In January you are likely to experience long lines in two places — gyms and Weight Watcher meetings. This is to be expected, as we are all eager, once again, to resolve to eat better and move more in the new year.
New members are flocking to Weight Watchers and they have lots of questions about what to eat and what to avoid. Yesterday I was asked the following question: “Are rotisserie chickens bad for you? I’ve heard that they’re loaded with fat and preservatives and that you shouldn’t eat them, but they’re so convenient. Should I stop buying them?”
What? Abandon those big, fat juicy Costco chickens that cost only $4.99? Costco sells 60 million roasted chickens a year, and despite posting disappointing financial returns last October, the company refuses to increase the price. Their chickens are so popular, they even have their own Facebook page! You gotta love Costco.
Back to the chickens. Do they have a lot of added fat and preservatives? A lot of people think that they do, simply because Costco chickens taste better than birds prepared by rival retailers.
The answer, surprisingly, is no. They contain no added fat, preservatives, MSG, gluten, artificial flavors or colors. However — and this is a big however — they are brined before reaching Costco stores in a saline solution to ensure their juiciness after cooking. The brine gives them superior flavor, but it adds about 460 mg. sodium per 3-ounce serving.
In other words, Costco chickens are salty birds. How salty? When I eat a Coscto chicken I know that I won’t be able to get my wedding ring on the next morning. You know the feeling.
Now this isn’t an anti-sodium rant. We all need sodium in order to live. According to the CDC , we need between 180 and 500 mg. per day to keep our bodies working properly. (That’s one measly 3-oz. serving of Costco chicken!)
The average American consumes far too much sodium — about 3,400 mg. per day. Medical guidelines suggest that we get no more than 2,300 mg. of sodium per day. You should get even less if you’re over 51 years of age, you’re African-American, you have high-blood pressure or you have kidney disease or diabetes — no more than 1,500 mg. per day.
Most of the sodium consumed by Americans is from processed or restaurant foods. Only a small amount comes from adding salt to the food we cook at home.
Bottom line: if you’re healthy (and young), go ahead and enjoy a Costco chicken every now and then. But your best bet is to roast your own chicken at home. It isn’t difficult. Here’s a famous and easy recipe from French Laundry chef Thomas Keller. Be sure to truss the bird because tying its legs together will help prevent the breast meat from overcooking.
If you can, buy an organic or free-range chicken and add a generous sprinkling of kosher salt before roasting. Don’t worry, you’ll end up with less sodium per serving than the Costco bird. And you will have succeeded at cooking one of the most basic, essential dishes of the home cook. What a great way to start 2014!