Questions for cooks: Skin-on or skin-less chicken?

Reader Rhonda submitted the following to Questions for cooks about chicken:

Do I remove the skin prior to cooking or after? I know you get better flavor (I am told) cooking with the bone but the skin contributes fat as well as flavor. I want the best flavor but want to limit animal fats as well. As a new cook who is cooking my own food for better health I need to know when something is critical for flavor or authenticity — I want it to taste like it was meant to taste and when it can be eliminated. I don’t need to be stringent with fats, just be aware of my choices, cutting back on animal fats where it doesn’t matter so I can use it where it does.

For a more authentic and succulent chicken flavor, you would leave the skin on during cooking.

When you cook a chicken with the skin on it, always start with a high heat so the fat can “fry” the skin (this works with both roasting and frying). You’ll know the fat is working to fry the skin when the skin turns a golden brown. Once you have a nice browned skin and the fat is no longer in a solid form between the skin and the meat, you should turn the heat down and slowly roast the bird at a lower temperature (the lower temperature helps keep the meat from getting unbearably dry).

Initially cooking the meat at a high temperature keeps most of the animal fat in the skin, which you can then choose to eat or not. If you cook the meat at a lower temperature from the very beginning, the fat won’t fry the skin but rather liquefy and soak into the meat. Some of the fat will do this even at high temperatures, but considerably less so.

For a less authentic flavor, but a less-fat option, you can remove the skin before cooking. However, chicken cooked without skin is prone to getting rubbery and very dry, so you’re more limited in your cooking methods.

I like to use skinned chicken in soups because boiling (or poaching) the meat with liquid keeps it tender. Also, any fat that made it into the soup can be skimmed off the surface when the soup cools. Grilling is also good because the hardwood charcoal infuses a smokiness into the meat. Adding breading and/or sauces can also help to spice up the flavors of skinless chicken.

Buying ground chicken is an alternative, too. With the addition of spices (and a splash or two of hot sauce), you can form patties and make a nice chicken burger.

The one method I don’t recommend for you is making a confit. In this method, you literally pack the chicken in fat before cooking. It tastes incredibly yummy, but it isn’t going to help you on your fat-reduction quest.

If I were you, I’d switch up the routine and keep things in moderation. Some times, I’d keep the skin on and then choose not to eat the skin at the meal. (Actually, I’d probably sneak a couple bites of the skin, but mostly I would pick it off.) Then, other times, I would cook the chicken without the skin.

Next week, I’ll have a post explaining how I cook a whole chicken. This might also be of some help to you.

Thank you, Rhonda, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Please check the comments for even more chicken-related cooking suggestions from our readers.

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5 comments posted

  1. Posted by Obagi - 04/22/2011

    Isn’t that flavor your talking about from the fat?

  2. Posted by Erin Doland - 04/22/2011

    As I said in the article “Initially cooking the meat at a high temperature keeps most of the animal fat in the skin …” The key word here is “most.” Some of it does go into the meat. You need some fat in the meat to get the “authentic” flavor she is asking about in her question.

    There is still fat in skin-less chicken, too. Chicken is pretty lean, but not fat-free. No meat is fat free.

    That’s why I think moderation is key. If you eat meat, you’re going to consume some animal fat. It flows through the muscles of all animals and provides the animal with energy when it’s alive.

  3. Posted by Lisa - 04/22/2011

    One of the interesting things in Cooking Light a while back was that the amount of fat in the end was almost the same – as long as you didn’t eat the skin. The flavor was improved cooking with the skin, so they have started to recommend cooking with the skin on and en removing after cooking. The cost of chicken also goes down – assuming you can find it. Most of my stores always have boneless skinless – sometimes they are out of boned/skinned :)

  4. Posted by Carson - 04/26/2011

    The original question says “As a new cook who is cooking my own food for better health…” In that vein I’ll point out the obvious that if you have mostly eaten out or eaten pre-packaged foods, the sheer act of cooking your own food may well make your food healthier (though not necessarily healthy) in terms of fat and sodium particularly, even if you eat exactly the same dishes.

  5. Posted by Carol - 04/26/2011

    I usually remove the skin prior to cooking if I’m using a lot of seasonings (ie: roast chicken). I’ve had so many dishes that heavily seasoned the chicken and found that the seasonings stuck to the skin so that when the skin was removed, so were the seasonings and I ended up with bland chicken. By seasoning the chicken directly I still get to taste all the herbs and spices. I haven’t had a problem with the chicken drying out either, as long as I don’t overcook it. This is just my preference though.

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