From your whole roast chicken to spicy chicken wings, slow braised thighs or poached breast, chicken is a hugely versatile meat that takes its place at the dinner table in many Kiwi homes several days a week.
Not only is it lean, chicken is affordable and reasonably forgiving. It will take on most flavours well, and dark meat from the thighs and drumsticks doesn’t overcook easily.
Below, we’ll explore the different cuts of chicken, how to cook them, and some of our favourite chicken recipes.
Chicken mince is made from various cuts of skinless light meat, usually chicken breast. It’s ground up, creating an even texture and malleable form that makes it perfect for patties or meatballs.
You can use chicken mince in the same way you’d use beef or pork mince. Any recipe that uses beef mince can also be made using chicken, although you might find the flavour profile changes slightly. Chicken mince can also cook a bit faster, and is often very lean compared to beef mince.
Whole chicken has had the least processing possible done to it. It’s been plucked and cleaned, ready for roasting whole or to be broken down into individual pieces.
You can often buy whole chickens plain, or with seasonings and marinades added by the butcher. Some prepacked chickens are sold in special oven-safe bags, intended to be roasted whole in the bag. To roast these, simply follow the packet instructions.
Otherwise, roast a whole chicken by first patting the chicken dry with paper towels. Rub the skin with room temperature butter or oil and season generously. Then, roast for 20 minutes, plus 25 minutes per 500 grams at 180° C.
Stuffing is another great way to add flavour to whole chicken, while also creating a great side or condiment to bring to the table too. In lieu of stuffing, you might place a quartered onion or lemon in the chicken’s cavity to impart flavour and moisture.
Butterflied chicken, also called spatchcocked chicken, is a whole chicken that has had the backbone removed. The chicken has then been spread flat, creating a thinner, more consistent thickness that will therefore cook faster and more evenly.
You can butterfly a whole chicken yourself at home with a pair of poultry shears:
- Place the chicken breast side down on your cutting board, and use your shears to cut through the ribs down either side of the spine.
- Remove the spine, then snip the cartilage in the centre of the breast bone.
- Flip the bird over and press down firmly in the centre, being careful not to crush the breast meat, until the carcass pops open and lays flat.
Bake a butterflied chicken at 220° C for 30-40 minutes, or until the juices run clear when you insert a knife into the thickest part of the chicken.
Boneless chicken is well loved because it’s easy to cook and serve. It often costs a little extra, but because there are no bones, you know you’re getting quality meat for every cent you spend. Also, boneless chicken tends to cook faster than bone-in, so you save time in the kitchen too.
Some people get scared off from cooking chicken breast because it can be easily overcooked. While it’s important to ensure your chicken is thoroughly cooked, it’s likewise important not to overcook the chicken, as it can become dry.
Nonetheless, chicken breast is an extremely versatile cut. You can dice or slice it for a stir fry or curry, bake it whole, or pan-fry it.
To ensure even cooking, you can pound the chicken to an even thickness. Place the breast between two pieces of cling film or baking paper, and gently pound the thickest part with a mallet or rolling pin. Aim to even the thickness of the breast, so it all cooks consistently.
You can also slice the chicken breast in half through its thickness. Place a hand on top of the breast and carefully guide a sharp knife through it. You should have two thinner pieces of chicken breast that will cook quickly in a hot pan, giving you colour and crispiness on the outside while staying tender and juicy within.
Chicken breast recipes
Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad - The lean, light meat of chicken breast is perfect in this summery pasta salad that comes together in just 30 minutes.
Stuffed Chicken Breast - Cream cheese, spinach and bacon make this easy stuffed chicken breast all the more delicious.
Rosie's Go-To Simple Stuffed Chicken - All the heartiness of a Sunday roast, but simple enough to be a weeknight meal; serve these stuffed chicken breasts when you want to impress without too much effort.
Just like beef, pork and lamb, chickens have a tenderloin too! This is a thin strip that’s connected to each breast, so every chicken has two tenderloins. Sometimes breasts are sold with the tenderloin intact. You can cut this off and cook it separately, or leave it on the breast.
Because tenderloins are hidden beneath the breast, they are less worked than the breasts and therefore juicier and more tender. It’s much harder to overcook a tenderloin than a whole breast, so tenderloins are very well liked for high heat cooking methods like frying.
Ultimately, tenderloins taste the same as breast, but can be more forgiving in cooking. Try tenderloins crumbed and shallow fried, or pan fried with garlic butter.
Boneless chicken thigh
While breasts and tenderloins are naturally boneless, chicken thigh fillets have had the bones carefully removed by a butcher. For this reason, they can be a little on the expensive side.
Boneless thighs are very popular because the dark meat is hard to overcook and contains much more rich, deep flavour than light meat. Plus, being boneless makes chicken thigh fillets far easier and less time consuming to cook.
Use boneless chicken thighs in curries, stews, pies, or just cooked whole in a pan or on the barbecue.
Boneless chicken thigh recipes
Chicken and Leek Pot Pie - Dark meat imparts lots of flavour to this heart chicken and leek pie.
30-Minute Butter Chicken - Thigh meat is ideal for curries, as it doesn’t dry out as easily as breast.
Grilled Chicken Thighs - Chicken thigh fillets are ideal for the barbecue, because they can blackened a little while still being juicy inside.
Diced chicken is the light meat, usually breast, of a chicken that has been diced for you. This saves you time in the chicken for any recipe that calls for diced breast meat.
Chicken stir fry
Much like diced chicken, chicken stir fry is pre-sliced chicken breast. Stir fry meat is cut into thin strips suitable for stir frying with your favourite vegetables such as julienned carrot and capsicum.
Bone-in chicken cuts
Bone-in chicken cuts tend to cost a little less per kilogram to accommodate the weight of the bones. Cooking chicken with the bone in imparts a lot more flavour into both the meat and whole dish, but bone-in cuts tend to take longer to cook because they’re bigger and heavier.
Chicken legs are, just as the name suggests, the whole leg of the chicken. A leg can be broken down into the thigh and the drumstick, or cooked whole.
You can bake chicken legs at 200° C for 40-45 minutes, or use chicken legs for any recipes that call for bone-in thigh or drumsticks. Chicken legs are full of dark meat and have plenty of bones that impart flavour, so they’re well-suited for slow cooker casseroles.
Learn more: How to cook chicken in a slow cooker.
Bone-in chicken thighs taste just the same as boneless, but the bones can make it less convenient or practical for some uses. We recommend using bone-in chicken thighs for slow cooking recipes like casseroles, or to bake whole.
For the most part, you can use bone-in chicken thighs in the same way as a boneless chicken thigh fillet. You may however need to extend the cooking time as bone-in cuts cooking more slowly.
Chicken thighs are available with the skin on, or as chicken thigh cutlets with the skin removed.
Like thighs, chicken drumsticks have plenty of dark meat on them. They’re particularly popular with kids because they can easily eat them with their hands by picking up the bony end of the drumstick and digging in.
Drumsticks are mostly covered in skin which goes down a treat when it goes crispy. To get crispy chicken skin on drumsticks, pat them dry before cooking then toss them in oil and salt. Bake them on a rack in a lipped baking tray at 200° C for 40-50 minutes, turning halfway through.
If using chicken drumsticks in the slow cooker, be sure to cut as much of the skin off as possible prior to cooking, as it can become rubbery.
Chicken drumstick recipes
Teriyaki Chicken Drumsticks - Sweet, sticky teriyaki makes these drumsticks delicious for both kids and adults.
Chicken wings are, of course, the wings of the chicken. They’re not particularly meaty, but they’ve gained a lot of popularity as a bar treat or a finger food for game night. The meat they do have is succulent and flavourful.
Wings can be cooked whole, or broken down into segments (see “chicken nibbles” below!). The best chicken wings have lots of crispy skin. To get your chicken wings nice and crispy, pat them dry with a paper towel, then toss them in baking powder. Let them sit for half an hour, then bake at 180° C for 20-25 minutes.
Once cooked, toss crispy chicken wings in your favourite hot sauce, BBQ sauce or sticky glaze.
Chicken nibbles are the smaller segments of chicken wings. They can be cooked in exactly the same way, but are more appealing to some because they do not include the meatless wing tips and they’re smaller so more suited for sharing.
In a pack of chicken nibbles, you’ll find a mixture of wingettes and drumettes. These are just separate parts of the wing. Drumettes look like small chicken drumsticks, with a single thick bone running through them. Meanwhile wingettes have two smaller bones in them and plenty of meat.