Chicken or poultry is one of the most versatile and simple meats available; it is available in many forms, reasonably priced and can be cooked in so many different ways, offering so many various flavours, it really is the best source of protein a bodybuilder can add to his diet.
Staring along the meat cooler and butcher counter at you local supermarket will give you some idea of the numerous cuts of poultry that are available; whole chickens, legs, wings, breasts, necks and many other assortments of chicken parts. You can choose from simple cuts of light or dark meat areas, whole cut legs with the bone and skin left intact, or even skinless / boneless breasts and legs. Speaking strictly about taste and pure culinary enjoyment, an outdoor grilled chicken leg with the skin and bone left in, basted with a mild jerk sauce and served with sweet bread, might just be the best dish on earth, though from a health and nutrition standpoint may not be the best choice.
It is widely accepted that skinless boneless chicken breasts are the way to go for a high protein bodybuilding diet; three to four breasts a day fits the bill quite nicely. If you’re buying your chicken in line with your regular grocery trip from the supermarket, you and you wallet may be cringing at the thought of consuming three to four chicken breasts a day, but there are easier and less expensive ways to shop.
With some possible exceptions, most cities have available wholesale butchers and poultry production factories that will likely offer walk-in sales to non-wholesale buyers through factory outlets. Quite often these factory outlets offer sales and discounts beyond what your grocery store mark up will allow, not mentioning the overall price advantage of buying straight from the factory. Typically the product offered through these wholesalers is pre-packaged boxes of standard poultry cuts, including skinless boneless breasts. These boxes, ranging anywhere from 3-8kgs, can contain enough chicken to sustain your diet for a two week period, reaching only nearly half what it might cost through the supermarket. All you need to do beyond that is make sure there’s enough freezer space to hold all that meat, well, nearly all.
So once you’ve found a deal on “bulk” chicken and cleared enough space in your icebox, what next? Unless you plan to eat the entire box of breasts in one sitting, at least a portion of it needs to be frozen before cooking. If you can avoid exposing the meat to the air during freezing, you can usually reduce, if not eliminate, the amount of freezer burn it will suffer; leaving the box sealed until you need it is of course your best option. Never, never, thaw chicken and refreeze it, if you must thaw the chicken, cook it and simply refrigerate the uneaten portion.
Now you’re ready to get cooking, but have you thought of the method you’re going to use to turn that hunk of raw poultry into a tasty and nutritious meal? While there are many ways to cook that breast, some are less healthy and efficient than others and it’s important to find a method that lets you retain the natural benefits of the meat, while remaining appetizing and not adding too much bad fat or extra carbohydrate to your diet. Let’s look at the three most popular and simple ways to cook your chicken; boiling, broiling and grilling.
The simplest and perhaps best way to preserve all of the natural amino acids and enzymes in the meat is to boil the chicken in water, otherwise known as poaching. Since there is no searing or charring involved and no actual hot surface is touching the flesh of the chicken, nothing is lost during the process of cooking and thus the finished product is pure and unaltered; in addition, boiling the chicken adds nothing to the meat such as fats or carbohydrates from sauces etc.
Different spices and seasonings are available to add flavour, which is carried into the meat through the boiling process, but essentially, boiling is the best way to ensure your chicken is just that…pure chicken. The only drawback to poached chicken is that the flavour can be somewhat distilled and faint, so for those who prefer a more flavourful chicken experience, broiling may be the way to go.
Broiling chicken involves placing the meat in the oven at high temperature for specific amounts of time, usually basted and/or pre-marinated in sauces, rubs and various spices. This type of cooking can be time consuming, though it would be possible to cook several breasts at once, depending on the size of your cookware. You will find that broiling chicken results in a much more flavourful and tender finished dish, the heat and length of time help to draw the flavours and oils from the basting sauces etc into the meat, essentially permeating the entire breast with foreign substances. Obviously, adding sauces to your chicken is not only going to change the flavour of the meat, but it will also add fats, oils and carbohydrates to the chicken, as well as alter some of the amino acid chains naturally found in the meat. The effect of the change could be insignificant, depending on the types of sauces (i.e. low fat products etc), or it could result in a fattening, cholesterol rich meal that would ultimately be detrimental to the goal of your diet.
Lastly, and perhaps finally (to the backyard grill masters out there), there is grilling. Virtually every restaurant you could go to offers some variety of grilled chicken, usually a skinless boneless chicken breast, grilled with a light oil basting, served with some form of pasta or rice, and you might be hard pressed to find a person who has not at some point tried similar recipes and dishes at home. Whether you plan to grill your chicken on an indoor electric grill or outdoors on a charcoal or gas grill, the process is virtually the same. As with boiling, grilling can be done to add nothing extra to your chicken, simply placing an unseasoned, plain breast on the grill can provide you with a nicely cooked and pure source of protein, though it would be less than tasty. There are many hundreds of barbeque sauces available and even some decent low fat, low cholesterol choices; marinating and basting your breast in one, or a combination of sauces is a good way to flavorize the meat, though, as with broiling you end up adding fats and carbohydrates to the meal. The difference might be, at least with open grilling, that a good deal of the oils and fats are burned off in the fire, leaving most of the flavours and less of the undesired contaminants; and again, the process of grilling leaves the chicken slightly altered, as far as it’s amino acid content, though the change is negligible and not enough to drastically alter the quality of the meat.
Any way you slice it, chicken is a tasty and effective way to increase the amount of protein in your diet, while not sacrificing taste and satisfaction from your meals. Make wise choices and you will be rewarded with an effective and wholesome diet that will support your bodybuilding goals.
See below for some quick and easy recipes for tasty and healthy chicken dishes.
EASY GRILLED CHICKEN
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
- 1 cup fat free Italian-style dressing
- 1 green bell pepper
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 zucchini (substitute fresh mushrooms is desired)
1. Place washed chicken breasts in large sealable bag. Add 1 cup fat-free Italian dressing and close. Let marinate for 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Cut up peppers into big chunks, and zucchini into big slices. Put into another sealable bag. Coat with leftover dressing.
3. Grill chicken and veggies over medium heat.
PANSEARED CAESAR CHICKEN
- 2 - Large skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 1 - Cup light (low fat / low cholesterol) Caesar salad dressing
- Pinch - Seasoning salt or poultry seasoning
1. Place breasts in a low flat dish and pour dressing over breasts (be sure to cover breasts in sauce) and mix in seasoning, let marinate for 5-10 minutes
2. Preheat frying pan to medium heat
3. Place breasts in pan and pour dressing mixture on top, fry in pan until done
Tip – baste a small amount of the cooked dressing on the breasts after removing them from the pan for a small bit of added flavour
POACHED LEMON CHICKEN
- 6 whole skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 1 lg. onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 sprigs parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 peppercorns
- Salt to taste
- Water to cover
1. Place chicken breasts in a layer in large skillet.
2. Top with onion, lemon juice, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt.
3. Pour over enough water to cover.
4. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium/low and cook 10-15 minutes or until chicken is tender.
5. Remove from heat and allow to cool in its liquid.