A Bird in the Hand is Worth Ten in a Dish

If I had to count how many single portion meals I can get from one fresh chicken, I would have to say at least ten – yes, you read that correctly: ten!  That’s ten individual meals from one regular sized chicken.  I’m not Merlin the Magician, I’m just a mere mortal woman who insists on getting value for money & doesn’t like waste.

We’ve all done it – shopping tired, hungry, after work or at the last minute, so you buy pre-prepared chicken portions to cook for dinner. Not only is it ridiculously more expensive (think of the wine you could buy!), but learning to do it yourself is a great skill to have & it’s very satisfying knowing that you’ve got meals in the freezer for when you can’t be bothered to cook.

This is how I bone & fillet a chicken – I’m self-taught, it’s just me in the kitchen at home & this is the way I do it.  If you’re squeamish, please skip the next couple of paragraphs (I understand).

Before I begin, I usually give my husband a beer & hustle him off into the lounge (because he doesn’t like to watch, bless him).  Then I get to work!

Firstly, I pop the legs out of their sockets, then slide my boning knife between the socket & joint, removing the legs from the body – I use scissors to cut the skin between them & the body, because it’s easier.  Once that’s done, I carefully peel the skin back from the chicken crown (leaving it attached to the carcass) & feel where the breastbone is – this runs across the top of the chicken.  Carefully, I slide the knife as closely to the bone as I can, using firm strokes to cut the meat away from the breastbone & rib cage.    Once done on both sides, the bones should be pretty much clean & all that’s left is a thin membrane with the ribs intact.  A few minutes later, I have a plate of prepped chicken portions & a carcass to make a fuss-free stock.

Making stock is really easy – I make mine in the oven, not on the stove (because who has the time).  I stuff the carcass with a handful of fresh herbs (usually a couple of sprigs of Rosemary, half a dozen Sage leaves & a bunch of Thyme), along with some leafy stems of celery & a couple of carrot sticks, pulling the skin back over the top of the chicken to hold it all in.  Then it’s chucked in a roasting tray with some chopped, chunky veg & two or three of pints of cold water, a drizzle of olive oil & a good sprinkling of sea salt & black pepper.  I’ll whack it in the oven for a couple of hours with foil on top & once ready, it will cool on a wire rack before everything is tipped into a colander over a large pan to drain.  That’s the stock done!  It can keep in the fridge for a couple of days or you can freeze it.

That fragrant, golden stock will make a generous risotto for four people (or a risotto for two & risotto balls for more than two people the day after).  The legs make a great pollo alla cacciatore for two or can simply be roasted in the oven with some lemon & Thyme.  Then there are the very versatile chicken breasts – these are almost double the size of the ones you get in those pre-prepared packs!  Usually, I can make four kievs per chicken (coating them in homemade breadcrumbs of course), or use each breast to make a meal for two people – pie, curry, sweet & sour, whatever I like!  Plus, if someone is feeling a bit under the weather, I make a couple of bowlfuls of homemade soup using the vegetables that roasted with the carcass & a little diluted stock (which is why I always wash the veg before roasting).  It’s a great “pick me up”, especially when you have a few slices of warm, buttered bread to dunk in it too.

Let’s not forget the meat on the underside of the carcass & the wings – I strip this tender, lean chicken for our beautiful cat, who does a great Dyson impression & vacuums it from her plate!

If I can make more than ten meals from one chicken, anyone can – all it takes is a bit of practise & imagination, all for the princely sum of one lovely, whole chicken.   Where else can you get ten decent sized servings for about a fiver?

So show the chicken some respect: use the whole bird, fill your family & save yourself some money too.  A x

 

Risotto Reprise

Monday nights are for making rich, rib-sticking risotto, using up the
lovely fresh chicken stock I made on a Sunday from the roast chicken & whipping up a lazy dinner.   Most people think risotto is fiddly, difficult & a bit boring (it depends what you put into it, as with most things in life!).

For me, risotto is a versatile & comforting food – once you master the basic recipe, you can add a variety of flavoursome ingredients & toppings. Mine is just chopped celery, smoked pancetta pieces (streaky bacon works really well), chopped spring onions, fried in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  Then I add a couple of heaped handfuls of Arborio rice (you can use Carnaroli if you like), coating the grains well in the oil, then add a good glug of dry white wine (always use the wine you would drink & absolutely never anything marked “cooking wine”!) & a ladle of  hot, fresh chicken stock from a pan warming on the stove.  Give it a good stir & once the fragrant liquid has been absorbed by the rice, add another ladleful & repeat.  It takes about 20 minutes to cook – just give it a taste & the rice should be al dente (yes, like pasta).  Then turn off the heat, add a generous grating of Parmesan or Grana Padana cheese (I like to mix the two, because I’m a bit of a rebel when it comes to cheese), a couple of small chunks of butter dotted around the pan & cover.  Give it five minutes to rest, then slowly stir in the puddles of butter & melted cheese, spoon onto a plate & eat!  That’s it – no fuss, just a bit of chopping & stirring.

Due to my lack of portion control, there are always plenty of leftovers & that’s great for lunches, but
there are other options!  Like scooping little heaps of cold risotto into balls, rolling them around in a little flour, egg & some breadcrumbs. After that, gently shallow frying them until crispy & golden (actually, very shallow because it’s easier & you don’t need that much oil, just keep moving them about).  Put them on kitchen paper to dry the excess oil & then perch them on some watercress salad.  Give them a little drizzle of beautiful, dark balsamic vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice & a dusting of black pepper.  My homemade tomato sauce goes very well with these – the richness of the risotto is cut by the sweet, but tart tomato.

So stop throwing away that chicken carcass – make yourself some stock & rustle up a risotto!   A x

 

 

My Easy Roast Chicken

One of my favourite Sunday dinners is roast chicken, slowly cooked in the oven, filling the house with that unmistakable perfume & filling everyone with anticipation of eating it later!  The one thing you can’t do is rush this – it is meant to be cooked leisurely, without any fuss or faffing about.  You don’t need to baste it, you don’t need to do anything other than stick it in the oven & forget about it for a couple of hours or so.  The best thing is you make fresh stock at the same time, without any stock cubes or boiling any bones or carcass in a pan, which you would have to watch & keep checking.  Plus it’s great for using up any veg you have forgotten about in the bottom of your fridge (we all do it & I really hate throwing anything away, so now you don’t have to).

Once you learn how to do this, your Sundays will be so easy that all you need to do is relax & enjoy your day.

One thing I will recommend is that you invest in some decent roasting tins – forget the non-stick ones (I learned the hard way that no matter how expensive they are or fabulous the guarantee is, that stuff eventually comes off on your food & spoils it).  Save yourself some hassle & invest in some plain stainless steel ones.

You will need:

1 fresh chicken, without giblets (approx size 1.2kg – 1.5kg)
2-3 medium/large carrots
2-3 sticks of celery & a couple of the inner ones with leaves on top
1 large onion or 2 smaller/medium onions (I prefer red ones)
Fresh herbs – my favourites are a good handful of Thyme, a couple of sprigs of Rosemary & a few Sage leaves
Sea salt & black pepper
A good glug of olive oil

What you do:

Heat the oven to 200*C.  Clean & chop the carrots & celery into 3 inch long pieces, cutting the carrots in half again lengthwise, then arrange them around the chicken.  Cut the onion into half (leave the skin on), or quarters if it’s a large one, putting the pieces in the corners of the tin.

Take the chicken out of it’s packet, cut off the elastic & pop the legs out of their sockets before putting it in the roasting tin in the middle of the veg.  Yes, I know it sounds a bit odd, but by doing this to the legs you allow the chicken to cook evenly & thoroughly.  To do this, hold the chicken in both hands with it’s legs in the palms of your hands & firmly push them back – you will feel them pop out easily.

Then you need to fill the cavity of the chicken – again, this helps the chicken cook evenly & it also flavours it nicely too.  Put together the inner celery sticks with the leaves on, a couple of carrot sticks, a good handful of the thyme, the sprigs of rosemary & about 3-4 of the larger sage leaves.  Put them inside the chicken cavity & then wash your hands well.

Pour about two & a half pints of cold water around the edge of the chicken – be careful not to splash yourself, then drizzle some olive oil over the chicken & it’s legs, sprinkle a good teaspoonful of ground sea salt & black pepper over the top.   Rip up the rest of the sage leaves, along with any bits of thyme & rosemary that fell off, then sprinkle them around the chicken in the water.

The last part is to make a foil dome to go over the top – as the moisture heats up, the steam hits the top of the foil & drips onto the chicken – this is what does the basting for you, so you don’t have to!   I usually lay a couple of equal sized foil strips on top of each other, with the dull sides on the inside (the side that goes next to the chicken), then fold the top over about a centimetre all the way along.  Do this a couple of times, then mash them together well to make sure they don’t come undone in the oven.  Put over the tin, making sure it forms a dome over the top & doesn’t touch the chicken, then press firmly around the edges of the tin so that none of that lovely stock can escape.

Put it in the lower part of the oven & leave it there for at least two & a half hours – you don’t need to be too precise here, but if it’s a larger chicken than the size I have mentioned, I just add another half hour on.

Once it’s cooked, take the chicken out of the oven to check it’s cooked.  Take a metal skewer or a small sharp knife, poke it into the thicker part of the chicken & if the juices run clear, then it’s cooked.  If you want the skin to be a bit more crispy, take the foil off & give it another five minutes in the oven.

Take the tin out of the oven & stand on a cooling rack (tip: if you have a grill tray with a wire rack in it, just use that).  Make sure that the foil is sealed around the tin to keep the juices/heat in & let it rest for at least half an hour.  By resting the chicken, the meat relaxes nicely & it also gives you plenty of time to cook your side dishes.   Usually, I turn up the oven & pop some potatoes in to roast while I prepare some vegetables to steam (or just chuck a salad in a bowl).

Once your sides are all done, the chicken will be ready for serving.  The meat will come off the bones very easily, so you don’t really need to carve it.

So, what to do with all that lovely stock?  Leave it until after dinner, so it’s cooled a bit (stealing some to make gravy first though).  Get a big saucepan, put a colander in the top (get yourself a metal one preferably) & carefully tip the contents of the tin into the colander slowly.  The stock will drain into the saucepan below & you can use it for making gravy, soups or risotto (my favourite use!).  It freezes well too & not a salty stock cube in sight!

Here’s a couple of pics to inspire you – “before” & “after”.

I hope your family enjoy it as much as mine do!

A x