on size. They can also be broiled with the backbone removed so the split bird lies flat on the broiling pan.
Duck is all dark meat; the breast tastes more like turkey drumstick than it does like chicken breast. Smoked duck, when sliced, is easily mistaken for roast beef. The challenge in cooking duck is that the bird has quite a lot of fat and it is difficult to end up with meat that is moist but not greasy from the melting fat and skin that is crisp and flavorful instead of rubbery. High heat would help get rid of the fat while crisping the skin, but the fat melts quickly and begins to smoke. The cook can find the kitchen full of smoke and can even have a fire in the oven if the rendering process is not controlled.
Two methods are generally successful in rendering the fat while crisping the skin. The first involves medium heat while the second involves steam as well as dry heat.
Roasting. Prick the skin with the tip of a paring knife, being careful to pierce the fat layer without breaking the skin. This will help drain off the fat during cooking. Roast the bird in a 350°F oven, breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan, for one hour and fifteen minutes. Drain the fat out of the roasting pan and roast for 40 additional minutes at 350°F and then 15 minutes at 500°F to crisp the skin.
Twice-cooked. Chinese cooks use a different method to get rid of the fat and produce a crisp skin. With skin pricked as in the basic roasting directions, the duck is placed on a rack in a roasting pan with half an inch of boiling water in the bottom. The pan is covered and placed over heat to keep the water simmering for about an hour, until the skin pulls away from the wing joints, exposing the meat. The bird is then cooled to room temperature, brushed with soy sauce or other seasonings, and roasted in a 400°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until crisp. For an even crisper skin, rub the raw bird with salt and allow it to dry in the air in the refrigerator for several hours before cooking.
Broiled. Duck parts can also be broiled, although the fat released by the parts can smoke and even catch fire. Remove as much visible fat as possible before placing the parts in a broiling pan four inches from the preheated broiler. Broil 30 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Drain off fat as it accumulates or sprinkle the melted fat with salt to reduce the chance of fire.
Goose is typically purchased and cooked whole. The meat is even darker than duck and, when cooked, resembles fully cooked roast beef. The goose is also even fattier than the duck, since it has an even thicker layer of fat under the skin. Dry heat works better than steam to render the fat and produce a crisp skin.
Prick the skin all over with the point of a paring knife, being careful not to pierce the skin. Roast for one and a half hours, breast side down, in a 325°F oven. Remove from the oven and pour off the grease. Return to the oven and roast for another one and a quarter to one and a half hours until the skin has puffed up around the breastbone. Turn the oven up to 400°F, remove the goose from the oven and transfer, with rack, to a clean pan and roast for another 15 minutes until the skin is crisp. Let stand 30 minutes before carving.
Ostrich and Emu
Ostrich and emu are birds originally from southern Africa and Australia, respectively. The ostrich is the largest bird species and can reach eight feet in height. The emu is the second biggest bird species and tops out around six feet. Ostriches were formerly raised for their feathers, which were greatly prized for use in women's hats. When long feathers went out of fashion, the industry collapsed. It has revived in recent years, however, because of an interest in ostrich meat, which has very little fat or cholesterol. Both birds have deep red meat which reminds many people of venison. The meat can be sauteed or grilled and should be cooked only to medium-rare, since overcooking leaves the meat tough and dry.
See also China: Beijing (Peking) Cuisine ; Seabirds and Their Eggs .
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Editors of Cook's Illustrated. The Cook's Illustrated Complete Book of Poultry. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1999.
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Richard L. Lobb
An elaborate method of preparing, cooking, and serving duck was developed by cooks in China's capital city and is known as Peking Duck. The cook will inflate the duck's carcass by blowing air between the skin and the body, blanch the duck in hot water, coat it with malt sugar, and pour boiling water into the cavity. The bird is then hung in a special vertical oven and roasted over a wood fire, preferably using the wood of fruit trees. The result is a bird with a taut golden skin and moist tender meat. Often only the skin is eaten at table, and the meat is sent back to the kitchen to make into other dishes. Or the meat can be cut into thin slices and rolled up in thin pancakes. Elaborate ceremony often attends the slicing of the bird.
"Poultry." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poultry
"Poultry." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poultry
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poultry, domesticated fowl kept primarily for meat and eggs; including birds of the order Galliformes, e.g., the chicken, turkey, guinea fowl, pheasant, quail, and peacock; and natatorial (swimming) birds, e.g., the duck and goose. Several poultry birds, including the chicken and the goose, were domesticated over 3,000 years ago. The chief poultry bird is the chicken, which probably originated as a jungle fowl in SW Asia. Until recently, poultry were raised for domestic and commercial use on many farms in the United States. Large-scale producers now virtually monopolize the poultry industry. Specialized hatcheries deliver chicks fresh from the incubator to commercial growers, who mass-produce birds under precisely controlled conditions on diets scientifically calculated to produce rapid growth to market size, for delivery to processors. Many distinct chicken breeds, once appreciated for their particular combinations of characteristics, have been combined through selective breeding into a few relatively standard types that are notably efficient converters of feed into meat or eggs. The dominant meat chicken today is a cross between the fast-growing female White Plymouth Rock chicken, and the deep-breasted male Cornish chicken (see Cornish hen). The predominant egg type in the United States today is the White Leghorn chicken. Dual-purpose meat-and-egg breeds have all but disappeared. Turkeys have been similarly standardized. Because of their lower cost and lower fat content, chicken and turkey are increasingly popular protein sources with American consumers, rivaling pork and even beef in per capita consumption. A few breeds of chicken are raised chiefly for their ornamental appearance or as pets. These include the Polish varieties, characterized by their large showy crests; the fighting, or game, varieties, still bred where cockfighting is popular; and the Bantams, which are primarily miniature counterparts of standard breeds.
See R. Moreng and J. Avens, Poultry Science and Production (1985); R. E. Austic and M. C. Nesheim, Poultry Production (13th ed. 1990).
"poultry." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poultry
"poultry." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poultry
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"poultry." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/poultry
"poultry." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/poultry
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poul·try / ˈpōltrē/ • n. domestic fowl, such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese.
"poultry." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/poultry-0
"poultry." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/poultry-0
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"poultry." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/poultry
"poultry." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/poultry