Sunday, February 13, 2011

How to Stretch a Chicken (Part 1)

People always seem amazed when I tell them that I can get 3-4 meals, plus a whole bunch of chicken stock, out of a little chicken that can often be picked up from the grocery store for under $5.  This is pretty key to my feeding our family so cheaply, so I figured I should spend at least a couple posts sharing my secrets on how I do this.  I'm sure there are other ways, but this is my method.

Step 1.  Cook the chicken.  I cook them at 350-375 degrees for somewhere between 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the bird and what else I have cooking in the oven with it.  Sometimes I bake some sweet potatoes in the oven at the same time, which I serve with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar (or some combination of those) and cook up some green beans on the stovetop to round the meal out.  Other times, I throw some water in the pan with the chicken, add potatoes, carrots, and onion, so I'm making instant chicken broth while I cook the chicken, which I then use to make gravy.  Still other times, I might make mashed potatoes and corn on the stovetop and serve a nice garden salad with yummy vegetables in season.  There are many, many possibilities with this step!

Step 2.  Make chicken stock.  After we finish eating that first meal, I dump whatever is left of the chicken in my largest pot, add carrots, onions, celery (if I have any lying around), parsley, a little salt and pepper, and enough water to fill the pot almost all the way to the top.  I'll bring it to a boil, then let it simmer, covered, for anywhere from 6 to 24 hours, until I get a chance to do the next step.  You  may find it necessary to add more water during that period to keep the chicken submerged.
Bowl of freshly made chicken stock.  You don't see that rich color in store bought versions!

Step 3.  Pour the contents of the pot through a strainer to separate the stock from everything else.  Refrigerate the stock to let any fat come to the top to skim off if desired before freezing, if that is what you are going to do with it (fat-free stock can be frozen for much longer than stock with the fat still in as well).  Then sift through the chicken remains, separating out any bits of meat from the ucky parts.  I'll typically get anywhere from 2 to 4 cups of meat out of a chicken at this stage.  (Just to warn you, if your kids are like mine and get very upset if they don't get the wishbone out of a chicken, make sure you pull it out before making your stock.  The bones get brittle and almost mushy during this stage, so there typically isn't a wishbone available once you get to this point.)
Deboned chicken bits.  Got about 2 cups off this chicken.
Step 4.  Use the chicken meat bits sparingly in a variety of meals, taking care to use it all or freeze it within about 3 days, so you don't get food poisoning.  Some of the recipes I use are (as written in my "brain", since there is no way I'd remember such a complete list for you!) chicken stew with dumplings, jambalaya, chicken fried rice, chicken teriyaki, chicken fajitas, chicken & asparagus stir-fry, chicken & broccoli on couscous or rice, chili rice with chicken (as a stand alone meal, or used as burrito filling), chicken egg rolls, "chickenherders" pie, and broccoli, cheddar, potato, and chicken soup (usually with fresh, homemade bread).  I'll usually use between 3/4 cup and 1 cup per meal, so that way, the flavor of the chicken is there, but the chicken is stretched for a few meals.  And of course there are many, many possibilities to use your chicken pieces that I haven't listed here.  I'd love to hear some of your ideas in the comments!  I'm always looking for more great meal ideas.  I'll be sharing the recipes for some of these in future posts as well!
Chicken fried rice


  1. Chicken quesadillas, or better yet, chicken quesadillas with bbq sauce.

  2. We will have a roasted chicken about once a month. I love the ones from Merindorfs Meats. But we usually just eat it as a meal and it's pretty much picked clean. I'm going to have to start thinking about maybe roasting two and saving the other for future meals.
    Your "chickenherders" pie sounds interesting.

  3. I make a chicken or turkey pie with uncooked meat finely diced, browned, add chicken stock and a pkt mushroom and onion soup mix and lot of vegies and thickened with corn flower.Fill pie crust. Top with mashed potatoes and bake about an hour. You could also make a fettuccini with the chicken meat. Thats an easy recipe and yummy.