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How to cook halal chicken, well

How to cook halal chicken, well

It’s not the chicken you’ve got, it’s what you do with it. The humble chicken is so versatile that it’s almost synonymous with food itself.

Halal chicken crackles, chars under fire.  Roasts in the oven.  Spits in oil.  Boils, bubbles.  We eat it with our hands, or out of paper, or with chopsticks.  We jacket it in seeds and sauces, transforming it into a dish - real or imagined - from any country in the world.

Noodle soups simmering in nighttime kitchens in Tokyo…
Waffles at Spitalfields Market, promising the poetry of the Deep South…
Silky dumplings arranged neatly on plates from Seoul…

We know chicken is a blank canvas. And because it gives us a mild taste and uniform texture useful for absorbing different flavours, chicken has become a meat favoured by all cuisines.  You can cover it in chocolatey mole as easily as douse it in fish sauce.  The limitless potential of chicken defies geographies.  Just as the Tikka Masala came into being, chicken continues to move with the times.  To borrow and blend, and to belong, to everyone.

Chicken has become the most popular meat.  It’s not even just lunch or dinner, but a breakfast and dessert too.  The Turkish tavuk göğsü is a delicious milk pudding served since its status as a delicacy for the Ottoman sultans.  It seems the chicken knows no bounds.  But do we know how to roast a halal chicken, well?  Can we make the skin crispy?  The meat moist and not dry?  Surely there’s nothing worse than a dry breast?  When it comes to chicken, even the chefs tell us, it’s not as easy as it looks…

Halal Chicken Now

In the late 1950s the first halal butcher opened in Birmingham, selling the first halal meat in Europe. But halal chicken and meat has not been made readily available, beyond large cities, until relatively recently.  With the recipe resources we have now, together with the availability of halal chicken, we can bring dishes from any part of the world to our dinner tables. But while chicken is heralded for its versatility, and hero of new-fangled recipes, it belongs to traditional ones too. Classic roast meat and curries. Meals that are filled with memories and provide comfort, reminding us of simpler times. Chicken is the most familiar meat (less familiar ones are said to “taste like chicken”). It is the central part of dishes that bring family together. Halal chicken is a food close to most of our hearts: a dish our mother or grandmother used to make.

Fast food restaurants are providing halal chicken options, and halal food festivals offering more of a variety of halal chicken dishes. Unfortunately for now in the UK, not every pop-up or new restaurant has halal on the menu, but that doesn’t stop us creating the recipes ourselves at home. Let’s start off with the basics.

How to Keep Chicken Moist

Even the best chicken has two main drawbacks on account of its low content of fat.  Naturally, chicken doesn’t have a lot of flavour.  That’s why it’s an excellent blank canvas.  But the second stumbling block is that it dries out as it’s cooked.  One of the best ways to retain the moisture in the meat, particularly breast meat, which is notorious for being dry, is to put flavour and fat inside the meat, the New York Times tells us.  One way of doing this is to flatten the chicken and roll it around a cheese or herb or whatever it is that you might have stuffed it with.  But a simpler way is to cut a slit in the meat and drizzle oil or rub butter inside the incision, along with some herbs and spices: fresh tarragon, for example is delicious, basil, chives, roasted garlic, paprika, garam masala, coriander.   Marinating the halal chicken by letting it the breast in the flavours, or rubbing them on top of a skinless breast, doesn’t allow the marinade to get inside the meat.  So, nothing will be absorbed. Making incisions means the flavour can penetrate the meat, and the oil and butter prevent it from drying.  Leaving the skin on will also lock in some flavour, which brings us to our next point…the ever-delicious chicken skin.

Secret Weapon: Chicken skin

Chicken skin is delicious.  We know.  And yes, that’s because of the fat.  Chicken skin crisps have become a popular snack, and crispy skins can be seen adorning a finished dish, as a sort of garnish or side.  Chicken skin is even being swapped in place of bacon for breakfasts in New York.  Chicken skin in a BLT, or served with runny eggs.  The key is to braise it in buttermilk first and fry it, they say.

But chicken skin still on the bird is what we really like, and getting it to crisp is a simple matter of heat as we explain in the next section.  There are those who can be found peeling off the chicken skin and setting it on the side of the plate, for fear of adding unnecessary fat.  However, in addition to making cooked chicken juicier and taste better, chicken skin contains heart-healthy unsaturated fat, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.  In fact, they say, the majority of fat in chicken skin is unsaturated.  So, don’t peel the skin off your halal chicken dinner and set it aside… Enjoy it, we say!

How do I cook the perfect roast chicken?

It’s pretty hard to get a whole roast halal chicken in a restaurant.  And, actually, that’s not altogether a bad thing, because it is a fact universally acknowledged that roast chicken is definitely best cooked at home.  It’s also something that’s difficult to get right…

The quality of the bird dictates the flavour.  But the textures have to be right.  Crispy skin, and meat juicy.   There is a lot of online advice on the perfect roast chicken from the simple to the complex, but here’s one that’s very accessible, and has our seal of approval.

For a medium chicken, get the oven really hot, around 220˚C. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add the chicken, breast-side down. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the water and pat dry. Put the chicken in a roasting tin and rub with oil. We like olive oil for its health benefits. You needn’t go for an expensive one, especially for roasting. Rub the chicken with salt and pepper, and garnish inside the bird too. Add lemon wedges and your favourite herbs, some garlic cloves, remembering to add any flavours you’re putting on the bird inside the cavity too. Add a little, around half a centimeter of stock, to the bottom of the tin. This helps the meat retain moisture as it cooks. Roast for around an hour and a quarter, or until the juices run clear. Around 10 minutes before the bird is done, turn up the oven to 250˚C to get that mouthwatering crispy skin we’ve been talking about (but do keep an eye on it, though - it’s not so tasty when it’s burnt! Leave the bird to rest for around twenty minutes, and carve.

The traditional English roast might lack some of the strong flavours many enjoy with chicken, and if so you might want to try a delicious traditional Pakistani alternative that we’ve tried and love.  It’s a pot-cooked dish, so the method is different, but it makes for a delicious Sunday roast, with carom seeds (ajowan), cumin, coriander and yoghurt.  Sumayya Usmani suggests enjoying it with some aniseed potatoes and plain Basmati rice.  You could even take flavour inspiration from this, and incorporate it into an oven-roasted halal chicken dish.

What about Chicken and Health?

Chicken works wonders for controlling blood pressure and managing weight.  It is almost alphabetical in its list of vitamins, and has an impressive array of minerals too.  Its B vitamins can help to prevent skin disorders, regulate digestion, improve the nervous system, as well as prevent migraines, heart disorders, grey hair and diabetes.

And Haloodies’ Halal Chicken?

Halal has come a long way since the 1950s and 60s when it was newly available at very few, out-of-the-way, independent shops and restaurants in major cities.  Haloodies is a brand founded on a passion for food, and offers genuine halal of impeccable quality.  Haloodies’ products reflect Muslim values at each stage of the process.  Haloodies’ methods are always carried out by practising Muslims, and the halal chicken is processed and packed in a dedicated halal facility in London.  All of the delectable ingredients found in the marinades and coatings are halal certified too.  Haloodies’ halal chicken is only ever Grade A.  Haloodies’ cooked halal chicken range comes from chickens fed only on a vegetarian only diet, exposed to natural light and given space to roam.  So, you can relax, knowing that you have the best quality genuine halal chicken available.