This week’s recipe may be considered a bonus recipe because when you cook a whole chicken, it sort of ends up being the gift that keeps on giving!
What are Free Range Chickens?
Free Range Chicken’s are just that- they are chickens that are allowed to freely roam the farm and forage for the things chickens like to forage for (we won’t go into that). By doing so, the chickens are able to develop more muscle (which is what we eat) and this results in much firmer and tastier meat.
You can find free range chicken in some grocery stores but you may have to hunt a little to find them. You can also find them at farmers markets or possibly a food co-op in your area. I’m lucky to live in an area where my chickens (and eggs) come from a farmer about 10 miles from my house.
Free range chickens are more expensive than regular chickens but I promise you it is so worth the difference. If you try it just one time you will understand what I mean and never go back to regular chicken!
Whole Chicken vs. Cut Up Chicken
If you have the option to buy your chicken already cut up, I recommend that because it will make it much easier on you. I’m not big on cutting through bones but if you aren’t worried about it then this won’t be a problem for you. If you want to cut up the chicken on your own, here are detailed instructions on how to cut a chicken.
Whether you cut your chicken yourself or it’s pre-cut for you, you will end up with the following pieces:
- 2 breasts
- 2 thighs
- 2 legs
- 2 drumsticks
If you bought your chicken pre-cut, you may have the neck and back of the chicken included. Don’t throw those away, we will use them in step 3. Sometimes my chicken has come with the liver and gizzards which I do discard. Some people like to eat this so if you do, go ahead and save it but we won’t be using those parts in this recipe.
Step 1 – Baking Your Chicken
What you will need:
- 3-5 lb free range chicken cut up into 8 pieces
- Salt (I used seasoning salt)
- Olive oil (or oil of your choice)
- Fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme or other herbs of your choice
- Garlic salt (optional)
Baking your chicken in the oven will result in the best tasting chicken you’ve ever had in your life! While I love my crockpot, I don’t recommend cooking your chicken in the crockpot because it just doesn’t end up the same. The oven gives the skin a nice crunchy crust and it cooks faster in the oven! These directions are based on a 3-4 lb. bird. If you have a larger bird, you will need to cook longer (until the juices are no longer pink).
- Using a roasting pan (or pyrex pan if you don’t have a roasting pan) preheat the oven to 400 degrees. coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil or any type of oil you have on hand (I use grapeseed oil).
- Begin to rinse each piece of chicken and dry off with a paper towel. As you dry the pieces, begin to arrange them in the pan with the breasts in the middle and the smaller pieces on the outside. Make sure to keep the skin in tact as it will help the juices stay in.
- Once the pieces are arranged, brush (or use your hands) the oil over the top of each piece of chicken. This will help the skin become nice and crispy.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper over all the pieces. Feel free to add garlic salt or other spices of your choice. I sprinkled thyme over the chicken I made and also stuck dried rosemary sticks around the pan and under the skin of the breasts.
- If you have potatoes, stick them around the edges of the chicken to bake with it. The juices from the chicken will mix in with the potatoes and have a wonderful flavor.
- Bake the chicken at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 350 degrees and cook another 30 minutes until juice is no longer pink and the meat is no longer pink.
This should smell so good while it’s cooking you may not be able to stand it. The skin of the chicken should form a nice crispy layer over the top. If it’s not crispy enough for you, you can put it under the broiler for a minute or two. (Step 1 will get your first meal out of your chicken – 21 more meals to go).
Step 2 – Remove the Meat From the Chicken
Once you’ve finished your first meal from the baked chicken, it’s time to start removing the leftover meat from the bones. I usually just set a bowl next to me and start pulling off the shredded meat and adding it to the bowl.
Don’t discard the bones! We are going to use that in step 3.
Step 3 – Making Homemade Chicken Stock
Once we’ve had our first meal and removed the meat from the bones, it’s time to put those bones to good use making chicken stock. You will definitely want to use your crock pot for this if its available.
What you will need:
- Leftover bones from step 2 (I just throw the bones in the crockpot as I’ve picked the meat off)
- Chicken back that may have come with your chicken you didn’t cook
- Cold Water
- Seasonings of your choice (herbs, salt, pepper, garlic etc)
- 2 tbsp vinegar
Throw everything in the crockpot and cover it with cold water. Let the mixture sit for at least an hour. The cold water and the vinegar let the flavor and nutrients be extracted from the bones. After an hour, put the crockpot on low and cook for 10-12 hours. Some people cook their stock 18-24 hours but I’ve found 10 hours to be plenty.
Using a strainer, divide the stock and the leftover bones/vegetables. Divide the stock up in 2 cup 1/4 c increments (approximate size of 1 can of chicken stock) and freeze. If you plan to use the stock in the next 2-3 days, it will be ok in the refrigerator.
Step 4 – Pick the Bones
If you are a bit squemish about picking through bones you can skip this step but if you can get past it, it can pay off. Trust me, I have better things to do then stand around and pick through chicken bones (& I know you do to!) but this extra step in the process yielded an extra 2 cups of chicken pieces for me!
One Chicken – Many Results
Ok let’s break down what I got out of 1 free range chicken. The cost of this chicken was approximately $11 w/ tax. From it I got:
- 1 meal when the chicken was cooked
- 5 cups of shredded cooked chicken
- 13 cups of chicken broth
From the 5 cups of shredded chicken, I will add 1 cup to various meals I’m making. Most of these meals will include adding beans and rice in some form to make the meal go farther. Here are some example recipes:
- Chicken Chili (approximately 6 servings)
- Mom’s Overnight Casserole (approximately 6 servings)
- Chicken Enchiladas (approximately 3 servings)
- Shredded Chicken Nachos – Sprinkle the shredded chicken with a little bit of chili powder and mix well. Pile the chicken on your favorite chips and add black beans. Add cheese and bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted. Once it’s out of the oven, top with lettuce, tomato and onions. ( approximately 3 servings)
- Chicken & Rice – Mix 1 cup of chicken with your favorite rice dish (approximately 3 servings)
From those 5 example recipes that include the 5 cups of chicken, I’m going to get about 21 servings (assuming 1 cup of chicken in each recipe). Add back in the original serving when I baked the chicken and that comes to 22 servings of chicken. It takes our original $11 bird and brings in down to about $.50 a serving.
I’m not even including the stock in that. If you’ve looked at the price of organic chicken stock these days, it’s not cheap. I got 13 cups of broth out of my chicken and considering each can of broth is about 2 1/4 cups of broth, I got the average of 6 cans of organic broth. In my area, a can of organic chicken broth is around $1.50 so by making my own broth, I saved around $9.
Not to bad for an $11 bird eh?
Notes on Cooking a Chicken
- This can seem like a lot of work and overwhelming if your reading this for the first time. The trick is to plan it so it doesn’t feel like you are doing a lot of work.
- I generally begin to thaw the bird in the refrigerator on Wednesday when I plan to cook the chicken on Saturday.
- On Saturday, I will bake the chicken and have meal 1 with it.
- While meal 1 is baking, I will start to prep the stock by throwing in all the vegetables, chicken back and seasonings in the crockpot. I move that to the refrigerator.
- Once the baked chicken is done & cooled, I take the crockpot out of the refrigerator and set it beside the pan I’m using to remove the meat from the bones. One bowl is for the easy to tear off meat, the bones go in the crockpot to make the stock.
- I try to start the stock at a time that I can guage when it will be done. I usually let me stock go 10-12 hours so I need to time it so it’s not done at midnight which means I’ll be dead tired trying to pick meat off bones. Not fun!
- Make sure the broth is cooled down completely before you refrigerate it. I’ve let it sit out all night to cool w/ no problems (mainly because like I said the broth was done at midnight and I was too tired to mess with it). Some people will not do that so just make sure to plan accordingly.
- The Nourishing Gourmet has a post on reusing chicken bones to continue to make broth. I’ve never done this but will probably give it a try the next time I do it.
- I save jars (spaghetti sauce, salsa etc) to use to freeze items like the chicken stock. Yes you can freeze things in glass jars, just make sure you leave a 1 inch space at the top for expansion. If you don’t have jars, you can use freezer bags.
- If your stock cools and has the consistency of jell-o, don’t freak out!!! According to Home Ec 101 – this is high quality stock. This jell-o like stock is from the gelatin in the chicken. “Gelatin is a protein found in the connective tissue and cartilage of animals. Sure it’s kind of scary looking, but your soups and sauces will have a richer flavor and feel to them, and rank a little higher on the nutrition scale.”
Buying a whole chicken and using all the parts can result in an extremely frugal meal. If you try this, please leave a comment and let me know how it turned out for you. Enjoy!
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