How to get the most out of a premium whole chicken

Antibiotic-free, air chilled, pastured organic chicken can get pricey. We can frequently find whole chickens for $.99/lb., but an Internet ordered certified pasture raised organic chicken can cost $6/lb. And that doesn’t include shipping either!

Skinless, boneless chicken breasts cost just under $6/lb. If you’re going to spend that much for someone else to trim your chicken breasts for you, consider raising the level of quality of your choice and do a bit of the work yourself. It’s an investment in your health.

One way you can stretch your investment in a premium whole chicken is to use more of it. Don’t throw out that Sunday roast chicken carcass after you’ve picked it clean. Save it to make flavorful stock at a later time. Just bag it in a resealable bag and stow it in the freezer. Add to it every time you make roast chicken. Eventually, you will collect enough carcasses to fill a stock pot. Add a couple onions, celery, carrots, parsley, two bay leaves, some peppercorns, and salt, cover it with water, bring to a boil, and let it simmer for a few hours. Strain the stock into clean containers and freeze it for future use. It’s a delicious replacement for water when cooking rice, making stew, or cooking vegetables.

Last week I picked up two broiler hens that claim to have been pasture raised. I’ve not visited the farm. I just have to trust them. I choose this sort of chicken because I have a food sensitivity to soy. Vegetarian-fed chickens are fed soy. And I experience inflammation when I eat them. So I have to spend extra money to buy this sort of chicken. If you don’t have a soy sensitivity, you’re safe with regular vegetarian-fed organic chickens. I’ve eaten this particular brand of chicken before and it didn’t bother me.

Roasters1So, first I roasted the chickens. Just a simple roasting, I seasoned with salt and pepper and some dried oregano, all over the chickens. The chickens came trussed, which insures that they cook evenly. I set them on a broiler pan so that the rendered fat and juices will drip into the lower pan. I roasted the chickens at 350-degrees F for about 90 minutes, until the skin turned a lovely golden color. You’ll know the chicken is done if you wiggle one of the legs and it moves easily. If it’s not done yet, flip the chicken over to let the skin underneath get some color too. Some people roast their chicken breast-side-down, to get a juicier breast. Just flip that over for the last 30 minutes to crisp up the breast skin.

Mmmmmm! Breast skin!

When the chickens were done cooking, I removed them from the oven and let them rest for 15 minutes. This lets the juices move back into the meat as the chicken cools.

Once they rested enough, I moved the chickens to a cutting board and started to dismantle them. I didn’t want to eat them right away, but the chicken can certainly be served at that stage. A lovely golden roasted chicken, surrounded by steamed green beans, and a nice glass of buttery Chardonnay. Home-grown summer tomato salad on the side, dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar. And watermelon for dessert!

But I digress…

Roasters3I dismantled the chickens. All the meat went into two glass freezer containers and was squirreled away in the freezer. Sometimes I put the meat into single serving portions in small freezer bags. I poured all the drippings in the bottom of the broiler pan into a glass measuring cup. That went into the refrigerator. All the bones, skin and fat went into the stock pot. I added two quartered onions, and several celery stocks, peppercorns, two bay leaves and dried Italian herbs. Plus the juice of two lemons. Then I filled the pot with enough water to cover everything.

Roasters4

Drippings from the roasting pan. One cup of rich-flavored, collagen-filled drippings, and half a cup of healthy and nourishing rendered chicken fat.

I put a lid on the pot and brought the it to a boil at a high heat, then turned it down to a simmer and let it coast all night long. 7 hours. That’s when DaisyMae decided it was smelling too good to leave it alone and she got me out of bed. I knew she would do that, but I had set the alarm too. I like to make my stock at night, because I don’t feel comfortable leaving the stove on during the day when I’m gone. If you have a pressure cooker, you can make your stock in a couple of hours. I’m thinking about buying one.

Step6I let the stock cool down some. Then I set up a large bowl with a colander over it so I could pour the stock into the bowl and catch all the bones, skin and vegetables before it falls into the bowl. If you want to have a clearer stock, lay a few layers of cheesecloth in the colander before pouring the stock through. Pour the strained stock into clean containers if you intend to freeze it. Then put it in the refrigerator to let the fat float to the top.

schmaltzEven the fat that floats to the top is a high-quality fat in which to cook your breakfast eggs and potatoes, or to sauté aromatics like onions and garlic. Chicken fat (also known as schmaltz) from well-raised pastured chickens, is high in monosaturated fat, which helps lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while leaving HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels alone. To save this fat, place your container of stock into the refrigerator to chill. The fat will solidify and then you can easily remove it to save it in it’s own container.

Do you know what the difference is between stock and broth? Stock is made from only the bones. Broth includes the meat and bones. Both can use aromatics and vegetables for added flavor.

Do you know how to cut up a chicken? Here’s a great video from the New York Times to help you with that.

– G

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