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    Real Menu: Eternal Chickens

    December 5, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    Every blogger eventually has to publish their personal version of Stretchy Chicken. It’s a rite of passage. Roast chickens are great in the winter. Slow-roasting in the oven adds some warmth to a chilly house, and it’s nice to wake up to simmering broth on the stove top. Also, this is a great way to pinch pennies in order to grow a Christmas budget at the last minute. If you do a stretchy chicken the right way, it can cut a grocery budget pretty easily…unless you eat this way all the time…in which event I cannot help you, but you could probably help me…

    Here is basically how I stretched a double-fryer chicken pack from Sunday evening to Friday evening, including sending a meal to another family:

    Sunday
    For dinner, I served a basic roasted chicken, and reserved the necks and giblets in a bag in the freezer for later use. We ate Thanksgiving leftovers for side dishes. This included dinner rolls. After dinner, Si cut one cup of chicken off and put it in the fridge and another cup and a half off and put it in the freezer.

    Monday
    For lunch, Si took the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers, since there was only enough for one person. For dinner, we ate roast chicken, more of the leftover rolls, and salad. This was essentially the end of the first chicken, save just enough meat for Si’s lunch and the carcass, which I placed in a gallon-sized freezer bag and tossed in the freezer for later use.

    Tuesday
    For lunch, Si took the last of the meat from the first chicken, plus a few sides I put together, and my mom was kind enough to bring us lunch. Tuesday was also what I call Bean Day. This is where I boil four cups of some sort of bean {usually pinto, black, or kidney} totally plain. I use these beans in place of canned beans because they are cheaper and don’t contain preservatives, plus I can soak them to make them easier on tummies and more nutritious. I freeze the beans in pint-sized mason jars and defrost them as needed.

    Anyhow, Tuesday was black beans. I froze about a quart total because I used most of them right away to make homemade refried beans, a big skillet full of them. {Refried beans are easy*: incorporate fat into the beans using a potato masher–I used Spectrum Shortening. Then season using some combination of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, chili powder, cumin, salt and ground red pepper…I am heaviest on garlic, salt, cumin and chili powder here at the microhomestead.} Once the refried beans were done, I finely chopped the cup of chicken Si had reserved on Sunday and threw it in, stirring until it was heated up. I used this, along with a slice of real Monterey Jack cheese to stuff burritos that I then fried in olive oil. Frying burritos keeps them from falling apart when little hands are learning to hold them. Plus we like them like that.

    Wednesday
    For lunch, there were enough burritos left for the children and I. Si ate leftovers from the lunch that my mom had brought us. One child only ate half of a burrito, so I saved this for Si’s lunch on Thursday.

    For dinner, I boiled rice, using a bit of real fermented soy sauce to give it some kick. I also reheated the second chicken, which had hardly been touched yet, and Si was kind enough to wash some spinach and cut some more Monterey Jack while I was nursing Baby O. Si dished up dinner, and he made it look like a big warm salad. It was really good. Rice with shredded chicken, chopped spinach leaves, and little cubes of cheese. We topped it with some of my homemade balsamic vineagrette.

    At this point, I was able to get to the carcass of the second chicken. I removed all of the remaining meat and put it in the fridge. I removed the carcass of the first chicken from the freezer, plus another chicken carcass that I’d been saving for a couple weeks. In my huge five-gallon stock pot, I put all three carcasses, any chicken necks I had saved, three and a half gallons of water, a quarter-cup of vinegar, and tons of onions, celery, and three carrots {I ran out of carrots}. This is what it takes to make a basic, no-nonsense chicken bone broth, which is better than electrolyte solutions if you ever have the flu. This was brought to a boil, and then, with the heat reduced, left to simmer overnight.

    Thursday
    Sometime during the morning, I removed the broth pot from heat and let it sit to cool. For lunch, I heated up the rice and chicken leftover from the night before, and basically served something identical to what we had eaten for dinner Wednesday night.

    Separating the broth from everything else can be a big process, but I find it so efficient to make as much broth as possible when I make it. It uses the same amount of gas to simmer overnight whether I make one gallon or four. Throughout the day, I spent time pouring gallons of broth through a strainer. The now-floppy bones and mushy veggies were tossed out. Making broth this way saves me so much money. I always insist on buying organic broth when we purchase it, not because I have to have everything organic, but because most regular broths contain so many preservatives, not to mention MSG. But let’s just do a calculation for this particular dinner: I used 1.5 gallons of broth for a soup this night. With each quart averaging $2.15, and yet the broth costing me about $1.00 in vegetables and gas total to make with bones I already had, I essentially saved $12 in broth.

    Anyhow…

    Thursday’s dinner was something I had to use the Monster Stock Pot for because I was also making enough soup to send to friends who just had a baby. I made the Chicken and Brown Rice Soup from Nourishing Traditions. I used the 1.5 cups of chicken Si froze on Sunday, plus all the giblets I had reserved. Many cultures consider giblets to be a priceless meat and save them for pregnant and nursing women to eat because of their extra nutritional needs.

    The amount of soup I made was an exact tripling of the recipe. This made enough for us to eat for dinner {along with some homemade buttermilk biscuits}. It also made enough to fill three quart-sized Mason jars to send to friends {Si is dropping it off today}. And this also was enough to send some with Si for lunch and retain a big potfull for lunch today. And after lunch there will still be a bit left, though not enough for the whole family.

    Stretching chicken is a great way to save money, but that is only true if you make the broth with the bones. Otherwise, using boneless chicken would be a better deal. However, I make so many soups in the winter, that there is really nothing better.

    Oh! I forgot to mention that I still have over a gallon of broth in my fridge that will be going into the freezer this morning and saved to use for a soup I’m making next week. These two chickens really are eternal…

    Kimbrah tutored me in this method.

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    4 Comments

  • Reply Kimbrah January 15, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Just wanted to let you know that I finally got over here and my pot of stock is happily simmering on the stove. 🙂

    I hope all is well with you guys. I haven’t had a chance to catch up on my email or Reader in days.

    Thanks again for this recipe. I’m so excited!

  • Reply Jeana December 5, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Thanks!

  • Reply Brandy December 5, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    Yes! I always leave room. One time I didn’t and the jar cracked badly. But we were still able to rescue the contents before tossing the jar! 🙂

    Anyhow, with beans, I am usually trying to freeze amounts that are similar to what you’d find in a standard-sized can because I use them in recipes that call for those measurements. That means I leave about 1.5-2 inches from the rim. However, I always leave an inch, no matter what they’re for. If you canned the beans without the liquid, I’m thinking you might be able to get away with 1/2 an inch.

    The biggest downfall of freezing in jars is that they don’t seal as well as ziploc, so if I was going to freeze something for a long period of time, I wouldn’t use the jars. However, we use beans all the time, so a jar isn’t usually in the freezer longer than three weeks or so.

  • Reply Jeana December 5, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    I hear other people talk about freezing in mason jars, but I’ve always used ziploc bags. Do you have to leave room at the time for expansion? And if so, how much?

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