In an impressive statistic, it is reported that North Americans now consume nearly 100 pounds of poultry per capita annually. And with good reason: chicken and turkey—both white and dark meat—are good sources of protein, low in fat and calories, particularly sans skin and unbreaded. But simple succulence, economy and sheer versatility are the fundamental reasons why poultry is so well loved.
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, arguably the most versatile cut of chicken, are very low in fat, only 1 to 2 grams of fat per serving. When preparing, trim any excess fat from the outer edge of the breast. Conveniently, one 4- to 5-ounce breast yields a perfect 3-ounce cooked portion when you remove the tender (see below). But don’t throw those tenders away—freeze them in an airtight container until you’ve gathered enough to make a meal.
Nature seems to have had the casual cook in mind when designing the chicken tender. The virtually fat-free strips of rib meat is typically found attached to the underside of chicken breasts. They can also be purchased separately. Four 1-ounce tenders will yield a 3-ounce cooked portion. Tenders are perfect for quick stir-fries, chicken satay or kid-friendly breaded “chicken fingers.”
Say yes to the dark side and choose chicken thighs. Boneless, skinless versions are great for sautés and diced up in soups, while bone-in thighs are delightful in slow-cooked braises and on the grill. Without its skin, thigh meat moves into “lean meat” territory; with a few easy snips you can remove any excess fat. The slightly higher fat content of dark meat is a plus, since it makes the meat more forgiving of overcooking. There’s also a little more iron and almost twice the zinc—not bad for a small increment in calories (177 calories and 6 grams fat for 3 ounces of thigh versus 138 calories and 3 grams fat for breast). If you want to serve one thigh per person, buy them at the butcher counter; prepackaged thighs vary dramatically in size. Ask for one 6-ounce boneless, skinless thigh per person. To trim them well, we like to use kitchen shears to snip the fat away from the meat. After trimming, you’ll have a perfect 4-ounce portion.
Roasting a whole chicken isn’t as hard as it sounds. Making it a regular Sunday ritual will not only provide you with a delicious supper, but healthful leftovers you can use to top lunchtime salads or fill soft-shell tacos. While store-bought rotisserie chicken is convenient and practical, each serving can have as much as 450 mg of sodium while the average home-roasted chicken has less than 100 mg. Even the unseasoned varieties have been marinated or seasoned with salty flavoring agents. People with hypertension should think twice before choosing store-bought. One 2-pound roasted chicken yields approximately 1 pound (4 cups) of meat.
A turkey tenderloin is an all-white piece that comes from the rib side of the breast. Tenderloins typically weigh between 7 and 14 ounces each. Try it grilled or roasted. Check the label carefully to avoid those that have been “enhanced” with an added sodium solution—they’re higher in sodium than those without added solution.
Ground turkey is a mild-flavored alternative to ground beef. Opt for 93%-lean, made from light and dark meat, and 99%-lean, made from turkey breast only. We prefer 93%-lean because it’s juicier and more flavorful. If you use 99%-lean ground turkey, you’ll save 30 calories, 51⁄2 grams total fat, 2 grams saturated fat and 20 milligrams cholesterol per serving.
Turkey cutlets and scallopini are thin, quick-cooking cuts of turkey breast. Scallopini are usually thinner than cutlets, though one brand’s cutlets can be as thin as another brand’s scallopini. Quickly sauté them and top with a pan sauce or make them into a sandwich topped with sautéed spinach, prepared marinara and melted part-skim mozzarella.
Hot and sweet Italian turkey sausage links can be found with other poultry products in most supermarkets. Both are normally seasoned with garlic and anise or fennel seed, but the hot version has an added kick from hot red peppers. If you have leftover links, wrap them in foil and freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
Refrigerate or freeze poultry as soon as possible after purchase.
If freezing poultry for longer than two weeks, wrap in heavy-duty foil, freezer paper or freezer bags to prevent freezer burn.
Frozen poultry should be defrosted in the refrigerator, never at room temperature, to prevent bacterial growth.