If you’ve been following along with how to carve (a.k.a. chop, butcher, “take down”) a chicken so we can really stretch our dollars, you probably have some chicken parts, a sack of gizzards and a nice pile of skin packaged nicely in a container sitting in your fridge.
And there’s probably a ravenous spouse or child wondering when you’re going to cook it all up – so they can eat it.
Give them a banana and shoo them out of the kitchen because being the frugal foodies we are, we’re making as many meals as we can out of this bird!
Note: We are a family of four so some of my ideas are centered around how many mouths will be at the dinner table. You may have to chop up more than one chicken, or you may be able to stretch your chicken even further. Please use your best judgment for your own family’s appetites and budget.
So let’s take inventory of our now lovely, hacked-up chicken:
- bone-in chicken breasts, x2
- whole chicken legs, x2
- whole wings, x2
- pile of skin
The Spine. Let’s start with the obvious – we’re not going to eat it as-is. All those bones make it quite difficult to consume, and the meat isn’t exactly plentiful. Take that meaty spine and toss it in your slow cooker.
The Wings. If your family can make a meal out of two wings, write down “wings” as a possible dinner idea for next month (or week, depending on how you plan) and package them up for the freezer. If you go through whole chickens often, you can package them up for the freezer and add more when you chop up another chicken. When you have enough, then have a wing night (with homemade fries and chicken tenders… mmm). If two wings won’t even make a dent in the kiddo’s appetite, and putting them in the freezer for later is just asking for a lost package that will inevitably become freezer burned, then do what I did: throw them in the slow cooker.
The Whole Chicken Legs. There are two basic options for the leg quarters: cut off the drumsticks or leave the whole quarter intact. We left the whole quarters intact for a few reasons.
- I was tired of chopping.
- Mr. Crumbs favorite cut of chicken is a leg quarter.
- My plans were to bake these for us. Two leg quarters feeds my family perfectly.
If this chicken was intended for company, I would have cut the drumsticks off to further stretch the meat. (Since people tend to put “pieces” of meat on their plate, having more pieces means being able to feed more mouths.) If this chicken was going to be fried or grilled, I also would have cut off the drumsticks. With the same logic as “pieces” for company, grilled and fried chicken is easier to eat when it’s not in huge chunks.
The Bone-In Chicken Breasts. There are a few different ways to tackle the chicken breasts. Some prefer to roast their breasts with the bone-in – if so, you can skip this section and catch-up with us down at “the slow cooker.”
If you prefer to cook your chicken breasts in a different way (baked strips or nuggets, pan-sautéed, pounded for sandwiches, etc.), you will need to remove any ribs that may be left. First try to remove the ribs with your hands. Often times they’re small and easy to remove because they’re not attached to anything bigger. If they’re difficult to remove, use a small paring knife to gently cut them away. We do want to try to keep as much meat on the whole breast as possible, but if you lose chunks along the way at least you’re a step ahead when you want to dice up chicken for tacos. Toss any bones and tendons you stumble across into the slow cooker.
If you haven’t noticed yet, we’re not throwing anything away.
I repeat – do not throw anything away.
While fiddling with the remaining ribs, you may have noticed that the breasts have a natural “tender” attached to it. It’s almost like another piece of chicken was gently folded inside the bigger breast. That small piece is affectionately referred to as the tender in my kitchen.
If you want to stretch your meat super-duper far, cut off these tenders and set them aside.
chicken breasts, x2
chicken tenders, x2
See, these tenders are kinda like bonus meat. When dinners involving breasts are planned, those tenders aren’t usually accounted for. If I don’t cook the tender, no one notices and I suddenly have more meat in the freezer. Granted there’s not much left over at the end of the night, BUT no one goes hungry.
This tactic requires that you know your family’s eating habits. Obviously you want to make sure there’s enough food to go around, but there’s no sense in cooking it all up unless there’s a purpose. On the average night, one breast feeds Mr. Crumbs and myself. Other possible scenarios:
- Growing teenage boy who will want a second helping? Cook the tender.
- Little kids who won’t eat an entire half breast? Save the breast, cook one or both tenders.
- Having a planned night of leftovers with not much in the fridge? Cook the tenders, and/or the breast.
This chicken can be divvied up in a variety of ways, but regardless of how it’s done, an easy way to make it go further is to pound it out so that the thickness of the breast is even. One breast can make two sandwiches, 4-6 tenders, 8-10 nuggets or quite a few tacos.
When we have chicken pesto sandwiches for dinner, I cook one breast (split for two sandwiches) and two tenders for a night of sandwiches. The second breast is put in the freezer for a future meal.
The Slow Cooker. This wonderful machine will magically transform your random pieces of chicken into food we can actually eat. To your chicken, add some generic seasonings (paprika, salt and pepper are good ones to start with), put the lid on and cook for 6-8 hours. There’s no need to add liquid – any fat in the chicken will serve as moisture in the cooking process.
It’s easiest to start the chicken in the morning, turn it off at night and let it cool overnight. (Burning fingers on hot chicken is not fun, trust me.) Working one section at a time, gently remove the meat from the bones. I recommend pulling a section out onto a plate, pulling the chicken off and putting into a separate bowl, then putting the bones back into the slow-cooker. This reduces the chances of losing meat among the bones and drippings.
Leave no bone un-picked. Most people throw away the spine and the wings because “there’s not much meat.” That’s true – neither will provide much meat on their own, but combine it all together and you’ll get close to one cup of shredded chicken!
That one cup can be a few tacos, enchiladas or a small casserole. Or it can be stored in the freezer and combined with a future batch of slow cooker chicken.
Setting the shredded chicken aside, put all the bones, fat, tendons and weird chicken stuff you have back into the slow-cooker. Leave the drippings and whatever else that was leftover from the first round of slow-cooking. Now is the time to toss in the skin and gizzards. If you happen to have celery, carrots, onions and garlic on hand, throw in some of each. Add in one gallon of filtered water and once again, set the setting to cook for 6-8 hours. At the end of the day, you’ll have homemade chicken stock!
A little bit of work can truly go a long way!