Ingredient of the Week: Chicken
Chicken is possibly my most regularly consumed protein source. This is probably because I just really enjoy eating it. There is not a lot that chicken doesn’t go well with, making it incredibly versatile. As a result of this, I have listed chicken as one of the 10 Foods I Couldn’t Live Without, and in fact when I am away training or racing and we don’t get served it much, I really start to crave it. Chicken is a staple ingredient in pretty much every cuisine and so fortunately this is actually a very rare occurance.
Chicken is a domesticated bird and has been for thousands of years. This is why it is so popular throughout the world. It is classified as poultry, a feathered domesticated bird kept for its meat, eggs or feathers. Another common term for them is foul and include ducks, geese, turkeys and quail to name a few.
Why is it good for me?
Chicken, especially breast meat, is an extremely good source of protein. Proteins are built out of many amino acids, all linked together. Different proteins contain different amino acids, which is what makes them different from each other. There are 20 different amino acids, 11 of which our bodies can build itself and 9 which it can’t. These 9 amino acids are coined essential amino acids and chicken, like quinoa, contains all 9, making it a high quality source and a complete protein. Our muscles are made up of protein and so we need a good supply of it to function. As an athlete, we require more protein, as our muscles work harder and when we train we damage them, so they are constantly needing repair. Often athletes are aiming to build more muscle as well and can only do this by increasing their protein intake.
Chicken is also very low in fat and contains no carbohydrate, making it also low in calories, so a great option for if you are trying to control your weight. It is pretty much pure protein, although it does also contain many important vitamins and minerals. Chicken is a good source of vitamins B2, riboflavin, B3, niacin, and B6 pyridoxine, which all play an important role in the conversion of carbohydrate and fat to energy for the muscles to use. Vitamin B6 also helps with the metabolism or processing of proteins in the body, while all three B vitamins help maintain healthy skin. A further potential bonus to eating a diet high in these B vitamins, is that they could help prevent the development of cataracts in your eyes, helping to protect against sight loss. Other good quality sources of these B vitamins include cod, couscous, rice and egg.
Important minerals that chicken contains include potassium and selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant needed to help fight off free radicals that can cause diseases such as cancer. It can also help prevent heart disease, while playing a role in the formation of DNA. If DNA is not correctly formed, it can risk what is called mutation, which is how cancerous cells and also genetic diseases sometimes develop. I talk about the importance of potassium in my posts about radish, beetroot, mango and avocado.
How do I prepare it?
In my blog post about handling meat I say I really don’t like cooking meat on the bone. This means I only ever cook with chicken breast meat. I avoid anything that still has the skin on, as this is high in fat. Chicken thigh meat is higher in fat than breast, so I also prefer to avoid this. I like to buy my chicken breasts in bulk from MuscleFood as we eat so much of it at home, then divide them in to suitable portions and freeze. Then all I need to do is remove one bag from the freezer on the morning of the day I want to cook chicken. This has the added bonus that I don’t need to worry about best before dates or anything like that. I also prefer to cut my chicken up before I cook it, to help speed up the cooking process, while also minimising the risk of serving undercooked chicken, which could make us ill.
How do I cook it?
Chicken can be baked, poached, fried, grilled or roasted. It can be cooked quickly or slowly, in a sauce, or on its own. It can be wrapped in other ingredients, like ham or bacon, or it can be stuffed with things like cheese, herbs, spinach or garlic. Basically you can do anything with chicken, from the very simplest plain grilled chicken breast, to incredibly complex and fancy meals.
However you cook chicken, it is important to check that the meat is properly cooked all the way through. For people who can see, it must be white, there must be no pink showing. For people who can’t see, like myself, the best way to check is to feel and it should feel the same texture throughout. It must not feel soft or springy to touch. Eating raw or undercooked chicken can run the risk of getting ill from bacteria called salmonella. This is why it is also important to prepare and store raw chicken separately from anything else and always clean hands and surfaces after handling and preparing it.
Some of my favourite chicken recipes include this Thai green chicken curry, or this chicken and butternut tagine. Neil’s favourite chicken recipe I cook is this chicken creole. This chicken, mushroom and kale pilaf is a regular dinner for us, as its quick and simple, and this chicken with spring vegetables risotto is a delicious option if you have a little more time on your hands
One of my favourite accompaniments to chicken is mango. They work really well together, like in this Jamaican curry or this chicken and mango stir-fry. Another regular recipe I make is this jambalaya, but I swap the turkey for chicken. Turkey and chicken cook exactly the same and so can be interchanged in my recipes very easily, and I regularly do this.
If i’m ever ordering a take-away I generally go for a chicken curry, as it is possibly the safest option and usually the healthiest. My favourite treat chicken meal is to have it wrapped in bacon and stuffed with mozzarella and then covered in bbq sauce. Its a classic, if somewhat unhealthy, but it sure does hit the spot. On an unhealthy note, one of my other chicken favourites is crispy chicken skin. When I’m home and Mum is cooking a roast chicken, i’m like a vulture loitering around the kitchen waiting for it to come out of the oven, so I can get it while its still hot. We are all allowed a treat sometimes.
What is your favourite chicken recipe? I’m sure there’s plenty of other really good and healthy suggestions out there, so please do share. I do love trying new recipes all the time after all.
Thank you for reading and speak soon.