An ode to the versatility, deliciousness of chicken and eggs

  • Everything you need to make sauteed chicken thighs with farro, cauliflower and a poached egg.

    Everything you need to make sauteed chicken thighs with farro, cauliflower and a poached egg. Courtesy of Kelly Sears

  • Poaching eggs for a crowd is easy with the help of a nonstick cupcake pan.

    Poaching eggs for a crowd is easy with the help of a nonstick cupcake pan. Courtesy of Kelly Sears

  • Toasting the farro brings out it's natural nutty flavor. Add hot broth to the vegetables and grain just as you would for risotto.

    Toasting the farro brings out it's natural nutty flavor. Add hot broth to the vegetables and grain just as you would for risotto. Courtesy of Kelly Sears

  • Chickens roam a backyard garden.

    Chickens roam a backyard garden. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 4/27/2016 10:34 AM

Today we celebrate the humble chicken and the incredible egg. To the ageless question of which came first, we confidently answer, "who cares," they are equally diverse and delicious.

A little about chicken

 

Once reserved for special occasion, chicken used to be the chosen meat for the affluent and chicken farmers. But in 1928 Herbert Hoover, during his presidential campaign claimed that if he won, there would be "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." Although Hoover won in a landslide, the promise of prosperity and that chicken derailed with the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. The chicken (and the car) would have to wait a while longer.

Nowadays, chicken are common place in both restaurants and dining tables. Chickens are the chameleons of the culinary world. Used worldwide, chicken lends itself to almost every method of cooking and every culture. Grilled chicken breasts, braised chicken thighs, roasted whole chicken, fried chicken legs, poached chicken, sautéed chicken; cooking chicken is much easier than deciding what kind of chicken to buy!

Similar to other meats, poultry must undergo a mandatory inspection for wholesomeness. Depending on numerous factors, carcass shape, ratio of meat to bone among them, the USDA grading system is A, B or C. But labels can be confusing. Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding on a chicken:

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Some tidbits about eggs

At a mere 1¾ ounces, an egg packs a powerful nutritional punch; there's magic in that shell! Eggs can turn anything, not just the usual breakfast suspects, into a stellar dish. Staples in most households around the world because they're nutritious, a great source of protein, readily available, and affordable, eggs also happen to be delicious!

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Eggs, like chicken are variable in cooking method; scrambled with salsa and tortillas, over easy on a burger, sunny side up for dunking toasty bread, or poached on just about anything. Try one on pizza, in a salad, or with kimchee. The possibilities are endless. Go beyond breakfast and wake up your routine just by putting an egg on it.

Much like the chicken label, the egg carton can be just as mystifying:

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The egg carton, cracking the code

Natural: tells you nothing -- every raw chicken egg is "natural" -- keep reading ….

Cage-Free: Means the hens were not confined to cages. But many cage-free birds never leave crowded barns. Similarly, "free-range" hens have outdoor access but may not ever get much past the exit

Organic: Indicates cage-free, free-range hens that eat an organic vegetarian diet; free of hormones and antibiotics

Pasteurized: a good choice but hard to find. Birds can roam outdoors to forage for insects and grass, which produce healthier, and sometimes tastier, eggs

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

White vs. Brown: There are all sorts of rumors surrounding brown eggs and white eggs. Some people say that brown eggs are better for you and contain more nutrients; some people think brown eggs taste better; some think that brown eggs are better for cooking things like quiches, while white eggs are better for baking cakes. The truth is, wait for it …. brown eggs are brown, white eggs are white. The color of the chicken's earlobe is the factor that determines shell color.

Cooking throughout the week ebbs and flows, some nights it's just easier to pull a meal together then others. This recipe combines both the chicken and the egg but see the note for alternatives to the chicken and egg choices accounting for time, size of the group, leftovers, and other available ingredients.

Don't be deterred by the choice of chicken thighs in the title, read further for substitutions. If you are a small family (one, two or three) and have the time to make the full recipe right off the bat, you'll have a couple other meals to pull from later in the week.

The easiest way to poach an egg:

When making one or two poached eggs, I like to crack the egg directly into a small strainer over set inside a small bowl. The inner white is 90 percent water, straining some of that water out will help the white retain its shape and limit the "whispy whites" floating in the water when poaching.

Fill a wide deep pan amount half way with water and bring it to a simmer

Transfer the whole strainer, with the egg in it, into the water, making sure the yolk is just under the water

Gently cook about 3-4 minutes or until the white is just set and the yolks jiggly

Slide a spoon around the inner edge of the strainer and the egg will come right out

Draining the water off a fresh egg will help keep those whispy egg whites from dangling off poached eggs.
Draining the water off a fresh egg will help keep those whispy egg whites from dangling off poached eggs. - Courtesy of Kelly Sears
Poached eggs for a crowd?

Fill each compartment of a muffin pan with a tablespoon of water. Crack an egg into each compartment. Place in a 350 degree oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon; whites should be set, yolks jiggly. Thank you Justin Chapple, mad genius!

The Architecture of an egg:

Size: One large weighs in at 1.75 ounces (If cooking with older recipes where ounces are referenced for eggs instead of quantity, 2 ounce eggs are extra-large)

Yolk -- delivers three quarters of the egg's calories and nutrients and contains the proteins that create emulsions like aioli. A yolk and a white are like yin and yang, two halves that only reach perfection in the pairing. To do without the yolk is not only a culinary loss but a nutritional one as well. The yolk helps the body digest the white's proteins.

Inner white -- 90 percent water -- thicker and firmer than the outer white -- cushions the yolk and will appear cloudy when very fresh. Fresh whites make stable foams

Outer White- thin outer edge which cooks more quickly than the center. Older eggs have a higher proportion of thin outer white.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in the saute pan before adding chicken thighs.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in the saute pan before adding chicken thighs. - Courtesy of Kelly Sears
Chicken tips

Store the chicken pieces separate from the neck, gizzards, etc.

Store in the coldest part of the refrigerator

No raw juice should come in contact with cooked chicken (or anything else!)

Cook to 165 degrees (breasts), 180 degrees (whole, thighs, legs, and wings)

The fresh egg test

Drop an egg into water. If it sinks, it's fresh -- best for poaching and soufflés. If it stays submerged with its wide end up, it's older but good for most uses. If it floats, toss it out!

Information sources: The Professional Chef & the Food Lover's Companion

Chicken thighs, farro and a poached egg.
Chicken thighs, farro and a poached egg. - Courtesy of Kelly Sears
Some cooking notes

When making the attached recipes, you've got some room to maneuver.

Want more leftovers, make more chicken!

Don't like poached egg, any method will do or leave it off entirely.

Feeding a crowd and everyone has a different idea of the perfect piece of chicken? Roast one or two whole chickens at 425 degrees for about an hour or place two cut up chickens on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover tightly with foil and bake in a 300 degree oven for about an hour and a half. The chicken will be fall off the bone tender.

Beautiful outside? Grill the chicken.

Want a one bowl option with left over chicken, add the leftover chicken to the risotto when adding the cauliflower and serve in one bowl.

Multi-tasker? Want to make your own stock and cook your chicken too? To a large stock pot, add a couple carrots, celery, cut up onion, some herbs, salt, pepper, and the raw chicken. Cover the whole lot with water plus an inch, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Remove the poached chicken when tender, about 10-15 minutes depending on the piece and if there is a bone. Continue simmer the remaining ingredients for another hour or so. Strain stock into a large container and store in the refrigerator when cool.

• Kelly Sears is the executive chef and instructor at Marcel's Culinary Experience in Glen Ellyn. She caught the cooking bug early, first learning to bake with an Easy Bake Oven. She kept on learning and graduated from the College of DuPage culinary program. She hasn't stopped learning or teaching since. Contact her by sending email addressed to food@dailyherald.com.

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