Chickens don’t deserve to have silly, unanswerable jokes written about them; they deserve odes and sonnets! And this poetry should be composed by homemakers and chefs, for chickens are the cook’s friend. For a start, they give us one of nature’s most perfect foods, the egg. Eggs are a complete protein (containing all the amino acids) and are highly digestible. They can be cooked in dozens of ways and enjoyed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chicken meat is also highly versatile, and can be partnered with any number of flavors. The bones can be used to make gelatin-rich, protein-boosting, disease-fighting broth that is supremely satisfying on its own, or equally pleasing as the base of a favourite soup. Consider all these aspects along with the fact that chicken is one of the least expensive meats available. Thanks to Aldi, I can purchase one of these wonderful birds for less than $4.00. And even at a regular grocery store, they would still be cheap.
Buying and cooking whole chickens is one of my favourite budget-stretching strategies, but a few years ago I never would’ve dreamed of it. I remember watching my mom prep whole raw chickens many a time, and it was too gross for me. I vowed to never, ever buy a whole chicken. I just couldn’t stomach the thought of reaching my hand inside a chicken’s butt and pulling out its neck! In college I thanked my lucky stars for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Best thing since sliced bread! (Oh wait, I don’t buy that any more either.) I paid about $6.00 or $7.00 dollars for a bag of frozen chicken breasts, which probably came with about 6-8 pieces. So I was paying almost $1.00 per chicken breast.
Sometime this past year I wanted to make one of my mother-in-law’s recipes, and it called for a whole chicken. I bought it, prepped it, and realised that somewhere in the past ten years my aversion to whole chickens had taken flight. I didn’t really mind dealing with the carcass after all; in fact I found it rather fascinating. We feasted on the chicken, and had lots of leftover meat for other meals. It struck me how cost effective it is to buy a whole chicken.
Now I never buy bags of chicken pieces. I usually buy a chicken per month, and we have a chicken dish each week. I thaw the chicken in the refrigerator and when I’m ready to prep it, I rinse it, remove the giblets, and place it in a baking dish. I use my kitchen shears to snip open the skin, then I cut off the chicken breasts. I cut the chicken breasts in half or lengthwise and then seal them in a freezer bag for future recipes. Depending on what I want to make that month I sometimes cut off and freeze other parts of the chicken. I put the rest of the carcass in a gallon freezer bag and put everything in the freezer.
Sometime during the month I’ll thaw the chicken breasts to make chicken sandwiches or to chop up for a stirfry. The bulk of the chicken usually gets a crock-pot treatment, and the leftover cooked meat is refrozen for tacoes, fried rice, or curry. Eric usually cooks the giblets, and I always save the bones for stock-making. Talk about bang for one’s buck. Well, I guess I just did. Four dollars (usually less!) and it lasts four meals.
Here’s some of our favourite things to do with chicken:
Chicken sandwich– Pound chicken breasts flat; dredge in flour, then egg, then Panko breadcrumbs. Fry in coconut oil until crispy golden. Serve on toasted buns with mayonaise, a thin slice of fresh mozzarella, spinach, and two crucial pickles.
Chicken stock- Place all bones in a soup pot; cover with cold filtered water and 2 T of apple cider vinegar. Let sit for one hour. Bring to a boil; skim off scum. Reduce heat to low, add desired vegetable peelings or chunks and let simmer all day. Strain broth and refrigerate or freeze in glass jars. Use broth for soups, gravies, or to cook rice.
Cream cheese crockpot- Place cooked black beans, cooked shredded chicken, and plenty of salsa in the crockpot. Cook on low for several hours, add about 8 oz of cream cheese, and heat through.
Chicken salad- Chop up chicken and marinade all day in the refrigerator in soy sauce, honey, apple cider vinegar, and ginger. Pan cook in butter. Serve over a spinach or lettuce salad with other toppings and a dressing of the pan drippings plus equal parts honey and dijon mustard.
Lemon Rosemary- Place bone-in chicken in the crockpot; add about 1 cup of filtered water. Squeeze a fresh lemon over the chicken; dot liberally inside and out with butter; sprinkle with sea salt, pepper, crushed garlic, and rosemary. Cook, basting a few times during the day.
My cookbook, Real Food for the Real Homemaker, is all about making real food from scratch! It includes 75+ recipes that are simple to make and use wholesome, familiar ingredients, and has 8 chapters on topics like food substitutions, kitchen tools, and freezer cooking. Pick up a copy HERE.