Chicken Week

Making use of the whole animal is unfortunately a skill that many of us have lost over recent generations.  The prepackaged grocery store model of meat delivery—boneless, skinless, with added colorants and injected saline for plumpness—has destroyed many people’s ancestral knowledge of how to cook and eat healthy food.  The idea of throwing out the ingredients for bone broth (one of the healthiest things you can possibly eat, and the reason your grandmother’s chicken soup really DID have magical healing properties) and then reaching into the pantry for a can of high sodium, low nutrient broth from a faraway processing plant with questionable ethics is anathema to conscientious eating.

One of the great things about raising your own meat is it forces a certain creativity and resourcefulness that is lacking in mainstream food culture (although also definitely growing thanks to behavior movements like locavore, slow food, and artisanal foodie culture).  This is also true in a meat CSA: “what do I do with this?” is a common email topic around here.

Over the last few months, I’ve been surprised to hear how many people find a whole chicken daunting, but upon reflection it makes sense that many of us simply haven’t learned.  I even had one person tell me cooking a whole chicken was “wasteful,” which was shocking—they were throwing out the leftovers!  I find a whole chicken to be one of the most versatile, useful, healthful, easiest supper cheats ever, since one chicken used right can feed our little family for a week, especially since our lovely pastured Freedom Rangers tend to be 5-7 pounds.

Here is a basic schedule of what around here we call a “chicken week.”  I’m not doing a whole bunch of recipes with it, because Google, Epicurious, the Joy of Cooking, Sally Fallon, and Mark Bittman all exist, so feel free to find recipes that will make your family forget they’re eating chicken every night for a week and have at it.

Stuff and roast a large chicken; serve with a potato dish or grain, pan gravy, salad, and a vegetable.  Altogether it takes me 45 minutes to an hour to prep the chicken and make the sides, then a couple hours in the oven, so start late afternoon.  I add the preserved bounty of other seasons to the stuffing to boost nutrition and deliciousness, like cranberries, mushrooms, and nuts.  I also rub the skin of the chicken with salt and herb butter or frozen herb cubes (recipe on my blog), but there’s a million ways to roast a chicken and they’re all right.

Throughout the week, save discarded vegetable ends, especially onion, garlic, and roots, in a bag in the freezer instead of composting them.  Be sure to save any picked-over bones, discarded skin, and congealed fat from the cooking process.

Monday: White Meat
Use the larger pieces first

  • Chicken parm with pasta and salad
  • Breaded, fried, and served with baked beans, mashed potatoes, greens, and cornbread
  • Sautéed with pesto and served with a grain and salad or greens

Tuesday: White Meat, the sequel
Use the small pieces of white meat for shreddy foods

  • Stir fry—generally, 3-4 vegetables, a nut, and a fruit make you seem like a genius; serve with rice and spring rolls
  • Chicken salad sandwiches with a potato side, sauerkraut or pickles or something tangy, and a green thing

Wednesday: Dark Meat
Use the larger pieces first

  • Marinated, sautéed, and served with herb butter, dilly beans, a grain, and salad
  • Fried, as above

Thursday: Dark Meat, the sequel
Use the little bits for shreddy foods that benefit from the higher fat content

  • Chicken, black bean, and vegetable enchiladas, served with brown rice and salad
  • Pulled chicken, served with baked beans, greens, sauerkraut, and cornbread

Pick the carcass clean of all residual meat shreds

  • Chicken pot pie with salad
  • Tortilla soup with yeast rolls and salad, or quesadillas and spicy fruit salad
  • Chicken and dumpling soup with sourdough rolls and salad

Get your bone broth started.  As soon as you’ve removed all the meat you’re going to use, put the remainder of the carcass into the slow cooker.  It should be bones and cartilage at this point.  Add the bag of vegetable scraps from the freezer, and any bones, skin, or fat that was discarded throughout the week.  Add 2 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and a couple of mushroom ice cubes if you have them (recipe on my blog).  Fill slow cooker the rest of the way with water and set on high.

Saturday: Bone Broth
Late afternoon or so, strain the contents of the slow cooker and discard all solids.  Reserve enough for supper tonight and store the rest as follows

  • Fill 2 ice cubes trays and freeze.  Remove frozen broth cubes and store in a bag or jar in the freezer to use as bouillon in future recipes.
  • Pour 1 cup into quart freezer bags or pint jars, label, and freeze.  If using bags, store all bags in 1 larger gallon bag for easy access.  Use in place of regular broth, or some people drink it as a supplement.
  • Or can using a pressure canner

Bone broth is one of the healthiest foods you could possibly eat, as it is full of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and high quality fat.  This is the magic marrow in your grandmother’s chicken soup.  Read Sally Fallon’s various odes to bone broth, or just do a quickie internet search and you’ll find lots of interesting anecdotal science and folk practice around the health maintenance and healing properties of bone broth.

For tonight, use bone broth as a base for something really delicious and easy, since you’ve already cooked today and you deserve a break

  • French onion soup with salad
  • Miso soup with spring rolls

…And that’s how we honor the life of the bird, treat our food supply with respect, and afford to eat ethical meat on a shoestring budget.

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