The most obvious reason to chicken out is chicken itself. Whether fried, stewed, steamed, sautÅ½ed, roasted, poached, broiled, baked, braised, barbecued, grilled, ground, minced or sliced; in stocks, soups, salads and sauces; whole or in pieces, warm, hot or cold; it's the universal, affordable favorite. My two new reasons are two new cookbooks that focus solely on this venerated, versatile bird with a culinary nod to the eggs it so graciously offers. In The Chinese Chicken Cookbook: 100 Easy-to-Prepare Authentic Recipes for the American Table (Simon ∧ Schuster, $24, 256 pages, ISBN 0743233417) renowned Chinese cooking authority and author Eileen Yin-Fei Lo has gathered traditional, classic and modern recipes, some slightly modified for contemporary kitchens, along with her personal notes and observations, fascinating bits of history, tradition, folk tales and chicken mythology. She first advises readers on the essential tools, techniques (equally applicable to other cuisines), ingredients and basic recipes essential to the Chinese kitchen. Classic whole chicken dishes, the celebratory centerpieces at Chinese feasts, such as the famous Chicken Baked in Salt, start off the recipes. Small dish appetizers including Shanghai Drunken Chicken and Diced Chicken Wrapped in Lettuce Leaves (a favorite of mine) follow. Then on to chicken in soups, with rice or noodles, in dumplings and buns and worked in a wok "every which way" with indispensable explanations of the hows and whys and dos and don'ts of the well-executed stir-fry.
Moving to the other side of the globe, we get the Gallic take with Mary Ellen Evans' Bistro Chicken: 101 Easy Yet Elegant Recipes with a French Flair). Bistros are often staffed by only a husband and wife working in a tiny kitchen, so the food must be prepared rapidly or be at its peak when rewarmed. That style adapts well to our over-scheduled, time-challenged lives, whether for a weekday supper or a company dinner. Each recipe, from luncheon and firsts to main courses roasts, casseroles, braises, stews and the quickly sautÅ½ed or grilled are accompanied by a truc, French for a trick that clarifies the cooking process. You might try simple, sleek Chicken Cutlets with Capers, a succulent Casserole-Roasted Chicken drizzled with pan juices, or an unusual Curried Chicken Clafouti. As promised, it's all truly easy and elegant, and sure to please our American palates. Why did the chicken cross the road? To be included in these paeans to poultry!