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Learn how to stretch one whole chicken into at least five meals with my Stretchy Chicken tips and ideas!
There is something wonderful about cooking a whole chicken. It is so satisfying to truss and baste the bird.
I love the end result of wonderful, crispy skin and succulent, moist meat. YUM. I’m hungry just thinking about it.
Unfortunately, not all chickens are perfect for roasting. For the past several years, we’ve raised meat birds. We’ve discovered the birds we raise at home, or the birds your neighbor raises, are very different than the chickens you’ll find in the grocery store.
For the most part, the chickens from the grocery store are raised in a mass-produced chicken industry. We first discovered the issue with these chickens while watching the documentary Food, Inc.
The movie was such an eye-opener, we no longer buy from the big-name chicken growers.
You can find organic or free-range chickens in some grocery stores, especially natural grocery stores. While these are sometimes an improvement over the mass producers, it’s still best to know your farmer to find the best-quality chicken.
We raise two types of chickens. Our most popular chicken is pasture-raised chicken that look like the ones you’ll find in a grocery store, yet raised on fresh ground/pasture. These birds live in chicken tractors and are moved to fresh pasture each day based on the concept shared by Joel Salatin.
The difference in flavor of a chicken raised on pasture compared to tight quarters (where they can’t even move around) is amazing. These birds are wonderful and perfect for roasting. Many farms in the US are selling these pasture-raised birds. They tend to be somewhere from $20 to $30+ per bird. You can also order them from online sources.
The second type of chicken we raise are fully free-range. We choose a dual-purpose bird (good for laying eggs or meat) and put them in the chicken yard. They are let out each morning to frolic about as chickens do and are put back in their home at night. These chickens are completely different than their tractor-raised counterparts.
These free-range, dual-purpose chickens lack the double breasts and short legs most people are used to when they think of chicken. We’ve been conditioned through the years that bigger is better with our chickens. The article Growth, efficiency, and yield of commercial broilers from 1957, 1978 and 2005 provides a great visual of the change of the chicken.
Dual-purpose birds take us back to the days of the barnyard chicken when just about every farm raised chickens for eggs and meat. Each spring, the chickens would hatch out babies, and each fall, the farmer would begin to cull the flock. A roasted chicken wasn’t an every Sunday meal, but more of a luxury meal available only during certain seasons.
We find that our dual-purpose birds aren’t the best for roasting. They are a bird that has not been bred for the double breast and short legs combined with being free-range and getting lots of exercise. These birds tend to be much better when stewed, cooked in the crockpot, or pressure cooked. Here’s a great article on cooking these birds to keep them moist. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to this wet method of cooking as stewed going forward.
Whether you roast or stew your chicken it’s very likely you’ll have meat for more than one meal.
Let’s be honest, if you are buying a pasture-raised broiler for $20 to $30+ per bird, you may want to stretch this chicken as far as it will go.
Every time time I get a whole chicken, I try to beat my personal record on how many meals I can get out of it.
The first meal will be the roasted or stewed chicken often served with several fixing like potatoes, cooked veggies, and more. Think of your usual Sunday dinner chicken meal.
If we are really stretching our chicken, I’ll portion out the bird before taking it to the table. This was a method I often employed when we were a family of five at home. By dividing it up in the kitchen and only taking out a limited amount, you can save the rest for future meals.
I would take off one breast, both drumsticks, and one thigh. The meat is cut off the bone and served on the platter. This, along with the sides, is enough for a meal. Not an “all you can eat, unbutton your pants” meal, but very satisfying.
Divide It Up
After the meal, pull all of the meat off the bird, then divide this into three containers.
Container #1 will be the remaining breast.
Container #2 will have the big, nice pieces, chunks of breast left behind, and the other thigh (meat only) — anything that looks really good.
Container #3 will contain the smaller pieces that aren’t quite as pleasing to the eye.
The bones then go into a pot for making broth. You may use a stew pot, crockpot, or pressure cooker for broth.
If you had a roasted bird, let the bones cook for about an hour and then take them out of the water to pull off any additional meat. Roasted birds don’t usually release all of the meat when taking it off the carcass the first time. This hour in the hot water does the job and you’ll get 1/4 to 1/2 cup additional meat at the end of the hour. This meat goes in container #2 (see above). The bones then go back in the pot to continue cooking into nutrient-rich bone broth.
Not sure how to make bone broth? Here’s the method I use most often. Using this method, you’ll get three batches of stock from one carcass! Now that is really stretching a chicken.
Your one whole chicken is now four meals plus three batches of broth!
I’ll be back next week with recipes and ideas for using your reserved chicken and broth.
How to you make the most of a whole chicken? Share in the comments.
Learn how to get the most nutrition from the foods you eat! You’ll love the books from my affiliate partner, Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS.
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