As America's taste buds crave more ethnic and worldly cuisine, the significant variation in chicken-cooking methods amongst cultures makes this fowl fabulously versatile.
Chicken, in one form or another, appears on nearly every onsite menu, often daily. Luckily, chicken manufacturers continue to meet customers' demands for more variety and operators' need for timesaving products.
Today, chicken is available in a wide array of value-added products (breaded, battered, glazed and marinated), forms (fully cooked, ready-to-cook, skin-on or skinless, bone-in or boneless) and pieces/shapes (breasts, legs, thighs, wings, quarters, halves, nuggets, tenderloins, patties, pulled and diced, etc.).
What Meats Your Needs
The key to selecting the best cut or style of chick for your operation is to determine how it will be used. For example, if you're short on labor, fully cooked value-added products that don't require further prep may be your best bet. Or, if the chicken will be held under heat lamps, you might want a pre-marinated item that will help the chicken retain its moisture and texture.
Because it is so convenient, most noncommercial operators purchase IQF chicken or chicken products— chicken that has been individually quick-frozen with a thin ice glaze to help it retain moisture. (IQF chicken has a shelf life over 12 months if shipped and stored at 0°F or below.)
Fresh chicken, traditionally packed in ice with a short shelf life, is available from local suppliers, but most high-volume operations purchase fresh chicken pieces in gas-flushed, vacuum-packed form, known as CVP. This type of packaging lessens the risk of food-borne bacteria and provides longer shelf life (as many as 12 days). Bulk and portion control packaging is also available.
As more operators add ethnic dishes to their menus—many of which require dark chicken meat—chicken processors have added more styles of dark meat pieces to their product lines, such as boneless thighs and seasoned drumsticks.
Break It Down
For being a small bird, the chicken offers dozens of formulations (with help, of course, from chicken processors). Many of the following cuts are sold bone-in or boneless and in portion-controlled segments (such as boneless chicken breasts).
Whole broilers/fryers: Whole chicken that generally weigh 2-5 lbs. Typically sold and labeled "WOG" (without giblets).
Eight-piece cut: Whole bird that is cut into two halves with ribs and back portion, two thighs with back portion, two drumsticks and two wings.
Nine-piece cut: Same as 8-piece cut except that the breast is cut into three pieces consisting of two rib breasts and one keel (sternum) portion.
Breast halves: Also, known as "split breasts." Available boneless and skinless in half or whole pieces.
Drumsticks: Known as the leg bone, drum-sticks generally weigh 4-5 oz. May be sold in thigh/drum combination.
Quarters: Can be leg or breast quarters. A breast quarter includes the wing attached to the breast half with ribs and back portion. A leg quarter is the drumstick and thigh with the back attached.
Roasters: Unlike young broilers, these birds are typically 8-12 weeks in age and weigh between 4.5 and 7.5 lbs.
Tender: The most minor pectoral breast muscle. Considered a prime cut, tenders are boneless and skinless and are sold in ready-to-cook or fully cooked forms.
Thighs are the meat portions of the leg, sold bone-in or boneless, with or without skin. Thighs weigh about 4 oz.
Wings: The chicken wing is composed of three sections: the drummette, mid-section and tip. Whole wings are available, as well as mid-section with tip, mid-section only and drummettes.
The following products have been further processed, meaning that they have been cut, sized, deboned, chopped, mixed with other ingredients, battered/breaded and/or cooked.
Patties are made from a blend of ground, chopped or minced meat and seasonings, then coated with a breading or batter. They are available in different shapes, including round, oval, hoagie, etc.
Nuggets are made of solid meat or a blend of ground chicken mixed with seasonings and coated with batter or breading.
Diced and pulled chicken is boneless, skinless, cooked meat. Pulled meat is separated from the bone and skin by hand; diced meat is pulled meat that has been cut into cubes. It may be packaged as breast meat, leg meat or combined leg and breast meat.
Breaded products: Breading and batter are used to enhance flavor, texture and juiciness of chicken. Breaded products that are uncooked, then breaded and frozen, are called "ready-to-cook, raw breaded chickens." Raw breaded product that is blanched or prebrowned is called "breaded and blanched."
Chicken products can also be coated after the product is fully cooked. This is called "fully cooked, raw-breaded." The advantages are shorter prep time and a "just cooked" appearance.
Breaded products usually have a specified amount/percentage of coating. Breading percentages vary, but the maximum can be as high as 30%.
Chicken Holding Tips:
Source: The National Restaurant Association
FACT: Chicken is one of the easiest meats to digest.
FACT: The closest living relative of the T-Rex is the chicken.
FACT: Chickens can be hypnotized by tracing a line in the dirt over and over in front of them.