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 (please use proper kitchen scissors for this). 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, an onion or two & 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. I usually strain it again through a fine sieve to remove any sediment & that’s the stock done! It can 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 it in the fridge for an hour once it’s cooled & it will be much easier to lift out (don’t mess around trying to spoon it off, you’ll just stir it back in).
That 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, or 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