Poultry is now the most popular meat on the menu: according to Statista, 1.06bn fowl (including turkeys) were slaughtered in the UK, in 2020. Due to its popularity and food-safety reputation, however, poultry is also one of the 10 most-wasted foods in the UK.
When it comes to chicken, you can, as they say in Spain, eat everything but the beak (and gall bladder). From crest to talon, each and every part of a chicken has a use. True, it’s hard to source poultry with the head, neck, feet and offal intact, but it’s worth the hunt (I order mine from Fosse Meadows). Welcome to the world of umami!
Head – if you ever buy poultry, or more likely wildfowl, with the head on, don’t waste it. It adds flavour and viscosity to stock, while the brain, if you’re brave enough to try it, is a velvety-textured treat.
Comb – the comb or crest on the top of a chicken’s head is a soft, unctuous and forgotten ingredient that’s divine soaked in milk, then poached, peeled and fried like lardons to garnish a dish.
Neck – at River Cottage, we used to make a flavourful, giblet-stuffed goose-neck sausage at Christmas (there’s a recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Year). The neck bone is also delicious in soup or stock, and has a flaky, brown meat.
Skin – gently fry the skin until crisp, to make crackling; this can also be crushed with sea salt to make the ultimate umami seasoning that’s especially great on corn cobs.
Fat – the rendered fat from a roast chicken will keep for months and can be used instead of butter or oil. It also makes incredible roast potatoes. Or go a step further and make whipped chicken fat butter.
Giblets and offal – the heart, liver, kidneys, gizzard and even the unlaid eggs are delicious, although they can admittedly be hard to find. Fry the offal with warm spices to make a Jerusalem mixed grill, or finely chop the liver, heart and kidneys, then saute with wine to make chicken liver crostini.
Bones – a chicken carcass is full of nutrition, flavour and hidden scraps of meat. To save the scraps when making stock, boil the carcass alone for 30 minutes, then remove from the liquid, pick off any meat (don’t forget the oysters – the two pockets of succulent meat located on the back), then return the carcass to the pan with your usual stock ingredients.
Feet – the collagen-rich feet add viscosity to stock and, if you’re feeling adventurous, are fabulous braised dim sum-style with a sweet-and-sour sauce.
Tail – the parson’s nose is often removed from birds in this country, because it’s rather oily, but it’s also full of flavour and in some cultures a delicacy to be fought over. Across Asia, chicken tails are enjoyed chargrilled on skewers and basted with an umami dressing.