All grocery store chicken is alike, right? The cellophane-wrapped trays all seem the same, but Chef Curtis Stone shares a few genius tips to make sure you’re getting the best bird for your buck.
Press against the chicken.
Fresh chicken should spring back against your touch when you poke it, whereas a bird that’s been sitting around for awhile will feel hard or sink when pressed. Another thing to watch out for: a chicken that feels “bloated.” This is a sure sign that the poultry has been injected with water—a way to trick customers into thinking the chicken is heavier than it is.
If you’re buying a whole bird, look for plump breasts and more breast meat than leg meat. Press against the chicken’s breastbone to get an idea of its age: if it feels flexible, the chicken is younger and the meat should be tender.
For both whole chickens and chicken parts, the package should be well-wrapped and leak-free, with a clean smell. If the packaging is leaky or the meat smells “off,” skip it.
Look at the chicken’s color.
Fresh chicken is always, always, always pink! Never gray, and it shouldn’t look transparent either—both signs that it’s been hanging around for awhile at the market. Peek at the crevices of the wings and thighs and be on the lookout for tears in the skin or meat, both of which will cause the meat to go bad more quickly.
Look at the fat!
This is the best and easiest way to know that you’re buying the freshest possible poultry. Fat should always be white or deep yellow, and never pale or gray.
Check the use-by date.
Raw chicken should only stay on supermarket shelves for 2-3 days, whereas cooked chicken should be sold on the same day. Meanwhile, frozen chicken stays good for much longer and is safe until the use-by date on the packaging.
If you’re shopping for a cooked rotisserie chicken, many of the same rules apply: look for a heavy, plump bird, which means that the juices haven’t evaporated from the meat, and choose the prettiest chicken you can find. The skin should be taut and evenly browned, not shriveled or discolored. Leave that chicken for another poor soul!
And lastly, go for plain.
Those lemon-rosemary and barbecue birds seem tasty, but if your plans involve a stew or making homemade chicken stock, you want to skip the flavoring. These spices and sometimes artificial flavors can taste metallic when they’re recooked and you run the risk of the chicken being oversalted.