Thursday, September 5, 2013

How Much is a Chicken REALLY Worth?

I love a good challenge. I also love saving money. Combine those two loves, and I am absolutely delighted. Add good food and I'm grinning from ear-to-ear. Which explains today's smile. I like to challenge myself to take a page from the cooks of less wasteful times, when every bit of everything was put to good use, and the phrase, 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' was just how life was lived, not a green trend. Enter the chicken. I buy one or two roaster chickens every two weeks and like to challenge myself to see how many meals I can make with said chicken as the main component. This week's current number: six. And counting. That's pretty good, considering I am feeding five hungry mouths and am also eating for a voracious 23-pound exclusively breastfed 5-month-old.
Every body in the stock pot!
   On day one we always start with a meal of an 8-pound roast chicken. I never season it the same way twice, but my general rule is tasty but versatile: extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, and some garlic. Once we've eaten and the chicken has completely cooled, I pulled every bit of meat off the bones, put it in a storage container, and into the stock pot the bones go... more on that later. Meal two this time was chicken and cheese quasdillas. Meal three was chicken and broccoli over ginger rice. Meal four was chicken burritos. Meal five was chicken carbonara. There's still enough meat for at least one meal in the fridge. WINNING!
Just add water- then set it and forget it! :-P
   Now back to that stock- which is AT LEAST one, if not two meals itself. Stock is in SO many things from soups to sauces, to rices and pastas, or just plain sipped by itself, and is one way to use up every last bit of nutrition and goodness. Stock (or bone broth, as some call it) is chock-full of nutrients like calcium, magnesium, collagen, and more. It has legitimate naturally-occuring healing, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting minerals and vitamins in their most natural form, readily digestible and usable within the body. And did I mention IT'S CHEAP AND EASY TO MAKE?! Again, it's one of those things I never make the same way twice, but it's ALWAYS good, multi-purpose, and can be used exactly the same way you would use any store-bought stock, broth, or bouillon. Here's my general formula, for anyone who cares to try their hand at stock-making:

Reduced by about half after four hours

  • 1 chicken carcass- if you have the skin left over as well, go ahead an add that, too. It's full of flavor and healthy fats and nutrients!
  • 1 large carrot, chopped into equal-size large chunks
  • 1 large onion, quartered, peel and all
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar(a natural vinegar like Bragg's apple cider vinegar is best, but any will do)
  • any other scraps of aromatics you have in the bottom of your crisper- celery ends(leaves are especially good), parsley stems, etc.

The second strain, to remove any tinier pieces
Just dump all those ingredients into a large soup pot, add 16ish cups of water(or however much it takes to fill the pot within an inch from the top), then turn your burner on high. Bring the pot to a boil, make sure the lid is on nice and snug, then turn the temp down to low and leave for, oh say 18 to 24 hours. It's like that infommercial: Just set it and forget it!
Once the time is up, turn the burner off and let it cool until it's warm, but cool enough to handle the pot. I like to strain my stock twice. First I put a regular old pasta colander over a large bowl, and pouring every out the stock, bones, scraps, and all. Then I strain it further with a mesh strainer just to ensure no tiny pieces of bones that have broken down during the long boiling process escape into my broth. We don't need any emergency dental work!
The liquid will reduce down to about half of what you started with, leaving you with about 8-10 cups of really nutritious, flavorful chicken stock. You can do it EXACTLY the same with beef bones for a healthy
beef stock, too.
Headed for the freezer!
   Voila! You can use it fresh, refrigerate it until you need it, or freeze it for longer storage time. I like to measure mine in my 4-cup Pyrex cup, then put it in 1-quart freezer bags. It keeps indefinitely, and is SO handy to just pull out during a meal prep down the road. At any given time, you can find enough quart bags to equal at least a gallon of stock in my freezer. Pretty
handy, pretty frugal, VERY nutritious! You really can't beat eight or more meals for a family of six from an 8-pound chicken