Thursday, April 5, 2012

Whole Chickens

When I buy a local, whole chicken from HG Market, I admit that it can be quite pricey. The last time I bought one (a few weeks ago) it was about $20 ($5.05/lb). In some ways, it seems ridiculous to shell out that much money for a bird when I can get the same thing at Safeway for about $5. But...the quality of the meat is what really makes it worth it. Even Shane can't complain about the price (especially when I don't tell him...) since it's so much tastier than anything the chain grocery stores carry.
So because it's expensive, I obviously want to make the most of each bird. Every scrap, piece of meat, piece of bone, needs to get used for it to be worthwhile. Sounds like a lot of work, huh? It's not. It took less time than it would take for me to go to the store, seek out and buy all the meat and products I got from that one bird than it took to cook and clean it.
First of all: CrockPots. They're a godsend. I forgot to set it up the night before, but it was still easy enough in the morning to run around (like a crazy person) getting dinner ready. I threw the chicken into the pot with some cut up cabbage and some spices: salt, pepper, poultry seasoning. Then I turned the crock on and left for work. When I got home that afternoon, I grabbed a wooden spoon, lifted the lid, and poked the chicken once. It was so tender at that point that the whole bird pretty much fell apart. When we had friends over for dinner that night, Shane lifted what parts of the bird out of the pot that he could, and we grabbed the meat we wanted and put it on our plates. (We served it with bread and veggies.)
After dinner and after our guests were gone, I picked through what was left of the carcass. Any meat that I found was thrown back into the pot (with the suuuuper thick broth that was in there) to be made into soup. Scraps that we don't care for, like the skin, was put into a pile for the dog, and the bones were tossed into a bowl on the side. (If you save some of the chicken scraps for your pets, be very, very careful to ensure that it doesn't have bones. Some of the bones are itty bitty and hard to find, but their size is also one of the reasons they're bad for your pets.) I also cooked up the chicken liver and heart and such for the dog. (Note to self: never do that again. She apparently didn't like them that much, and the next day she was sick all over the living room. Awesome.)
To the leftover meat and broth in the pot (and the cabbage, which had disintegrated when the chicken cooked the first time) I added some vegetables we had on hand (carrots, onion, garlic, sweet potatoes) and some water and made it into soup. Later (when there was more room in the pot) Shane made some noodles and added those for a rich chicken noodle and vegetable soup. It was amazing. I'm estimating that just from the first night of eating the chicken and then the soup, considering all the people we fed, that chicken was the main or a main part of about fifteen meals, plus the scraps that went to the dog (over about four meals for her). Is it sounding a bit cheaper now?
As for the bones, those stayed in the fridge for a few days until I could deal with them. I made them into stock. You might think that after being cooked for so long the first time, and considering all the broth that was in the CrockPot, that they wouldn't have had anything worthwhile left in them. Wrong. I put them in a pot with some veggie scraps, and they made a lovely, thick stock. I didn't really time it, I just cooked the bones and veggie scraps until it "looked right". You know, had the pale yellowish color that broth should have and smelled like chicken. Then I strained it, first through a fine mesh strainer and then through some cheesecloth I already had (any fine piece of fabric--even a fabric napkin--will do just as well) to ensure that it's just the broth I was left with. Then, not needing it right away (we ate that chicken soup for days) I froze it in little plastic tubs, so that it could then easily be taken out and transferred to plastic bags to save space.
The hands-on time of cooking the chicken in the CrockPot was about five minutes (including cutting the cabbage). The hands-on time of going through the carcass to separate out the parts was about ten minutes (maybe fifteen...maybe), and the hands-on time of making the stock was about five minutes, including the straining. All this, and we ate for five days on this chicken, plus now we have the stock waiting to be used. So each meal works out to about $1.30 worth of chicken, plus the broth and the dog food. We could have stretched the soup much farther than we did, however. (It was more like chicken noodle stew toward the end.) Even better, the total time of cooking for the better part of a week was about an hour and a half(taking into account also those veggies I made, the time spent on the bread, and the time to turn the chicken into soup.) Not a bad deal when it's all laid out like that. $20 doesn't seem like such a bad price, and I'll probably be doing this all again sometime soon.
Chicken going back in the CrockPot to be made into soup.
The bones, waiting to be made into stock.

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