Yes, YOU should learn to cook with a whole chicken!
Why you wonder? Why on earth would you want to deal with the whole thing? Its messy and large and you don’t know what to do with it? Worried it’s too much for you? Today we talk about the reasons why to buy the whole bird.
QUALITY vs QUANTITY
Well-raised chickens rarely come in packs of parts. They come whole. Like organic fruits and vegetables, there is a difference in the quality of meat available to you. You already go out of your way to buy “organic” vegetables – but do you put the same thought into your meat?
Do you have access to a farmers market, or better yet, a farmer-in-person that raises chickens in a field where they can get sun, eat bugs and scratch around in the dirt? This is the chicken you should buy. Did the chicken have a name? Even better.
Here in San Diego, there are only a few sources for “pasture-raised” chickens and they are expensive vs. their factory-produced counterparts. But the extra cost just means we eat LESS chicken (same for other meats) and more vegetables. Buying higher-quality meats may mean you have to eat less of them to off-set the cost. This is ok though. Embrace this new way of eating, its good for you. Americans eat way too much meat anyway. Start to think of meat as a condiment instead of the main item to fill up on when eating.
If you already know how to cook whole chickens then this post may be a little remedial for you. If however, you are like many city-dwellers and you have only ever bought packs of specific bird-parts, maybe, then you may have no idea what to do with the rest of the animal.
Your challenge this week is to buy a whole bird, they highest quality one you can find, then learn how to use it all. Think of it this way: if you went to the trouble to raise, house, feed and slaughter a chicken to feed yourself you would not be tossing half of it in the trash so carelessly, so let’s get creative!
I know everyone is super busy, so I don’t expect you to go crazy with creating a new recipe for each bit of the chicken. Instead, lets learn how to use all the parts… at once. Yes, today’s recipe is on Roasting & making chicken stock with the whole bird.
WHOLE ROASTED LEMON-THYME CHICKEN
4-5lb whole chicken. Remove from fridge about 1 hour before cooking.
1 whole onion. Slice into thick disks, keep skin on
1 organic lemon. Sliced into disks
1T fresh thyme leaves, stems removed
3T Olive Oil
1/2T Fresh Ground Pepper
1 cup water
Pre-heat over to 400 degrees F. Get yourself a big, heavy pot with a lid. I use a Le Crueset dutch oven. Line the bottom of the pot with the thick onion slices. Keep skin on the onion.
Gently shove some lemon slices between the beast meat and the skin taking care not to rip the skin. Put remaining lemon slices in the bird’s cavity. Set the whole chicken (innards removed*) on top of the onion slices breast-side down.
Mix oil, salt, pepper & thyme leaves in a small bowl. Brush oil mixture over entire bird. Add water to bottom of pot. Put lid on pot leaving a tiny crack for steam to escape – be sure to remove lid half way though cooking.
Roast for approximately an hour an a half (23 min per lb) or until bird is 165 degrees in the thick of the breast meat. (personally I pull it out at about 160 degrees, but “officially” it should be 165 to be safe). The leg should pull easily from the socket when done.
Reserve all cooking liquid in pot!!! Discard all lemon slices.
Let chicken rest for 10 minutes before cutting.
This is NOT a bird cooked for that picture-perfect golden brown skin. We are eating healthy here so perfect skin is not as important. But by cooking the bird breast-down it will dry out less and have more flavor. Taking the lid off the pot half-way through will encourage crispy skin regardless for those that must have it.
*bonus points if you figure out what to do with the innards too.
I generally use the roasted chicken for dinner that night. I typically roast other vegetables in the oven at the same time to accompany it. I skip the gravy though.
After dinner the fun begins…. now you get to pull out a storage container and pull off all the bits of meat left on the bird. With two people in my house I’m usually left with at least 2-4 more servings of chicken. Use the chicken for salads or whatever you want.
EASY HOME MADE CHICKEN STOCK
Next return all the skin & bones to the cooking pot with the remaining cooking liquid. I usually refrigerate the whole pot at this point and continue the next morning.
Add to your pot:
1 more onion, chopped
3 large carrots chopped (do not peel)
3 large ribs celery + leaves, chopped
1T Whole Peppercorns
Add above ingredients to your pot. Fill the rest of the pot to about 1-inch from the top with filtered water. Set on the stove-top uncovered and turn heat to med-low. You want it to just be almost boiling, but barely. Definitely no hard, rolling bubbles. The harder it boils, the more fat emulsifies into the stock. I usually let the pot cook away for a good 6 hours or so. Add a little water if it evaporates too much (which also means your heat may be too high).
Turn heat off and let stock sit for at least 30 minutes or so to cool. Strain stock into another large pot to collect liquid and remove solids. If you have a fine-mesh strainer I would run it though that a 2nd time to remove smaller particles.
Divide stock into smaller 4-6 cup containers and freeze. You now have home-made chicken stock to use with your favorite recipes. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Skim off extra fat to taste and season to suit your recipe.