Chef Heather Hunsaker
Special to the Sun

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September 6, 2012
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Conquer chicken and cook with confidence

TAHOE/TRUCKEE , Calif. — When five o’clock rolls around the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” is on everyone’s mind. More often than not chicken is the answer to the dinner dilemma. This dinner staple is a favorite for most due to its regular sale prices, consistent results, and ability to be transformed into any dish.

However, chicken also terrifies many home cooks, with fear of salmonella and a dry, flavorless texture. But today, conquer those chicken fears and cook dinner with confidence.

Chicken should be bought from a reputable grocer. To purchase the freshest chicken possible, look for chicken with the newest package date. Avoid chicken that is transparent or dark in color, and has excessive liquid in the package. Once home, refrigerate chicken immediately, storing chicken on the bottom shelf in the coldest part of the refrigerator and using within two days.

If freezing, freeze immediately after purchasing by wrapping individual chicken pieces in freezer paper or aluminum foil before placing in freezer safe zip-top baggies. Chicken should be stored in the coldest part of the freezer and can be kept frozen for up to nine months.

Properly thawing frozen chicken is important for food safety. Never thaw chicken on the counter. Frozen chicken should be thawed in the refrigerator, approximately five hours per pound or overnight. Cooking chicken that is completely thawed will yield best results, as cooking with frozen or slightly frozen chicken will require longer cooking times and can affect the overall outcome of the dish.

While once common practice, it is not necessary to wash chicken prior to cooking. This outdated practice can cause bacteria to splash all over the kitchen. To avoid further spread of bacteria, use a plastic cutting board and other utensil exclusively for raw chicken. Once finished with prep, wash utensils and hands with hot soapy water and use paper towels to clean any spills.

Chicken is a versatile protein, which lends itself to a variety of flavors and cooking techniques. If marinating, marinate chicken in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria. Never baste chicken with marinade raw chicken has touched. Prepare a separate marinate for basting or boil the original marinade for 3-4 minutes to kill bacteria. Chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees to be cooked thoroughly.

The crock-pot is an easy, fail-proof way to cook chicken. This Santa Fe Chicken uses pantry staples and will become a family favorite.-

Crock-Pot Santa Fe Chicken

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 8 hours on low or 5 hours on high

Serves: 4-6

1 1/2 pounds chicken breast

1 (14.5 ounce can) diced tomatoes with green chilies

1 (15.5 ounce can) black beans

1 cup frozen corn

1 (14.5 ounce can) fat-free chicken broth

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

salt and black pepper, to taste-

Combine chicken broth, beans, corn, tomatoes, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, and chili powder in the crock pot. Season chicken breast with salt and black pepper and place in crock-pot. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 5 hours. Half hour before serving, remove chicken and shred. Return chicken to slow cooker and stir in. Adjust salt and pepper.

Serve as desired; over rice or with tortillas, topped with desired toppings such as sour cream, cheese, green onions or fresh cilantro.-

— Chef Heather Hunsaker attended and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, but has been developing family friendly meals since she was nine years old in her mother’s kitchen. She knows how to get food on the table in a pinch while sticking to a budget. Chef Heather serves as a freelance writer and recipe developer for meal planning site www.foodonthetable.com.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Sep 6, 2012 04:50PM Published Sep 6, 2012 04:44PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.