As I went through the food market yesterday I was thinking about making a good cheap chicken dish. But when I came to the meat counter, I was amazed at the range in price for chicken.
On one side of the meat display was a “family pack” of chicken thighs—$1.29 a pound. Then there was a whole chicken for a mere 77 cents a pound. And then, on the other end, in the “gourmet” section, a whole “all-natural,” organic, locally raised bird at $3.89 a pound.
How to choose? Later on, I asked EatingWell Food Editor Jessie Price for her advice. Jessie not only oversees all of EatingWell’s recipes but she shops for ingredients for our recipes, too, so she’s very savvy. She’s made just about every one of these simple chicken dinners.
Here’s what she said:
Are you making one meal for many?
If you’re serving a crowd, the thighs may be a good choice, especially in a recipe like Maple-Mustard Chicken, which is an easy way to serve a group on a budget.
Choose: Either thighs or whole chicken.
Are you making many meals for one?
If you’re cooking for just one or two, it’s easy: one roaster can make several dishes that will give your week a great deal of variety. You can make Whole Roasted Lemon–Herb Chicken on a Bed of Vegetables developed by cookbook author Bruce Aidells. Then you can use any extra meat in a recipe that calls for cooked chicken, like Cheesy Chicken Pasta.
Choose: Whole chicken.
Do you want to make the healthiest choice?
Most of the fat in chicken is in the skin, so if you use skinless cuts you’ve already made a healthier choice. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are very low in fat, only 1 to 2 grams of fat per serving. Dark meat (thighs and drumsticks) has a slightly higher fat content, so it’s more forgiving of overcooking. Dark meat also has a little more iron and almost twice the zinc—not bad for a small increment in calories (177 calories and 6 grams of fat for 3 ounces of chicken thighs versus 138 calories and 3 grams fat for breast). You should also check the label for added sodium solutions, to avoid extra sodium.
Choose: Either skinless thighs or skinless breasts.
Are you worried about how that bird was raised?
If you’ve seen the documentary Food, Inc., you may have already had a glimpse into the often-horrific way factory-farmed chickens are fed and raised. That may be one reason more and more people are opting for pricier organic or, even pasture-raised poultry, birds that are given unfettered access to fresh pasture. In a recent issue of EatingWell Magazine, author Ben Hewitt outlined dozens of other reasons to go for pasture-raised chickens, which, instead of being force-fed corn to a point where they can barely walk, range freely, feasting as they go.
Choose: Organic chicken or pasture-raised chicken.
So what did I choose? Even though most nights I’m just cooking for one or two, I splurged for a whole, organic chicken from a local farm. To me, it tastes better, has less fat and you know what? It’s finger-licking good.
How do you decide which chicken to buy? Tell us what you think below.