I am enamored of chicken. To me, it’s the most delicious meat of all of the meats. Sure, steak’s great, and who doesn’t love bacon? (Except people who don’t like bacon for extremely valid reasons separate from its deliciousness.) But chicken’s affordability, versatility, and ease make it a clear favorite, and not just for me. Some of the world’s most popular recipes involve chicken, from jerk chicken to chicken adobo to pho ga (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup). Heck, in my home state of New York, many of our favorite meals start with chicken. One dish, Buffalo wings, became one of the most famous foods on planet Earth! And there’s Cornell Chicken, a barbecue dish beloved by my hometown—but we’ll get to that in a minute.
So who am I? I’m a chef with a restaurant in Brooklyn called No. 7, and I’m often called “that broccoli guy” or “that sandwich guy” or “that broccoli sandwich guy.” But we also proudly serve Cornell Chicken, fried chicken, and tons of chicken sandwiches. I’m also starting to admit I’m a writer: I wrote a book about sandwiches, one about broccoli, and sometimes I write articles that get nominated for James Beard Awards (okay, that happened once and I didn’t win, and if you’re bored, you can just skip to the recipes!).
What I’m not is someone who thinks there are “good” and “bad” ingredients. Chicken often gets drawn into this debate—are chicken legs or whole chickens better than boneless, skinless breasts? To me, the answer is no, so here you’ll find recipes that excitedly embrace chicken in all its forms: whole-roasted birds, grilled wings, braised thighs, and—yes—boneless, skinless chicken breasts. In my view, this versatile cut is chicken’s MVP, so we’ll treat it with the finesse it deserves (like marinated in tahini-orange dressing, or nestled in buttery apple jam on toast).
Much as I love chicken, I recognize it can be a complicated ingredient. In the United States, these complications begin with Robert Baker, who taught at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences from 1957 to 1989. Baker was tasked with helping popularize chicken when a postwar nation needed to efficiently feed a whole lot more people. He invented chicken nuggets and poultry ham and bacon, as well as Cornell Chicken, and the country rejoiced! And while that’s helped many families, who can now serve protein for a couple of dollars a pound, it’s come with significant ethical dilemmas related to factory farming.
When I buy chicken, I prefer to get it directly from small farmers, so I’m supporting people who ethically and sustainably raise it. I avoid factoryfarmed chicken because to me, factories aren’t doing a good enough job of protecting our environment and ensuring there are no sketchy things in their meat. I usually shop at a butcher who sells chickens from small farms; since the meat costs more, I’m choosier about when I eat it, and try to use as much of the bird as I can. But this strategy may be tough and not realistic for everyone. At my local grocery, I’ve seen several options for meat raised without hormones or antibiotics, an alternative to consider. Though it’s still factory-farmed, it can be more humane for the chickens (improved housing standards, in some cases) and better for us to eat (less sketchy stuff ).
On the subject of responsibility, I want to point out something I think falls within my responsibility to you. While I perpetually look to ingredients and techniques from other places, I did my damnedest not to write easy, weeknight versions of complex chicken dishes from cultures that are not my own. I don’t want to speak as a representative of a culture over which I don’t have authority—I’d much rather leave that to the people who do
have it, for whom a particular dish is an important signifier of their heritage. So you won’t find Chicken Pad Thai or Chicken Tikka Masala here, but you will find Chicken & Kimchi Pierogies (page 71), and I think you’ll really like them!
Complications aside, I still think you should eat chicken, the most delicious meat of all the meats. But while we’re eating chicken, let’s be thoughtful about it. I buy whole birds over individually wrapped pieces, to use less plastic and because I like all chicken parts. But if you aren’t into that, buy prepackaged pieces; at the end of the day, I’d rather you do that than throw away parts you won’t use. I get that it’s a convenient way to buy chicken for individual meals, and there are plenty of recipes here where it makes sense to use cuts like this.
But if you can buy a whole chicken from a small farm, awesome—that one chicken can become three amazing meals. Use the breasts for spiced schnitzel on Tuesday (see page 16), poach the legs in a lemongrass broth on Thursday (see page 40), and make stock with the carcass on Friday (see page 9). Then use the stock for grits, to make tamales with those grits and leftover chicken on Saturday (see page 65). And I guess just eat broccoli all the other nights, like I do.
Copyright © 2019 by Tyler Kord, foreword by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.