Stop with the Sterile Shrink Wrap! How to Cook–and Use–a Whole Chicken

basting the chicken
Basting a chicken partway through cooking.

I am working on an article about why we eat so much chicken in the U.S., and in doing so, thought maybe some people could benefit from knowing how to avoid buying the sterile, shrink-wrapped packages of breast meat so sadly prevalent in the modern-day grocery store and kitchen, and opt for a whole chicken instead. It’s really quite easy, I promise!  And it’s worth the little bit of extra effort.

Here’s what I do, and trust me, I am a shortcut cook so this won’t be complicated:

roasted chicken before roasting Aug 2012
Whole chicken tressed, with butter, salt, pepper and sage…ready for the oven!

I start with a whole chicken and roast it for dinner. (You want an easy-to-cook dinner? Roast a chicken!) If you need a recipe, check the Internet and you’ll find lots of choices, from simple to complex. Me? I usually tress it, rub it with butter, and sprinkle it with salt, pepper and stage. Sometimes I stuff it with onions and celery. Then cook it at 350 for as long as it needs (usually 1 1/2 to 2 hours because we usually let our chickens get really big before harvesting!).

roasted chicken
Roasted whole chicken fresh from the oven.

We eat slices of chicken meat as part of our dinner, then I pull off the rest of the meat and chop it into big pieces and put it into freezer bags, usually two or three, so there’s enough chicken meat for a dinner recipe in each bag.

Then I put the carcass and any skin and bones into a soup pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, then partially cover and simmer for 2 to 3 hours. After that cools, I pull out the carcass and usually find another cup worth of meat on it. I add that meat to the freezer bags I already put together.

I taste the chicken stock and cook it down if it needs to be more concentrated, adding salt as needed. After cooking it down, it goes into the fridge so the fat will solidify on the top. I skim off the fat. Then the chicken stock goes into small containers in the freezer.

These chicken enchiladas were made using the chicken leftover from roasting a whole chicken...a much tastier version compared to enchiladas using just breast meat.
These chicken enchiladas were made using the chicken leftover from roasting a whole chicken…a much tastier version compared to enchiladas using just breast meat.

Now I have chicken for at least two more dinners, and it’s already skinned and deboned and ready to go. It will get used for soups, pot pies, enchiladas or some kind of crockpot creation. Plus I have home-made chicken stock for cooking other dishes.

In addition to being cheaper this way, you get more flavor because you have both white and dark meat. And you’re ready to make two meals in a jiffy with your frozen, chopped up, already cooked chicken meat.

Doesn’t that sound better than the shrink-wrapped and sterile alternative??

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