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! You will need the following equipment for this stage, so get those aprons on & here we go!
What you need:
1 sharp boning knife
1 pair of good strong kitchen scissors
A chopping board (only use for cutting raw meat on)
A tea towel or cloth
What to do:
Firstly, wash your hands thoroughly & dry them (wet hands & sharp knives don’t mix!).
Find a space in the kitchen to work, with enough “elbow room” so you can move about comfortably. This sounds obvious, but halfway through prepping your chicken you don’t want to have to shift everything because you keep banging your head on a cupboard.
Place the cloth/tea-towel on the worktop & then put the board flat on top. This will stop it sliding around when you’re preparing your chicken.
Remove the chicken from it’s packaging, cut off the string & place the bird on the board. If you’ve got a plastic tray in your chicken wrapping, wash in hot soapy water & put it in the recycling bin.
Hold the chicken in both hands, breast side up, with it’s legs in the palms of your hands & firmly push them outwards, away from the breast – you will feel them pop out easily.
Carefully slide the boning knife between the socket & joint, then cut all the way through to the other side, removing the legs from the body – I use scissors to cut the skin between them & the body because it’s easier, especially with a larger chicken (please use proper kitchen scissors for this).
Once that’s done, 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, slide the knife as closely to the bone as you can & using firm strokes, cut the meat away from the breastbone & rib cage (these are quite bendy towards the tips, so watch your fingers). Take your time, there’s no rush & go at your own pace. Once done on both sides, the bones should be pretty much clean & all that’s left is a thin membrane with the ribs intact (check each piece of meat to ensure no bones escaped).
Place the legs & breast meat on a plate, then put the carcass in a roasting tin. Sometimes, I like to do this in the morning & save time at night, so I will put the portions in double freezer bags & stash in the bottom of the fridge until dinner time (raw meat should always be kept on the bottom shelf).
A few minutes of filleting done & you have a plate of prepped chicken portions, plus a carcass to make a fuss-free stock! Homemade chicken stock is simply beautiful & a staple base ingredient for soups, risotto, gravy, sauces & all kinds of lovely meals, so it’s always handy to have in the freezer. Making stock is really easy & this is my simple way to do it – I make mine in the oven, not on the stove (because who has the time). Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!
What you need:
2-3 sticks of Celery & a couple of the inner leafy stems
2-3 large Carrots
1 medium Onion & 1 small
2-3 sprigs fresh Rosemary
Handful of fresh Thyme
8-12 leaves fresh Sage
Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper
2-3 pints cold Water (depending on the size of your chicken/tin)
What to do:
Firstly, put the chicken carcass into the centre of a deep roasting tin. This needs to be bout 4 inches deep, as you’re going to put liquid in & want it to be contained well.
Next, prepare your vegetables. Wash the celery & carrots (you don’t want any bits of dirt, grit or bugs in there).
Peel any dirty outer leaves from the onion & cut the larger onion into quarters, placing in each corner of the tin around the carcass.
Chop the celery & carrots into quarters, then chuck them around the edges of the tin too. Cut one of the pieces of carrot into slender sticks & save these for the next stage.
Peel back the skin from the chicken & cram with a handful of the fresh herbs, along with some leafy stems of celery, the smaller onion (cut in half first) & the carrot sticks you saved, pulling the skin back over the top of the chicken to hold it all in.
Drizzle the carcass with a good glug of olive oil, add a sprinkling of sea salt & few grinds of black pepper, then carefully pour the cold water around the tin (leave at least an inch between the top of the water to the top of the tin).
Once that’s done, just chuck it in the oven for a couple of hours & when ready, sit the tin on a wire rack for a few minutes to cool slightly.
Get yourself a large metal colander & place over a deep pan that covers all the little holes (I use my pasta pan for this) & tip in the carcass, veg & stock to strain through. I usually strain it again through a fine sieve to remove any sediment & that’s the stock done! It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days or you can freeze it.
To remove the layer of fat that will rise to the top of the stock, simply pop your pot of stock in the fridge for an hour. Once it’s cooled, it will become a flat fat block & much easier to lift out with a slotted spoon or spatula (don’t mess around trying to spoon it off while it’s still liquid, or you’ll just stir it back in & get frustrated).
That fabulously fragrant, golden stock will make a generous risotto for four people, or two portions of risotto & at least another four generous portions of beautiful arancini balls the day after (arancini literally translates as “little oranges”). The legs make a perfect Pollo alla Cacciatore for two people (I’ve included links for my recipes at the end), or they can simply be roasted in the oven with some wedges of lemon, a drizzle of honey & some sprigs of fresh herbs.
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! Stay hungry 😉 A x
PS: here are the recipe links for Cacciatore & Risotto (including Arancini):