Monday, September 22, 2014

Stretching A Chicken Dinner

Yes, I have chicken overwintering in quart jars.
It might be comfortable, I've never tried it.
Ah, it's fall now, you can tell because Mrs. Farmer refuses to let me leave the windows open at night and has both started checking the weather forecast for frost advisory and begun wearing her fuzzy slippers in the morning. Others may count from the equinox or when the leaves begin to change their color but I know better (and a wise man never argues with his wife).

This weekend our time was spent graduating chickens (old and new) and getting them set up in their winter homes (the freezer or pantry). We're not even close to finished with that yet, but chicken processing and storage have been on my mind daily of late.(continued)

Yes, step 1 is "put chicken in pot".
This is STILL wrong.
We raised 50 broilers this year.  After accounting for the graduating layers, a few "extra" chicken dinners shared with friends and the rare occasion when we might want chicken a bit more often, we are looking at a generous forecast of a chicken per week for about a year. It is no coincidence that we could have broilers ready again before we run out of this year's freezer alumni, that's all part of the plan.

We live in a country where having a bit of chicken (usually white meat) as part of at least one meal per day (or more), possibly 5 days a week (or more) is not unheard of, it's actually quite common. We will not be eating it so often here, and not as the so often seen grilled breast on salad or cutlet meals either.  Stretching a chicken is a bit of both art and science, but really it is the imagination that will get you the furthest.  There are no shortage of recipes that benefit from a bit of leftover chicken or some chicken broth.

Rosemary chicken.jpg
"Rosemary chicken" by TreblRebl at en.wikipedia 
Almost always, we start with a roast chicken. Sometimes we piece out the birds because having a big bag of wings (pass the buffalo sauce, please) or legs and thighs (the spicy Cajun BBQ, please) or even (gasp!) chicken breast meat alone (Parmesan, anyone?) does make sense to do.  In the long run it saves both work and time to leave the bird whole though, so mostly we do.

Everyone should know how to roast a chicken the way they prefer best.  Just in case you don't, Joy of Cooking is a must have stand-by reference.  Joy includes the how and the why, both easily referenced, all in once place, with (often) several recipe options to select from for almost anything you might try and prepare. This book is how you can "fake it" until you "make it" with cooking. Now, your mileage may vary.  Not every chicken is a giant chicken, and not every family will leave half the chicken behind for leftovers but if you are roasting a small chicken you could roast a bigger one, and if you need more than a single chicken roast two.  The amount of work to cook an oven full of chicken compared to a single small chicken are nearly the same, adjust quantities as needed for your table.

With your roast chicken dinner completed, that's one meal in the bag but that picked over drumstick isn't done yet!  If there are tender and tasty bits left on the chicken I'll take the time to pick them off and set them aside.  Those bits can go in lunches, on salads, or even serve as reheated meals of their own. The big bones and cleaned carcass then can be placed in a pot of cold water.  There is an upper limit to how many quarts of stock you can get out of a single chicken, but it is a BIG number. I usually drown those bones in my biggest stock pot turn the heat on low, cover it, and leave it for days.

This is actually a broiler, a layer, and a duck...
same principal, really
Keeping the heat very low will maximize the quality and end result of your stock.  One can add many kinds of vegetables, herbs, or other ingredients at this time to add flavors of any sort.  I top off the water as needed, keep the pot just below a rolling simmer and go on with life. This is one example of food which "is already ready, already" when you need it.  That chicken dinner on Sunday can contribute chicken stock to other meals all week and if you are so inclined that meat you set aside from roaster night can become chicken soup or chicken pot pie by Friday.  If you won't use all the chicken stock right away freezing or pressure canning the rest will free up that pot again in time for next week's roaster.

I'm talking here in terms of whole birds and roasters because that's what we prefer.  This same idea applies just as easily to a package of drumsticks or thighs, and with store bought chicken as easily as home grown.  Pork and beef bones can pull double duty after a roast in a similar fashion, and even big bones can be cooked down (look up "bone broth) until the bones are soft at which time the dogs (or pigs) will make short work of them and be happy for the treat. With extra chicken stock (of the highest home-made quality) experimenting with it in your cooking becomes so easy it cannot help but make you a better, more adventurous cook.

A quick googling confirms that there is no shortage of clickbait headlined articles with uses for chicken stock if you get bored and similar treatment of leftover chicken reveals just as many options to browse at your leisure.  If you doubt your ability to replicate my success let me know in comments, and I'll reassure you of your great culinary potential.  In the meantime, I'm going to get another bowl of the soup we had for dinner.

Thanks for stopping by.


  1. You almost made it...second to last sentance has an extra r: "If you doubt your ability to replicate my success let me know in comments, and I'll reassure your of your great culinary potential." R you following me? (See what I did there?)