Michael Brooks of PIANZ (Poultry Industry Association of New Zealand) shows how flexible poultry pieces can make an ordinary Christmas menu extraordinary, and finds a surprising positive arising from COVID-19.
For many, 2020 has been a challenging year dominated by uncertainty and stress. Gathering with friends and family will be a welcome reward from a year that no one saw coming, and a privilege that many countries won’t have this festive season.
Supporting local butchers and retailers is more important than ever at this time and there are many ways in which the humble chicken can be a drawcard for those eager to show their support over the holiday period.
Chicken is an affordable, nutritious and highly versatile meat that can make mains memorable, hors d’oevres a highlight and take salads from a sideshow to the star attraction. Admittedly dessert proves more of challenge for poultry, so let’s focus on its strengths.
Light, quick to cook and easy to mould into an assortment of offerings, chicken mince is a particularly affordable product. Flavour it with spices, lemongrass paste or herbs, it’s fabulous rolled into bite-sized balls or shaped onto skewers for appetisers. Baked, barbequed or stir fried, chicken mince simply needs to be accessorised with a toothpick or skewer to access a delicious dipping sauce.
Chicken wings and drumettes
While both these cuts essentially come from the wing, they present different appetiser options. A drumette gets its name as it is shaped like a petite chicken drumstick. This makes it well suited to sweet or spicy marinades and is an easy addition to a serving platter either cold or hot. Both wings and drumettes can be baked or fried, tossed in spices or crumbed for a crowd-pleasing dish that appeals to the young, and not-so-young. Many butchers help customers make light work of these cuts by selling them pre-marinaded or crumbed, ready to cook, dip and serve.
The Main Event:
Many moons ago, a roast chicken signalled a truly special event because they were expensive and less readily available. In 2020, chicken consumption is at its highest levels in New Zealand, largely thanks to the versatility and nutritious benefits of this lean protein. Good farming practices and widespread distribution mean today chicken is far more affordable and accessible than ever, yet it can still steal the show as the main event on the Christmas table.
The Boneless Chicken Roast
Wrapped with pancetta with delicious stuffing, this is a more cost-effective, but equally delicious alternative to its larger cousin, the boneless turkey roast. Easy to carve, this is great served hot or cold and enjoyed with the trimmings of gravy and relishes.
Butterflied Marinaded Chicken
A multitude of butterflied chicken flavours grace the chillers of butcheries around the country. For customers this is a succulent way to serve chicken and is simple to barbeque or roast in the oven
Less common than its traditional English counterpart, Beef Wellington, Chicken Wellington uses chicken breasts rolled, stuffed and tied, with complimentary flavours finishing the package before it is encased in golden puff pastry. It’s a worthwhile dish to master and an impressive addition to the Christmas table.
The best of all things ‘fowl’, the Turducken is a relative newcomer to butchers and specialty stores, but has gained a loyal following. Combining a duck inside a chicken inside a Turkey, it pays not to overthink this delicious package. The flavours range from the gamey duck through to more subtle chicken and tasty turkey, meaning there’s literally something for every palate upon carving. A definite delicacy that has converted many a curious cook.
A silver lining to the COVID cloud
This year has dialled up the focus on hand washing like no other. While ‘Cook, Cover and Chill’ are equally important rules to follow when cooking poultry, efficient, regular hand washing is having a significant impact on campylobacter cases reported around the country.
Whether it’s the consumer at home or hospitality workers in kitchens around the country, heightened awareness of good sanitisation when handling fresh food has resulted in the lowest levels of campylobacter figures reported on record. The poultry industry has made significant procedural improvements at the processing plant level over the years, so the tipping point for lower case numbers this year has clearly been at the consumer end. It’s important to remind customers to keep frequent hand washing up, so campylobacter cases stay down.
Have a Merry Christmas everyone.