Today in Meat Fabrication class, we butchered chickens and discussed the numerous ways to cook birds. One of the most important lessons of the day was to cook the bird evenly, which can be tricky with whole poultry (whole chicken, turkey or smaller game hens). Because I tend to like rice or apricots or bread stuffing with roasted chicken, I was shocked to learn that it's best NOT to stuff a bird. Wait, what about Thanksgiving stuffing? What about delectable Cornish game hens?
The key to stuffing a bird is using only aromatics (lemons, herbs, or onions) instead of rice, bread or other grain products. Aromatics will flavor the chicken or turkey from the inside out, but they won't affect the internal cooking temperature. In contrast, bulky stuffing only promotes bacterial growth inside the bird. The slow, warm cooking temperature in the cavity coupled with the starchy stuffing ingredients create the ideal, cozy environment for growth if bacteria are present (not quite the Cancun party of sponges, but comfortable, nonetheless).
Heavy stuffing also prevents the bird from cooking evenly. By the time the stuffing has cooked through, you've overcooked the heck out of the bird. No wonder Thanksgiving turkey can be so hard to get right.
While it's true we're months from the holidays, this tip also can be applied to whole roasted chickens, a year-round favorite.
Tomorrow we are butchering beef. Keep you posted on our next lesson!