Chicken. This incredibly versatile poultry may just be the most important source of food throughout the entire world. While there are hundreds of varieties, in your supermarket whole chickens are sold under names according to their age and weight.
Chicken wasn't always as reasonably priced as it is today. Before World War II, only the affluent (and chicken farmers) could afford to eat chicken on a weekly basis. France's King Henry IV once hoped every peasant in his realm would have "a chicken in his pot every Sunday."
These 2½-month-old chickens weigh up to 3½ pounds and are best when broiled or fried.
A higher fat content makes these ideal for roasting and rotisserie cooking. They range between 2½ and 5 pounds and can be up to 8 months old.
Also called hens or boiling fowl, these birds are 10 to 18 months old and can weigh from 3 to 6 pounds. Their age makes them more flavorful, but also less tender. They're best cooked with moist heat as in stewing or braising.
This is a rooster that has been castrated before 8 weeks old, fed a fattening diet and brought to market before it's 10 months old. Ranging from 4 to 10 pounds, capons have full breasts and tender, juicy meat that is best when roasted.
- Rock Cornish Hen
These miniature chickens weigh up to 2½ pounds and are 4 to 6 weeks old. Best broiled or roasted, each hen is usually one serving.
- Squab Chicken (Poussin)
These tiny birds are 4 to 6 weeks old and weigh no more than 1½ pounds. They are best broiled, grilled or roasted,
- Cock (Rooster)
Older in age, this bird is rather tough. They're more appropriate for making soups or broths.
Range chickens are given twice the pen-space and allowed to roam outdoors. They are also fed a special vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and hormones. They are about 4½ pounds and generally 10 to 12 weeks old. Thought to have a fuller flavor, they are more expensive than mass-produced chickens.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades chicken quality with the classifications of A, B and C. Grade A, most often found in markets, is the highest quality, indicating a bird that's defect-free. Grade B chickens are less meaty and grade C is usually given to scrawny turkeys. The grade stamp can be found within a shield on the chicken's packaging or sometimes on a tag attached to the bird's wing.