As the colder months approach and the snow starts to fall, it is the perfect time of year to cook poultry. From whole roasted turkey throughout the holiday season, to succulent duck confit, the bird is quite literally the word.

Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel

Chef Jamie Harling, Rouge Restaurant

For Chef Jamie Harling at Rouge Restaurant in Inglewood, poultry is one of his favourite proteins to work with. As he puts it, “Everyone eats beef at home, so each person has their own opinion of how they like it cooked.” But with poultry, you don’t have to worry about whether or not your version of medium-rare is compatible with another, though it is still important to cook poultry properly. “The biggest mistake is over-cooking it,” Chef Harling says.

Food safety guidelines suggest cooking white-meat poultry like chicken and turkey to 165º F, but as long as you are working with high quality product, such a high temperature is unnecessary. Chef Harling suggests taking a chicken breast off the heat when it reaches an internal temperature of 150º F, letting it rest and allowing carry-over cooking to bring it up closer to 160º F. That way you don’t dry it out and lose all of the moisture.

If you are looking to try something different when it comes to poultry, Chef Harling encourages hunting down some duck, which is relatively easy to find at the grocery store nowadays.

“Poultry is the easiest of all proteins to fabricate, plus it is basically the same process no matter what type you are using,” explains the chef. Whether you are cooking the breasts or the legs, the key is to go low and slow. Rather than scoring duck breast to render out the fat, prick it with a pin to help ensure that all of the fat melts out, leaving you with skin that shatters it is so crispy.

Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel

Chef Dilan Draper, Avec Bistro

If there is one thing to emphasize about these birds of a feather, it would have to be their versatility. With so many different birds to choose from, and such a wide range of techniques to apply, there’s no reason to go back to boring boneless, skinless chicken breast time after time. One of Chef Dilan Draper’s favourite varieties to work with is pheasant. Leaner than chicken and slightly more gamey, it can be roasted whole or broken down into various cuts, and is available at your local butcher.

For those looking to experiment in the kitchen, pheasant paillards, stuffed with ground pheasant and wrapped in caul fat, are something to try your hand at. Although the finessed, fat-enveloped “torchons”, or rolls, can be a bit more time-consuming to make than your typical poultry recipe, they won’t fail to impress when you have friends over for dinner.

What is caul fat you ask? Otherwise known as the fatty membrane that surrounds the large internal organs in animals like pigs and cows, it is really just a spider-webbed sheet of fat. When working with lean poultry like pheasant, Chef Draper stresses the importance of adding caul fat to help prevent it from drying out. “It’s an off-cut so you can get it at virtually any butcher shop for next to nothing. Its general purpose is to help moisten the pheasant as it is four times leaner than chicken, making it easy prey to overcooking! Caul fat has a very neutral flavour and is generally quite clean & odourless,” he says.

Of course if this seems a bit too challenging, you cannot go wrong with a simple roasted turkey, or even sous-vide chicken breast – as long as you don’t overcook it. “People are still concerned with 1970s problems like E. coli and such. Sure you don’t want raw chicken but you don’t have to cook it to charcoal either,” Chef Draper says.

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