With the price of beef skyrocketing, now more than ever, chicken continues to claim its place as the backbone of the frugal kitchen. And why not? By comparison and even though the cost of all food is going up across the board, chicken is still much less expensive than beef or pork. It’s healthy, delicious, and useful right down to and including the bones.
Don’t pay full-price
Chicken is always on sale somewhere. If you don’t want to store-hop, you can always find some cut of meat, fish, and poultry on sale in your favorite market. Eat what’s on sale and if it’s a loss-leader (that means priced dirt-cheap below the store’s cost, to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks.
Buy whole chickens
The most frugal way to buy chicken is whole, then cut them up yourself. You’ll not only save money, but chicken tastes much better when cooked with the skin and bones.
A whole, organic bird usually costs less per pound than precut, skinned, and boned parts—and it tastes so much better. It is not difficult to cut up a chicken once you understand the simple steps. Here is a video tutorial or if you prefer written instructions with pictures.
Roast whole chicken
Preheat oven to 450 F. In the meantime, remove everything from the cavity and rinse the chicken, inside and out.
Dry with paper towels or a clean cloth. Season well with salt and pepper; fresh thyme if you have it.
Place one-half a rib of celery and half of a whole onion inside the cavity. Set the chicken breast-side-up in a baking dish or roasting pan.
Put the chicken into the oven and reduce the temperature to 400 F. Set a timer for 1 hour and do not open the oven door.
After an hour, check if the chicken is done by inserting an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of its thigh. The internal temperature should be 165 F. for the chicken to be done. If you’re under, put it back in to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes and check it again.
Let the bird rest for about 15 minutes. Carve and enjoy.
Whether you buy a whole raw chicken or a rotisserie chicken (still $4.99 at Costco, but for how long?) from the deli counter, you are looking at three— maybe even four—meals from that one bird.
Dinner #1: Roast chicken (more to come on this in a bit).
Dinner #2: Chicken pot pie, chicken sandwiches, chicken stir-fry, chicken burritos, or chicken salad using the meat you removed from the carcass following Dinner #1.
Dinner #3: Chicken soup made from the carcass of the bird.
- RELATED: Rotisserie Chickens to the Rescue
How to store raw chicken
- According to the USDA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raw chicken (regardless of if it’s whole; in pieces such as breasts, thighs, drumsticks, and wings; or ground) should be stored for no longer than one to two days in the refrigerator.
If the chicken was previously frozen, this timeline begins after the meat is fully defrosted. If you’re unsure whether you’ll get to cooking that raw chicken before this timeline is up, your best bet is to freeze it.
How to freeze raw chicken
Freezing chicken in the original packaging is fine for up to two months. For longer freezing—up to 9 months—over-wrap packages with foil, plastic wrap, freezer paper, or plastic bags. For ease in defrosting, separate and wrap individual pieces or servings prior to freezing, so you only have to thaw the quantity you need for the meal you’re preparing.
For safety’s sake, you don’t need to remove chicken breasts from the grocery store packaging before freezing. But for flavor and preserving the moisture inside those chicken breasts, it’s best to repackage.
The best at-home packaging method is vacuum-sealing with a machine (like FoodSaver), which removes air from the packaging and heat-seals the edges of the bag.
No machine? You’ve still got options.
Place chicken breasts in freezer bags and manually push out as much air as possible before zipping them closed.
If you want to leave the chicken in the package it came in, the USDA advises that you wrap the container in aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper. This helps add a barrier between the chicken and the air in the freezer.
The goal is to prevent freezer burn, which can happen when chicken is exposed to freezer air and becomes dehydrated and oxidized.
If your frozen chicken breasts have spots of freezer burn, it’s okay to trim those spot off, once thawed. But if the whole breast looks gray and leather-like, toss it.
How to safely thaw chicken
The ideal and safest way to thaw chicken is in the refrigerator. This allows the meat to slowly defrost so that it has time to reabsorb the ice crystals that formed between the fibers, which gives it a better texture once cooked. Allow approximately five hours per pound thawing time.
This method does involve foresight, however, as it will take about 24 hours for a whole chicken to be completely thawed and ready for cooking.
For faster thawing, you can defrost using the cold-water method, by putting the poultry in an airtight bag and placing it in a bowl or sink full of cold water and changing the water every half hour. And never use hot water, since it can stimulate bacterial growth. This method can take anywhere between one and three hours, depending on the size and thickness of the chicken.
How to make chicken stock
Here’s my favorite method.
- Put the bones and skin from a chicken carcass into a large pot.
- Add vegetables like celery, onion, carrot, and parsley. Cover with water.
- Add a full teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to barely simmer.
- Place lid on the pot, but off to the side a bit.
- Allow it to simmer, partially covered for at least 4 hours, 6 is better. Check occasionally and skim off any foam that comes to the surface.
- Remove bones and vegetables and pour the stock through a sieve. Refrigerate tightly sealed in glass jars.
Crispy Skin Chicken Thighs
- 6 chicken thigh bone-in, skin-on (about 2.25 lbs)
- salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup mirin
- 1/4 cup water
- Preheat oven to 425 F. Season chicken, both sides, with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 12-inch cast-iron (preferably) or heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking.
- Nestle chicken thighs in skillet, skin side down, and cook uncovered without disturbing for exactly 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-high; continue cooking skin side down, occasionally rearranging chicken thighs and rotating pan to evenly distribute heat, until fat renders and skin is golden brown, 12 minutes.
- When the timer dings, transfer uncovered skillet to oven and cook 13 more minutes. Keep an eye on this! You want this to be hot, but not smoking. Again, set a timer.
- Flip chicken so that it is skin side up; continue cooking until skin crisps and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes longer.
- Transfer to a plate; let rest 5 minutes before serving. Serves: 4 to 6.
- Optional: Drizzle with Teriyaki Sauce. Serve with steamed white or brown rice.
Optional Teriyaki Sauce
- Combine ingredients in a large saucepan over high heat. The larger the pan, the faster it will reduce. I find this takes about 10 minutes, but it depends on the size of the pan you use.
- Bring to boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until it reduces by half. The consistency should be like a light syrup. Bring to room temperature to serve.
Chicken À L'Orange
- 8 shallots
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- kosher salt
- 1 whole chicken
- ½ cup orange marmalade
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
- Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
- In a large shallow roasting pan, toss the shallots with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
- Cut the chicken into 10 pieces (2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings, 2 breasts — each halved).
- In a large bowl, whisk together the marmalade, vinegar, rosemary, remaining tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Add the chicken; toss to coat.
- Place the chicken mixture in the roasting pan, nestling the pieces among the shallots.
- Bake until chicken is cooked through and browned and shallots are tender, 25 to 30 minutes.
- Serving suggestion: Serve with fresh steamed green beans and bread.
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