Respect the chicken!

(This is another one of those ‘I’m really not vegetarian’ posts.)

I talk a fair bit here about respecting the chicken (or the lamb, or the beef, as the case may be), and being mindful of where meat comes from, both in terms of the way the animal has been raised and treated during its life, and in terms of remembering that it is a whole animal – not just the breast or leg or maybe some mince.

But having said that, I’m actually fairly new to the idea of using as much of the beast as possible.  This is partly because I really do not like offal (and yes, I have tried it), partly because it’s just easier to buy meat which doesn’t require trimming or boning or whatever, and partly because my tastes in meat are a bit boring and Andrew doesn’t like meat that is recognisable as meat, so to speak.

This makes the idea of using as much of the animal as possible rather daunting…

On the other hand, when I do manage to start with a whole chicken, and break it down into its components and use it over several meals and make stock with the remains, I feel so terribly pleased with myself afterwards…  Also, thrifty!  And, while it makes extra work at the beginning of the week, it saves work later in the week, so you don’t lose much time by it.

(and also, I find that we then tend to go vegetarian for the entire following week because we are so entirely over chicken by that point, which is thrifty *and* ethical!  Bonus! – though of course, one does have the option of freezing things…)

Anyway, this post isn’t about pretending that it isn’t easier to buy your chicken just by the section you want to use (especially, of course, if you live alone – I don’t think any single person can reasonably be expected to deal with that level of leftover-commitment), and nor is it going to be a moral high-ground thing.  But I suspect I’m probably not the only person out there who really likes the idea of using a whole chicken and making stock and doing exciting things with leftovers but is totally intimidated when actually faced with a whole chicken.  There are, undoubtedly, other ways to do this, but here’s what I do.

(Actually, there are two different sets of things I do, depending a bit on whether I have people coming for dinner or whether my butcher is willing to joint my chicken for me.)

Roast Chicken

Thing one is to roast the chicken.  The simplest way to do this, incidentally, is to wash and dry it inside and out, quarter an onion and stick it inside, season  well with salt and pepper (salt is what dries out the skin and makes it crispy), and put a little water in the bottom of your roasting dish to prevent it drying out.  Then you roast it at 180°C for 20 minutes per 500g, plus 20 minutes.  This is what my mum taught me, and it works, pretty much regardless of the stuffing.

If you want a less simple version, make a gorgeous fruit and nut pilaf for the stuffing by parboiling rice, and soaking a handful or two of fruit and nuts in hot water.  Then sauté an onion in butter, stir in the rice to coat, then the fruit and nuts, and stuff into the chicken.  Put the chicken on a big sheet of foil, and make a tent.  Melt some more butter with lemon juice and saffron and hot water and pour over the chicken in the foil, and seal up the foil.  This is a paraphrase of a Diana Henry recipe, incidentally, and it’s glorious.

Right, so you’ve had your roast chicken for dinner.

Roast Chicken Stock

Now you’re going to pick as much meat as possible off the bones and put it in a sealed container in the fridge.  The bones and skin are going straight into a stockpot with an onion cut into quarters, a couple of carrots peeled and halved, a couple of celery sticks and some parsley.  A couple of dried porcini mushrooms  or a pinch of saffron is nice, if you happen to have it.  Or, frankly,  use whatever you have to hand.  I’ve done this with an onion and two carrots and ended up with excellent stock. You can also be terribly conscientious about this and use all manner of finely chopped vegetables.  I never do.

I turn up the heat under the chicken, and let things brown a bit before adding some white wine if I have any (if I don’t, that’s fine too and water will do).  I let that simmer down for a minute or two, and then add enough water to cover, and whatever seasonings I see fit.

Bring to the boil, and then let it simmer for an hour or two.  Basically, I get the chicken bones and skin into the pot as soon as I’ve cleared the table for the main and have the chicken stock cooking while we are waiting for dessert.

Drain the stock, and refrigerate overnight.  In the morning, you should be able to easily remove the fat which has solidified at the top of the stock.  If you are feeling truly dedicated, you can use this as dripping on toast or to cook with, but I usually draw the line here.  And there usually isn’t very much of it anyway.

I find that I usually get about as much stock as I had chicken – so a 2 kilo chicken will get me about 2 litres of stock in the end.

Stock will be happy in the fridge for three days and will be happy in the freezer for several months.  Rumour has it that if you reheat it to boiling point every day, you can actually keep it in the fridge or even at room temperature indefinitly, but I know what they use to culture bacteria in at work and I’m not convinced.

Those leftover vegetables from the stock…

I won’t hold it against you if you don’t use them, but you can chop them up and put them through a risotto or something.  Or chop them up, add them back into a few cups of the stock with some shredded chicken and some noodles and other vegetables and have instant chicken soup.  Or you can use them in–

Many, many leftover ideas…

There are approximately 6,741 things you can do with cold roast chicken.  Sandwiches or rolls or toasted sandwiches come to mind, as do wraps (with hummus and tabouli, yum).  You can shred your chicken and add it at the end of a risotto, or simmer it briefly in a curry sauce.  You can make Italian picnic bread by cutting a ‘lid’ off a big round loaf of bread, hollowing it out, and layering marinated and fresh veggies, herbs, cheese, and chicken inside.  You can make a chicken salad to any theme you like – I like a summer salad with strawberries and nectarines and green beans and potatoes as well as lettuce and cucumber and the rest.

Incidentally, if you want lots of ideas for leftovers, three cookbooks I can recommend are Diana Henry’s Food from Plenty (which is brilliantly useful in many, many ways, and which starts with how to roast a chicken, goes on to give you a dozen variations on the roast, and then another dozen recipes for leftovers, before moving along and doing the same with lamb and beef), Rachel de Thample’s Less Meat, More Veg (reviewed here, but since it is about using less meat per serve anyway, the author is very keen to show you what you should do with the bits you haven’t used at that first meal), and Tessa Kiros’s Apples for Jam (reviewed here; Tessa just tends to assume leftovers in passing and, more importantly, makes stock unintimidating).

Chicken Pies

There are so many ways to use leftover chicken in pie!  And, if you are feeling particularly frugal, you can use your stock veggies (finely chopped), too.  Consider:

– chicken quiche: shortcrust pastry (bought or homemade), a bunch of asparagus or mushrooms cooked to your liking, or leftover roast vegetables, shredded chicken, and a few eggs lightened with milk or cream.  Bake until done.  Easy.

– chicken pot pie: sautée up some celery, onion, carrots and mushrooms in an oven-proof and stovetop friendly casserole dish, add some white wine and let it bubble up a bit, stir in your leftover chicken and add a little stock and flour to thicken, and top with a sheet of puff pastry or mashed potato to bake.  Or make it springlike with peas and asparagus and fennel and baby carrots and leeks and a bechamel sauce.  Or summery with tomatoes and peppers and eggplant and zucchini.

– chicken pie-pie: any of the above fillings, just let them cook a little longer to thicken the sauce while you blind bake the pastry bottom (you do this by putting it into a pie-tin, pricking it all over, covering it with foil and filling it with dried beans or rice or pie weights or in my case glass jars, which is a really bad idea so don’t do it, and baking it at 180°C for about 10 minutes.  This prevents the pastry going soggy, and the weight prevents it from rising up into a mountain.  Remove the foil and the pastry weights before adding the filling, OK?).  Then stick some more pastry on top – shortcrust or puff will both do here – pinch the edges shut and cut a little hole in the centre for steam to escape.  Bake until golden.

– chicken filo pie: layer ten sheets of filo pastry in the bottom of a 20cm springform cake tin (let the edges drape over the sides, and offset the sheets so that they aren’t all sticking out in the same direction).  The easiest way to do this is using olive oil spray between layers.  Filo pie needs a fairly dry filling, so this one is nice with layers of leftover roast pumpkin or sweet potato, spinach or other leafy greens wilted and mixed with ricotta and feta and an egg to bind it, roasted peppers, and the chicken itself.  Ideally, have the roast veg at top and bottom.  Bring the edges of the pastry back towards the centre, and add another 3-5 sheets of filo over the top, tucking them into the sides.  Spray with more olive oil spray, and bake for half an hour to 45 minutes, or until golden and crispy.  This makes a good picnic pie.

Cutting a Chicken into Pieces

In all honesty, I try to get my butcher to do this (though he doesn’t like it when I ask him to, so I should perhaps learn to be more self-sufficient.  Or find a different butcher.), but I’ve found this rather useful video on how to divide a chicken into eight serving pieces.  If this is something you would like to do for yourself, I recommend giving it a look.

How to cut a chicken into eight pieces

As for what to do with those pieces… well, if you cook with chicken regularly, I suspect you don’t need my help with that.  I will say I tend to use the wings for stock, but you could also freeze them, two by two, until you have enough to make a whole tray of chicken wings.

When making stock from raw chicken, I tend to be a little less ad-hoc with my vegetables and try to add leeks and tomatoes and so forth.  I use the carcase, skin and wings, and let them brown before adding the liquid.  Another thing I do is include a breast or two, or the thighs or legs in the stock, once the liquid has been added, and poach them very gently until they are done.  This gives the stock a little more flavour, and gives me a cooked chicken breast or thigh to use in sandwiches or salads or any other recipe requiring pre-cooked chicken.

OK, I feel as though I have just downloaded my entire brain into this post, which means it’s probably time to stop.  I’m pretty sure I’ve covered all the basics of chicken use in any case, but if I’ve missed anything vital – or got anything wrong – or if you have a lot of brilliant chicken leftover recipes to share, comment below and let me know!

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4 comments for “Respect the chicken!

  1. filkferengi
    November 20, 2011 at 2:53 am

    My brilliant recipe for chicken leftovers involves visiting your house.


    • November 21, 2011 at 9:15 am

      You should definitely try that recipe. It sounds like a very good one indeed!!

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