Dressed chicken can be bought whole or cut up. Learn the different cuts of chicken. Know too that the weight stated on the label is false because the meat is injected with saltwater.
Injected with saltwater? Oh, yes. It’s called “plumping”. That photo above with the skinny-looking chicken was taken at Cu Chi market in Vietnam in early 2019. That’s the natural appearance of dressed chicken. So different from chickens in the grocery which are so much plumper and smoother because they have been injected with saltwater.
The amount of saltwater injected in raw chicken meat can be anywhere from 10 to 30 per cent, depending on where you are in the world. Of course you won’t see that in the label. But understand that because the chicken is weighed after the saltwater has been injected the numbers you see on the label refer to the chicken’s padded weight.
So, whether you’re buying a while chicken or cut-up chicken, unless you’re buying from a poultry farmer directly, your chicken has saltwater.
Commercial chicken cuts
It’s easy to buy a tray of chicken thighs, wings or breasts but if you’re serious about cooking chicken, you should at least know how to cut a whole chicken. If you buy your chicken whole, these are the portions you can get from it.
To cut up a whole chicken, always locate the joints and cut there.
When you have the chicken parts separated (or if you buy your chicken pre-cut by part), know that usage is not always interchangeable.
Chicken breast is white meat; all other parts have dark meat.
The neck and back of the chicken, for instance, are great for making bone broth because of the amount of bones they contain. The breast, meanwhile, which is more meat than bones, won’t make a flavorful broth.
Thighs, legs and wings are great for cooking fried chicken.
Chicken fillets can be fried, steamed, broiled, poached or grilled. Fillets are especially great for stir fries.
When a recipe calls for chicken drumette, what exactly is that? Chicken drumette is part of the wing. It looks like a small leg (drumstick). If you scrape the meat from the thin end and push it down or wrap it around the meat on the thick end, it’s sometimes called chicken lollipop.
The thigh and leg can cause confusion too. In the Philippines, the leg (drumstick) is sometimes referred to as paa (feet) which it isn’t.
Chicken fillet often comes from the drumstick, thigh or breast and it is sold either skin-on or skinless.
The chicken breast yields two fillets: the left and right sides. When a recipe says “1 chicken breast fillet”, it usually means the fillet from half of the breast. In other words, “1 chicken breast fillet” is NOT the same as fillet from one whole chicken breast.
Chicken tenderloin (or tenders) is the strip of meat between the fillet and the bone. Just like breast fillets, you get two tenders from one chicken breast.
Chicken organ meats
There are parts of the chicken that escape “plumping”. These are the organ meats.
You’ve seen or heard both “giblet” and “gizzard” especially in relation with chicken, duck and turkey. During Thanksgiving, especially, when recipes for gravy list “giblets” or “gizzard” among the ingredients. What’s the difference between giblets and gizzards?
“Giblet” (usually referred to in the plural) is the collective term for the heart, liver, gizzard and neck. When buying a whole bird, the giblets are often stuffed inside the cavity. These are pulled out before the uncut bird is cooked. In many Asian countries, chicken soups and stews can include the giblets.
What the heart, liver and neck are is self-explanatory. And most people (you included, I hope) know what they look like and what their biological functions are. What about the gizzard? What is it exactly?
The gizzard is the bird’s muscular stomach
Now, things get interesting. Birds don’t have teeth, right? So, how do they chew their food? The answer is: they don’t.
Chickens, quails, ducks, turkeys, pheasants and other gallinaceous birds have stomachs that consist of two parts: the glandular stomach and the muscular stomach.
The gizzard is the muscular stomach. When food is swallowed, it goes into the “crop” where it is first stored. From there, it goes to the glandular stomach where enzymes are excreted to begin the digestion process. From the glandular stomach, the food passes to the gizzard where it is smashed with the help of bits of stone or gravel stored in it.
Stone? Gravel? Really?
Ah, yes. If you’ve seen free-roaming chickens pecking and swallowing small pieces of stones, sand or gravel, and wondering if they will die because of it, well, the stones, sand or pieces of gravel—commercially sold as “grit”—are simply stored in the gizzard to act as grinder so that the food can be digested. When the stones or gravel become too smooth to serve their purpose, they are excreted. The gizzard, however, is never without its grinders because the bird continuously collects material quite intuitively.
So, if you’ve ever wondered why the gizzard is so tough, it’s because it has to be. The muscles must be tough enough to allow the grit to grind the food without causing damage to the walls of the gizzard.
But what do chickens eat that are so difficult to digest anyway? Chicken in coops are fed commercial poultry feed. But, left on their own to hunt for food, chickens eat insects, whole berries, seeds, worms and even mice. In fact, pretty much anything they can pop inside their beaks.
Chicken heads and feet
They’re discarded as unfit for human consumption in many countries but, in many part of Asia, chicken heads and feet are considered delicacies. Like chicken livers and gizzards, chicken heads and feet can be bought by weight.