Chicken is a go-to protein source on its own and in soups, salads, tacos and sandwiches, but this bird need not get all the glory. Turkey, duck and Cornish hens make a great homemade dinner on any weeknight — especially using these hacks for quick-cooking poultry.
Butterflying, sometimes referred to as spatchcocking, means opening the body of a bird so it lies flat on a baking sheet. By doing so, the breast and legs cook more evenly, the skin gets crispy and the roasting time can be cut in half: 45 minutes for a 4-pound chicken and 80 to 90 minutes for a 14-pound turkey. All you need for butterflying are sharp kitchen shears and a willingness to try.
Steaming boneless, skinless chicken breasts over medium (not high) heat results in tender, juicy meat. This process keeps chicken from getting tough and produces a flavorful stock for pouring over the chicken or making soup in the future. Use a steamer basket or set a large metal strainer over a large stockpot filled to about 1 inch with a 1:1 ratio of water, stock or wine. To prevent chicken from sticking, mist the strainer or steamer basket with cooking spray or line it with sliced onions or ginger. Lightly salt, then cook two 8-ounce chicken breasts for about 18 to 20 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 165° Fahrenheit.
As with steaming, beer, wine, cider and sake can play a starring role in poaching, infusing poultry with added flavor. But unlike steaming, which is limited to the capacity of a steamer basket, a large stockpot can be nearly filled when poaching. Several duck breasts can be poached in stock, red wine or water with aromatics such as garlic, onion, ginger and star anise. Poach three or four Cornish hens in stock, water and aromatics for 10 to 15 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 165° Fahrenheit, measured at the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. Generally, it’s not necessary to use more than 4 to 6 cups of liquid when poaching flat cuts of poultry such as breasts or thighs, but if several aromatics or vegetables are added, use several cups of liquid.
Both poaching and steaming produce white or pale-colored poultry; add bright green chopped scallions or herbs as garnish for a more colorful presentation. Because both moist-cooking methods produce juicy poultry, less mayonnaise, barbecue sauce or dressing is needed for moisture when meat is added to salads and dishes with sauces.
Use a large package of chicken breasts and make a double batch of marinade. Place half the chicken in a zip-top freezer bag, pour half the marinade inside and freeze. Marinate the rest of the chicken in a glass container or zip-top plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two days, then cook using your choice of recipe. Raw chicken in marinade can be frozen for up to nine months, but the quality may degrade after three months. When ready to prepare, thaw marinated chicken in the refrigerator and cook as soon as possible.
Cornish hens, duck breasts and budget-friendly turkey breasts also can be marinated. For example, cut turkey breasts into thumb-sized strips or 1-inch cubes, marinate and sauté. If marinade contains acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar, marinate about two hours and no more than four hours to keep the meat’s texture from breaking down.
McGee H. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of The Kitchen. 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY: Scribner; 2014:162-164.
Poultry: Basting, Brining, and Marinating. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website. Updated April 2011. Accessed February 8, 2019.
Sehi N, Koszewski W, Albrecht J, Hlavacek M. Are You a Nutritious Grill Master? NebGuide. UNL Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources website. Published February 2011. Accessed February 8, 2019.