In search of healthy and fun meals to feed my family, with an eye toward sustainable living.

Here you'll find recipes & ramblings about keeping my family fed with what's available in Alaska between local produce, a little bit of wild harvest, and the modern grocery store.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How to make one chicken stretch for a week

Our family recently rented the DVD of Food, Inc.
An excellent movie -- I highly recommend watching it! Much of it is based on Michael Pollen's work (In Defense of Food and Omnivore's Dilemma) and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation.

Our family has been switching over to organic food more and more, as we learn more about where our food comes from, and as we see that yes indeed, we afford it! At first glance, going organic seems to cost significantly more, but I'd say that as we're doing this we're not going bankrupt, and not only are we eating healthier, but also we consume less bad stuff.
Take meat, for one. We just don't need to eat all that much. We're not vegetarians, but we're buying better meat and stretching it further. We still get plenty of protein -- such as from legumes, etc... AND THEY ARE CHEAP!
My daughter and I have been splitting the Costco 2-pack of whole organic chicken every couple of weeks (comes to about $10 per chicken). She roasts hers whole and then gets a week's worth of chicken-enriched meals out of that.
My approach is to divide & conquer: I plan several meals around it.
First you gotta actually CUT the bird up, and like many women my generation, that's something I never officially learned. Most women I know buy meat all cut up -- if the recipe calls for chicken breasts, well, they go and buy chicken breasts neatly wrapped with plastic on a styrofoam tray.

I learned to cut a whole chicken from my mother-in-law (#2), when I was a bride in her 30's!
I'm sure she was appalled that I did not know how to do this, but she was a kind woman, and patiently showed me. I'm grateful, for not only did I learn how to save money (Hubby and I were poor graduate students, and buying whole chickens sure is cheaper!), but it also taught me not to be afraid of dealing with bird's anatomy.
Aside: This skill came in later when we moved to Alaska, and in the first week a grouse flew into our window killing itself -- I called hubby at work, and he said "Great, let's have it for dinner!" And I did indeed cook it. I've even learned to fillet fish, but that's another story, and takes way more skill than cutting up a bird. (EOD, End of Digression)

So back to the whole chicken sitting on my cutting board (plastic, not the wooden one!).
First, I make sure I have a sharp knife! And my hands are very clean (trim those fingernails).

I remove the skin, and harvest the 2 breasts (Images from Food,Inc of commercial chickens run thru my head -- breeding for large breasts has gotten so extreme that the poor chickens can hardly take a few steps! Good thing they haven't bred us womenfolk for larger breasts! EOD)
I save the 2 breasts for a meal (it used to be I felt a need to serve each family member one chicken breast each, but I found that those 2 breasts feed the 4 of us just fine!)

Next I remove the leg-thigh ensemble. It does involve finding the joint and cutting through that -- after a bit of twisting till it "pops". Not difficult, just do it. Those 2 legs go into another dinner -- often I will bake those in a casserole with grains (such as rice) and lots of veggies. Once cooked, the dark meat just slides right off...

Now it's time to attack the carcass. I get rid of as much of the skin as I can (if needed, use a papertowel to grab the skin --this really helps when pulling it off the legs). Then I try to find all the meat that's left: using my fingers mostly plus a small knife, I harvest what I can. All those small pieces will go into the first dinner of this chicken -- something ethnic perhaps, like stir-fry, indian curry, Thai Tom Ka Kai, or filling for a Mexican burrito. Again, by stretching this meager assembly of meat with lots & lots of veggies, we get the flavor and protein, but not the heaviness of big chunks of meat.

Last, the chicken carcass (and don't forget the neck and other innards that came in the little bag) goes into the big stockpot. I also add any onion & celery "butts" I may have laying around in the frig, or any sad-looking turnips, carrots from the back of the produce drawer.
I let the stock go for several hours. Often I do the chicken butchering in the morning between when kids have gone to school & I need to get ready for work, and leave the stock cooking on LOW -- I prefer not to have to deal with the butchering in the late afternoon when it's time to cook dinner. Everybody is too hungry, grumpy, etc to wait around for me to do this...
I find it helps me tremendously to plan ahead -- the key to eating less processed food is using fresher ingredients, but they do require prepping...
Remember to clean counters & tools, and make sure the cutting board gets scrubbed, bleached and/or goes thru the dishwasher.

Anyway, the stock is poured into jars, placed in the frig, and defatted. I use the stock in so many recipes -- for example, boil bulghar wheat or quinoa with stock instead of plain water, or use it as stock in a mostly vegetable-based soup.

So here is a sample menu for a week
MON: stir-fry chicken w/ loads of veggies, or Chicken tacos/enchiladas
TUES: White Bean soup, made with chicken stock
WED: Rice, broccoli and Drumstick casserole
THURS: Bulghar pilaf with lots of veggies, plus oven-roasted squash & root crops
FRI: Cajun breaded chicken breasts, rice, and vegetable side dish
SAT: Pizza night - build your own (left-over chicken goes well on pizza)


  1. Sounds great but does that one bird really stretch out for 4 meals? In our family, Monday and Tuesday would pretty much polish off the chicken.

  2. Cool! I do the same kinda thing and get 4 (sometimes 5) meals off the bird. Mine are way different from yours so I'll add in one of yours next time.

    Another good thing to do is get a half side of lamb and package it up for meals. I can get 7 nights of dinners for 5 (one of those is a whole leg o lamb) and it comes in at 53 cents a plate.

  3. HPH: I need a lot more than that chicken, obviously, to feed us for a week. And before Eldest and I started splitting the 2-bird-pack, I was serving twice the meat per meal -- but I am realizing that we can get by on far less meat than we used to devour, and I think it's been healthier for us, and hopefully the planet too...

    ADDU: I love lamb! Costco has Australian imports, and I occasionally splurge -- I need to go to your website and find some new recipes!
    One of my favorite is an Indian curry w/ cardamom...

  4. I've got 3 really good lamb curry recipes, no worries. 2 feature cardmom prominently, the other not as much.

    I'll see if I can get them in today or tomorrow, no worries.

    Bummer about how expensive it is up there, it's quite a deal here --obviously.

  5. Tada! Here you are!