Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cheap Eats Part 2- The Whole Chicken

Today we are continuing on with cheap yet delicious food ideas for all of us who are fabulous yet broke. Last time we discussed eggs in all their glory. You might also check out this post on beans and this yummy beef soup recipe which are all budget friendly as well.

Like most American families we eat a lot of chicken. However unlike many we do not buy boneless skinless chicken breast. Here is my money saving tip for the day: DO NOT BUY BONELESS SKINLESS CHICKEN BREAST. I know, I know, it is so much easier and more convenient. But hear me out. Each week when I go to the market I buy a whole chicken or two. When I get home from the market I cut the chicken up into pieces, legs, thighs, breasts. I take off all the skin and remove the breast bone (This depends on my menu for the week. For some recipes I keep the bone on). Then I freeze the pieces for weeknight dinners and make stock out of the back bone and wings. Thus one chicken bought for 4-6 dollars, depending, makes us 2-3 dinners and at least two pints of homemade chicken stock. Whereas 4-6 dollars worth of boneless skinless chicken breast might have bought us 2 dinners--maybe.

At first it was a little tricky to learn to cut up the chicken. My Mom had to come and help. Then she had to help over the phone and finally after a few rounds I got it down. Now my chicken process takes me 15-2o minutes from when I walk in the front door form the market to when I have broth simmering, chicken cut up in the freezer and the counter clean and disinfected. This 20 minutes is what you pay up $2 more a pound for at the grocery store.

To Cut up a chicken (I apologize for the lack of pictures. My camera is broken.)

*I am the first to admit this is gross project especially when you get started. The first 5-8 times I did this I whined and squealed about how gross it was the whole time. It gets easier I promise. You must focus on the satisfaction you get from being an economical wife.

1 whole chicken
1 large plastic cutting board
1 good sharp sturdy knife
3 quart size freezer bags
1 large stock pot
disinfectant, I use 409 kitchen cleaner

Take chicken out of bag wash with cold water. Look for any straggling feathers and pull out. Reach inside cavity and remove kidney, giblets, liver and neck (this might not all be there) put these into stock pot if you want. I usually put the neck into pot but discard kidney, liver and giblets. Place chicken on cutting board. First you want to cut off wings and place these in stock pot. Grab wing and feel along until you find the joint. Pull wing away from chicken by joint and cut in between ball of joint. It may sound weird but when you are actually holding the chicken it will make sense. If all else fails yank and you can pull joint out of socket. Cutting up a chicken is all about learning where the joints are and how they work. It took me a good deal of yanking at first. Then turn chicken so breast side is down. Find the thigh joint. This is where the thigh separates from the body. It helps to pull on the joint until you can feel it moving and then wedge your knife into the joint to separate. Once you have the thigh and leg off you can pull of the skin and then separate into leg and thigh pieces. I place both legs and thighs into one freezer bag for one dinner. That was the hardest part I promise. Now stand the chicken cavity up and cut directly down the rib cage separating the back bone from the breast bone. Place back into stock pot. Pull skin off breast bone and turn over so bone is up. Directly in center of breast bone is a dark red area. You want to place sharp point of knife directly in the center of that area then pound hard on knife with other hand to crack the breast bone. Once cracked you can cut it in half. Cut chicken off bone if desired. I freeze breasts each in separate freezer bag because one breast can easily feed two people. Label freezer bags and place in freezer. Place stock pot on stove. Wash knife and cutting board. Now disinfect the entire area. I find chicken bits and juices splatter and a good disinfecting of the entire surface area is necessary. Now you have cut up a chicken. Don't you feel accomplished?

Homemade Chicken stock

Chicken back and wings, or a whole chicken, or carcase of a roast chicken, or chicken feet
2 stalks celery
2 carrots scrubbed
1 onion, optional
4 dried red chilies
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic
whole peppercorns or lots of cracked pepper
1-2 TB salt
Fresh or dried herbs of any kind, I just use whatever I have on hand

Place all in stock pot. Don't worry too much about chopping. I usually break carrots in half and cut onion into 1/4ths. I leave garlic in skins. Fill pot with water. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and simmer 4 hours. Let cool. Strain. Place into containers to freeze. Keeps in fridge for a week and in freezer for months. I usually freeze in 1, 2 and 3 cup measurements. This makes it easier to pull out for a recipe. If stock gels that is a good sign and you should be proud.

*You can make stock out of the whole chicken. I find this wasteful unless I am going to stop and remove the meat from the chicken. Stock made from the back, wings and other various chicken parts is just as good as using the meat. Actually the best stock is from chicken feet. The only time I use a whole chicken in stock is if I'm making chicken soup. To do that place whole washed chicken in pot, don't forget to clean out cavity. Add celery, carrot, chilies, rosemary, garlic and bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring to boil, simmer 45 minutes. After 45 minutes remove chicken and place on plate. Let cool. While it cools strain stock. Dice 2 carrots, 2 celery, bell pepper, fresh rosemary and add to strained broth. Simmer 20 minutes while chicken cools. When chicken cool pull off meat and add to broth. Bring to boil and either add noodles or cooked rice. Season to taste. This makes a ton of soup.

Now my friends. Go forth and buy a whole chicken. It will be fun I promise.

1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU FOR THIS POST! I have had one experience cutting up a chicken so far & it was disgusting & I wasn't sure what I was doing, but your post is going to be so helful for next time...I think I can handle the icky stuff.