With the price of beef skyrocketing, now more than ever, chicken is becoming the backbone of the frugal kitchen. And why not? Chicken is much less expensive than beef or pork and useful 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 to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks.
Buy whole chickens
The most frugal way to use chickens is to buy them whole and 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.
Whether you buy a whole raw chicken or a rotisserie chicken from the deli counter, you are looking at three 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.
Roast whole chicken
Preheat oven to 450 F. In the meantime, remove everything from the cavity and rinse it inside and out. Dry with paper towels or clean cloth. Season well with salt and pepper. 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 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.
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 them off once they’re 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 bone and vegetables and pour the stock through a sieve. Refrigerate tightly sealed in glass jars.
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