Must-Know Tips for Cooking Juicy and Delicious Chicken

Cookbook author Diana Henry shares expert tips to help you cook chicken to perfection every time

All you need to make this stunning roasted chicken is a handful of ingredients and some time to let it marinate.

To say that award-winning (and 2015 James Beard Foundation award-nominated) cookbook author Diana Henry knows a thing or two about cooking chicken perfectly would be an incredible understatement. Open her new cookbook, A Bird in the Hand: Chicken Recipes for Every Day and Every Mood, to any one of its beautifully-photographed pages and you’ll see that she can create pure culinary magic with just a handful of good ingredients and some basic cooking techniques.

A Bird in the Hand/Laura Edwards

Diana’s philosophy on chicken is that it’s inherently easy to prepare and there is no sense in complicating it. Combine that philosophy with the helpful tips, suggestions, and substitutions that are peppered throughout the book and a collection of 120 flavorful chicken recipes that draw their inspiration from around the globe and you’ll have a good idea of what this must-own cookbook is all about. Diana says, “Chicken is one of the most popular foods — comforting, casual, easy, even celebratory, it’s always in the kitchen and on the table. Plundering the globe, there is no shortage of brilliant ways to cook it, whether you need a quick supper after work, something for a lazy summer BBQ, or a feast to nourish family and friends.”

From Diana’s recipe for Chicken with Marsala, Olives, and Blood Oranges to her Korean Fried Chicken Wings or the Lemongrass and Turmeric Chicken inspired by her friend, Roopa, she masterfully explores all that is possible when cooking this beloved bird.

Diana's Korean Fried Chicken Wings

A Bird in the Hand/Laura Edwards

I had the opportunity to ask Diana a few questions about her book and what it takes to cook chicken to perfection. Here’s what she had to say:

What is the biggest challenge when it comes to cooking chicken?
The main challenge is having enough ideas for what to do with it. Most people seem to cook it at least a couple of times a week, and they run out of inspiration. Over the years, I’ve worked out thousands of things to do with a packet of chicken thighs! It’s the most versatile cut, great for roasting, and great — boned — for grilling or griddling. It’s a much better cut (as it’s more succulent) than chicken breast. I hardly ever cook chicken breasts, except as part of a whole bird.

Do you have an expert tip for keeping chicken juicy as it cooks?
Diana's delicious and flavorful recipes are guaranteed to become family favorites, if not the new classics for cooking chicken.I think we tend to overcook rather than undercook chicken. The breast can become dried out. If I’m just doing plain roast chicken (with a good crispy skin) I slather it in butter and cook it fast, at a high heat. Pot roasting is another way to keep it juicy — there’s a great recipe in the book for cooking chicken in milk with nutmeg and onions that is melt-in-your-mouth succulent! When it comes to grilling, I never opt for breast — I always choose thigh meat because it’s much juicier. 

What about a few tips for getting lots of flavor into the meat?
You can brine your chicken (though I am rarely organized enough to do so) and you can “dry salt” it by sprinkling it with salt the day before you want to cook it and leaving it, uncovered, in the refrigerator. It’s good to leave the chicken uncovered so that the skin dries out a bit, too.

Other than that, I think chicken is a great meat for soaking up the flavors with which it comes in to contact, so braises and sautés work well, as do marinades.

What's your favorite way to cook chicken during the spring? 
One of the best dishes for spring is roasted chicken with leeks, potatoes, and dill. It’s all done in one dish (you can add cream or not) and is so very spring-like because of the dill. I do a lot more grilling as spring progresses, too.

Can you tell us a little bit about your book, ‘A Bird in the Hand’? What inspired this cookbook and how is it unique?
It had been percolating for many years, to be honest. It is a book I was always going to write. Chicken was a favorite in our family and my grandfather was a farmer of dairy and poultry. We were brought up to appreciate it — my dad especially loves it — and taught how to eat every morsel, right down to the “oysters” on the underside. The leftover bones always went into the stock pot. I have many happy memories of meals with chicken. My mum’s roasted chicken and stuffing with sautéed potatoes was one of my favorite meals. And when we went on picnics we would take whole roasted chicken and soft white rolls instead of sandwiches. 

I also thought that chicken was getting a raw deal. It is ubiquitous (because it’s relatively cheap), so we have stopped respecting it. I think you can turn chicken into a great quick supper, but I also think it can be the basis for a celebratory feast (and I’ve written a whole chapter on this). Chicken can be dressed up or dressed down.

Chicken is the ingredient most people ask me about — we all need more ideas for what to do with it. I thought the book would answer that need. 

Finally, I wanted to do a book that had great recipes in it, but not all the classics. You don't need another recipe for coq au vin or Thai green chicken curry. I think the book is unique in that it is inspiring, not the “same old same old”. And I really tried to make it look wonderful, too. I think my team did a great job illustrating just how gorgeous chicken can be.

Diana's Chicken with Marsala, Olives, and Blood Oranges

A Bird in the Hand/Laura Edwards

I agree with Diana: there is no way you can pick up this cookbook and not be inspired to try something new. Her delicious and flavorful recipes are guaranteed to become family favorites, if not the new classics for cooking chicken. Which recipe inspires you? Tell us in the comments below!

Want more from Diana Henry? Click here. Or, click here to buy a copy of A Bird in the Hand.

Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal's Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.