Sunday, May 6, 2012

One Chicken--Many Meals

If you want to trim your grocery allowance, chicken is your friend.

(See: 10 Cheap and Easy Meal Builders)

 Buy one  Fryer or Roaster chicken (or two, if your family is large), and you can easily turn it into at least three different meals.

Fryers and Roasters are typically sold whole, bones in, and weigh 5lbs or less. Older, heavier birds (called stewing chickens) are tougher and best reserved for, well, stewing or a nice, long bath in the crockpot.

If I buy a whole chicken, I can easily stretch it to supply my meat servings for an entire week--and that's not even counting what goes into the freezer for later!

Here's how I do it...

First Meal: Roast Chicken and Gravy
  • I usually pair it with mashed potatoes and/or a steamed green vegetable.
  • Roasting 101: Thaw the bird in your refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Remove packaging and any "extras" inside. Place on a rack, breast up, in a baking pan (or anyway, something with sides.) Liberally rub with butter or oil and season inside and out; I use butter, salt, pepper, and thyme to good effect. Roast at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes per pound of chicken, basting with the juices that collect in the pan, until a meat thermometer reads 165-170 degrees in the thigh without touching the bone. You can loosely cover it with aluminum foil if it browns too quickly. Once it's done, remove from the oven and let it rest under foil for another 10-15 minutes (the temperature will continue to rise to 180ish, which is the FDA recommendation.)
  • Gravy 101: Transfer your chicken from the roasting pan to a carving plate and give your attention to the drippings left in the pan. Skim off any noticeable fat, then add water to the depth of an inch. Whisk in 1-2 TBsp of flour, and simmer on a burner—still whisking continually!—until it thickens into gravy.
  • Carve off as much of the meat as you can. Put the leftover meat in the refrigerator, and save all of the bones and any scraps to put in the freezer.
  • Some of the leftover meat can be nibbled on in sandwiches the next day, and then . . .

Second Meal: Chicken and Rice Casserole
  • This can be a meal in and of itself!
  • Here's my basic recipe: Combine 1 cup of dry white rice, 1 cup of water, and 1 can of condensed cream of anything soup in a 2 quart baking dish. Add 1 to 2 cups of leftover cooked chicken (in bite-sized pieces), 1 to 2 cups of frozen broccoli, a handful of shredded cheese, and season according to taste. My usual seasonings are: salt, pepper, a chicken bullion cube, onion or garlic powder, and paprika. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until the rice is tender and has absorbed all the liquid. If you live above 2000 feet, you may need to add up to 1/2 a cup of water and allow for a longer cooking time.

Third Meal: Chicken/Vegetable Soup
  • The first two meal ideas are best done back to back, but as this one just needs the bones in your freezer it can wait for a week or two.
  • Chicken Stock: Put your frozen chicken bones and scraps in the largest pot you have and cover with water. Add an entire onion, quartered (you don't have to peel it,) a couple cloves of garlic, and any other chicken soupish veggies you have laying around. Limp carrots and stringy celery will be just fine! Season according to taste with salt, pepper, and/or herbs—but definitely don't skimp on the salt! Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 6 hours, but up to 24, and replenish with more water if needed. You can basically leave it to its own devices for as long as you like, as long as you don't boil the pot dry. Then strain out the veggies and chicken, and divide the stock into containers to freeze (or you can make chicken soup with it immediately.)
  • Now that I've got the hang of it, I let my stock simmer overnight. Talk about low-maintenance cooking!
  • Here's something really cool: You can make as many as 3 BATCHES of stock using the same chicken bones! It doesn't have much of an affect on the taste, though you may want to let subsequent batches simmer longer than your first. And don't be grossed out when the bones pretty much turn into jelly.
  • You won't want to use any meat from the stock pot in chicken soup; it will be tough and leathery after all that cooking!
  • Chicken Soup: Use your favorite recipe, and substitute your homemade stock for the water or chicken broth. To stretch it even further, I use 1/2 stock 1/2 water and make up the flavor difference with chicken bullion.

And there you have it!

What are your frugal kitchen WonderFoods?