Thursday, December 27, 2012

Taking stock: What to do with a whole chicken.

We’ve really enjoyed being a part of the meat CSA program at North Mountain Pastures over the past year. We receive one box each month, with a variety of beef, pork, and chicken. We’ve had the chance to try several kinds of steaks, roasts, and ribs that we’d never had before. We also had a traditional Oktoberfest sausage that was especially delicious with their homemade kimchi. Although the selection is mostly a surprise, one thing we always get is a whole chicken. At first, we were really intimidated. But, over time, we have learned just how easy it can be to cook a whole chicken, and how much food we can get from this one bird. For about $30, we can make dinner for two people for three nights and almost 2 quarts of chicken stock to freeze for later. Here’s how we do it.

Slow-cooker chicken.

Our first task is to cook the whole chicken. We use a slow-cooker, one of the world's greatest inventions for busy people who still want to eat well. We typically eat the legs and thighs one night and the breasts the other night, along with a couple of vegetable side dishes. There is usually enough meat left over to incorporate into a third meal as well. A little leftover chicken makes a great addition to a veggie-laden salad or even a stir-fry.

  • A whole chicken (4-5 pounds)
  • Approx. 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • To taste – pepper, salt, rosemary, sage, and thyme

1. Place chicken in slow cooker.
2. Add left-over chicken stock or vegetable stock, enough to cover about ½ the bird (at least enough to enter the cavity of the bird).
3. Salt and pepper the outside of the chicken. You can also add about a teaspoon each of rosemary, sage, and/or thyme.
4. Cook for 4 hours on high or 6-7 hours on low.
5. Remove chicken from slow cooker, and cut off the meat to use for dinner. Place the carcass in a large sealable bag or container, and store it in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze it until you are ready to make the stock.

Vaguely Mediterranean chicken. 

Last time we made a whole chicken, I raided the pantry and fridge to make up this easy third dinner. This recipe can be easily modified to include any other veggies you may have lying around.

  • Olive oil, if needed
  • Leftover chicken
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes or 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale
  • 1/2 tsp each, Italian seasoning and garlic powder
  • Rice

1. Rinse and coarsely chop kale. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces and dice tomatoes, if necessary. If you are making rice on the stovetop, start it now.
2. Add oil to the pan, and warm over medium-high heat. The amount of oil will depend on the kind of pan you have; you shouldn’t need more than a tablespoon.
3. Give the oil a minute or so to heat up, and then add the kale. Saute the kale for several minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the tomatoes, chicken, and spices. Reduce the heat to low and heat through. If you are making instant/frozen rice, start it now.
5. Once the chicken is nice and warm (about 10-15 min.), serve over rice.
Stocking up.

We mostly follow the chicken stock recipe in Deborah Krasner’s book, Good Meat, which is a wonderful resource for the ethical meat eater. We store our stock in the freezer in food-grade mason jars (like these) that we purchased at a local hardware store. When we're ready to use the stock, we place a jar in a bowl of water in the fridge overnight. Also, we add salt only when cooking with the stock, not in its preparation.

  • A whole chicken carcass
  • 1 carrot, cut into chunks
  • 1 stalk of celery, cut in half
  • 1 onion
  • 1 whole clove or 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 5 whole peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf

1. Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Add enough water to cover the ingredients (Krasner suggests at least 5 inches over the top).
2. Heat on medium-high heat, uncovered, until the stock begins to boil.
3. Reduce heat to the lowest setting at which you can maintain a simmer.
4. Let the stock simmer for 3-4 hours, until it is golden and fragrant. As it cooks, skim any foam the forms on the surface.
5. Use a strainer or large slotted spoon to collect all the solids; smoosh any veggies to get a bit more flavor and then discard.
6. Place the pot in the sink, surrounded by ice, for about half an hour (or just put in the fridge).
7. When cool, pour the stock into jars or other freezer-safe containers. Chill the stock in the fridge overnight. Then, if you plan to store it for more than a few days, move it to the freezer.


  1. So one thing I've wondered (and which may be a point of intimidation for many) is how much "forethought" time you need. For example you say to put the stock in a bowl of water overnight to thaw it, that means I had to decide yesterday that I want to make a soup now (I suppose you could speed up the thawing outside the fridge, but it's still not instant).

    How much time do you realistically have to spend planning, or put another way, how often are you thinking "if only I'd done xyz last night"?

  2. Yes, planning is essential to cooking, especially if you want to incorporate a lot of fresh produce and reduce costs by buying ingredients that can be used for multiple meals. Every weekend, we spend some time planning what we will cook for dinner the following week. For variety, we pick one dish that includes meat, one that is totally vegetarian, and one that incorporates seafood. Each dish is intended to last for 2-3 nights so we don't have to cook every day. Planning ahead like this means that we only have to go to the grocery store once during the week. We also keep our "menu" on the fridge so we remember to defrost any ingredients we'll need for the next day. I like to make the dishes sound fancy because I get more excited about them that way. Example: Cajun catfish with roasted root vegetables and sautéed asparagus with garlic and herbs.

    I'd say that making our menu and grocery list can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Using an unfamiliar cut of meat or looking for a new recipe to try will obviously add time. Whereas, there are many recipes we know so well that we don't even have to look up the ingredients. Especially since having the baby, we've had a couple of nights where things just didn't go as planned. We didn't actually buy the coconut milk for the curry, or we just ran out of energy to start a more involved dish that we'd planned to have. It's still fairly rare though.

    One trick I use for meal planning is to buy extra staples. For example, any time I buy canned lentils (we use them mostly as salad-toppers) or pasta sauce, I buy more than I will need for the week's recipes. I also keep some frozen organic vegetables on hand. This way, if I need to throw together a quick meal, I have ingredients on hand. Also, we often buy more vegetables than a recipe calls for - like a bunch of carrots even if we only need two - so we can use them for salad or as snacks.

    I thought planning would just be more work. But once we got used to it, I find it actually saves time and money and reduces our stress. Plus, planning and preparing meals has become something we enjoy doing together. Especially savoring the fruits of our labor along with a nice glass of wine!

    I've actually considered posting my weekly menu and grocery list on this blog as a guide to meal planning. Would it be something anyone would use?

  3. I think it'd be a good example of the planning in practice!
    I do meal planning in a different way. We don't have as much variety (and this is something I'd like to get better at as soon as our kitchen is operating again) in the general "shape" of dinner. It's usually a meat, a starch and veggies. Starches we keep in bulk (rice, pasta, couscous, other weird seed lookin' things), those don't require planning. I'll usually buy 2-4 types of vegetables when I go to Costco (most common set is broccoli, brussel sprouts, green beans) and I'll often buy 2 types of meat (usually a fish and a non-fish). Then we just kinda play Mr. Potato Head Dinner with those and it's easy, healthy, fairly fast, ... but not very exciting. I think for us (and people like us), the barrier is to be less of an engineer about creating a solid dinner, and actually force ourselves to branch out. I find weekends are great for trying something new, and of course leveraging left-overs to amortize weekly cooking time.