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Free Time + Nervous Energy = Delicious Frugality

17.February 2011

**Fair warning: this is going to be a long one.**

I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like to plan, as such, but who does like to know vaguely where she’s headed.  This holds true of vacations (I don’t make an hour-to-hour itinerary, but I do like to have a list of goals or options), work (I may not have a plan, but I like a deadline), and general life plans (I don’t have a ten-year plan, but I like to know where I’ll be in a year or two).  Unfortunately, I find myself these days in a situation that makes serious forward-planning difficult.  As grad school draws to a close (slowly – at a distance), I have to start thinking about things like the job market, departments being shuttered all over the country, my doubts about a life in academia, and the possible necessity of moving to rural Arkansas (or similar) to get a job.  It’s unpleasant.

It’s also abundantly clear that I have an affinity for situations where I have control.  All of the above (professional  stuff) adds up to me not having a lot of control in the immediate future.

So, what’s a girl to do in such a situation?  This girl sublimates.  Now, we’re not talking ice turning to fog without first becoming water.  No, I mean a redirection of energy from unproductive fussing to other, more productive activities.  So, what I’ve done is found a way to wear myself out AND plan in advance in one small way.

What I did was, I got off the bus a few stops early and went to the LPFK, as it’s affectionately known in our house, and picked up some chickens.  I had it in my head to hang out by the stove for a few hours and store up some meals for us for the next few weeks.  Out of two four-pound chickens and two bone-in chicken breasts, I conjured over a gallon of delicious, rich, flavorful stock and enough meals to feed us for about six days.  All to the tune of about $25.  See?  Productive and frugal!  Recession-style sublimation!

After roasting and breaking down the birds, what I had was this:

  • 8 breasts
  • 4 wings
  • 4 legs
  • 4 thighs
  • 2 carcasses

What I made was this:

  • 1 large (10″) chicken pot pie
  • 4 mini (4″) chicken pot pies
  • curry chicken salad
  • 3 cups pre-portioned, pre cooked chicken breast for pasta

And you lucky people get to read all about how to do it!  (Provided you haven’t given up reading yet.)  And if you need any more motivation to do it, go out and grab some chicken and lemons and onions while the weather is NICE the next couple days.  Wouldn’t you rather have a couple frozen pot pies and some tasty pasta-makings in the freezer when the next blizzard hits, as it inevitably will?  Because Boston weather wouldn’t relent this early.

Chicken Marathon Cooking Day (recipes below the jump)

First, set aside about six hours to do this cooking.  It’s an excellent rainy-day or Sunday activity or, if you have a day off in the middle of the week, a fantastic change of pace from the daily grind.  Put on some good music and get in the mood.

Basic Lemon Roast Chicken

  • 2 four-pound roasting chickens, washed inside and out and patted dry
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stick (8 T) butter
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 whole lemons, ends cut off and lemons quartered
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 small red onion, skin on, cut in half
  • water as needed for the roasting pan
  1. Preheat your oven to 425.  Salt and pepper the chicken inside and out.  Push one half of the onion into the cavity of each chicken.  Push the lemon quarters into the cavity (4 quarters per chicken), saving the rind ends.
  2. Make a compound butter: mix the garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper into the butter until you have a soft, uniform mixture.
  3. Shimmy your fingers into the space between the skin on the chicken breasts (you should be able to see a gap at the bottom (leg end) of the breasts).  When the skin is loosened, you will have two pockets (one over each breast).  Use your hands to squish 1/8 of the butter mixture into each breast pocket.  You should have about half of the compound butter left over for the bone-in breasts.
  4. Now truss your chicken.  Thomas Keller has become the widely-acknowledged expert.  Check out his method here.  Make sure the lemons don’t pop out of the cavity.
  5. Put your chickens breast-down onto a rack in a large roasting pan.  Leave plenty of space between the chickens for even browning.  Pour about a half inch of water into the bottom of the pan.  Place the pan into your preheated oven and roast at 425 for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the roasting pan and turn the chickens to be breast-side up.  Turn the temperature down to 375 and roast for a further hour or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 175.  Add more water to the pan periodically as needed.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

If you’re doing both chickens and bone-in chicken breasts, roast your bone-in breasts now using the same method – just halve the roasting times and then keep an eye on them until the breasts read about 170 on an instant-read thermometer.

While your chickens are roasting, make pie crust:

Classic pie crust

  • 2 1/4 c flour
  • 2 sticks butter
  • large pinch salt
  • 2 T cold water
  1. In a food processor, pulse the flour and salt.
  2. Add butter about a tablespoon at a time, pulsing in between to incorporate into the flour.  Continue until butter is all incorporated and the mixture resembles cornmeal.
  3. Add a drizzle of water and pulse.  Repeat until the dough just starts to come together.  It should still be quite dry.
  4. Pat into a flattish disc, wrap in plastic and put in the fridge to chill.

When your chickens are cool, break them down.  (I am NOT a pro.  This may be a ghetto way to do it, but it works for me.)

  1. Remove the wings: bend the wing backward at the shoulder until you hear the joint snap and slice in between the bones with a sharp knife.
  2. Remove the legs: bend the thigh backward until you hear the joint snap and slice in between the bones with a sharp knife.  Divide the leg from the thigh by using your knife to find the joint and slicing between the  bones.
  3. Remove the breasts: slice along the breastbone (the middle of the breasts – the cleavage, if you will) and slide the knife diagonally along the ribs, loosening the meat.  Peel the breast back (from middle to sides) and remove from the carcass.  Repeat on the other side.

Divide your cuts of meat into their probable uses.  I divided them thus:

  • 2 breasts – roasted, to be cut into 1/2″ dice, topped with stock and frozen for future use
  • 4 breasts, 2 legs, 2 thighs – chicken pot pies
  • 2 breasts – chicken salad
  • wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs, carcasses – stock

When you’re done roasting all the chicken, DO NOT WASH THE PAN.  Use the pan drippings to start the gravy for your pot pie filling.  But before you do, get the stock started.

Chicken Stock

  • Chicken carcasses and dark meat
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 3 bay leaves
  • remainders of roasting lemons and onions
  • 1/2 t dried thyme
  • 1/4 t red pepper flakes
  • water to cover
  • salt and pepper
  1. Here’s a tip: if you have a pasta insert for a large stock pot, put all of the ingredients into it.  Then pop it in your largest stock pot – I use an 11 quart stock pot with the pasta insert from a 5 quart pot.
  2. Put the pasta insert into the pot and then put all of the ingredients into the pasta insert.  Fill the pot with water and heat until boiling.  Boil on high for about an hour, then lower temperature to medium-low and continue cooking.
  3. Cook the stock down for at least three hours, but preferably upwards of six hours.  Skim the surface to remove scum.
  4. When the volume has reduced by almost half and the stock looks and tastes strong enough, remove the pasta insert and set aside.
  5. Now you have a choice to make: I like my stock a little meaty.  If you like yours clear, then you’re all set.  If you want yours meaty, pick over the carcasses and met left in the pasta insert to pull out the nice bits of meat.  Throw them in with the stock.  Discard the bones and everything that is left over
  6. Put the whole thing in the fridge overnight.  On the next day, take it out of the fridge and remove the fat that has solidified on the top of the stock.
  7. Freeze in small quantities – I like to use ice cube trays (a standard one holds about 2 tablespoons per cube) and small plastic containers that hold about a cup.  Then I dump the frozen cubes of stock into freezer bags and use them as I need.  It’s a very good idea.  If you ask me.

Chicken Pot Pie

  • 1 recipe pie crust (see above)
  • 4 chicken breasts, the meat off of two legs and two thighs, all cut into small (1/2-1″ dice)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and sliced into 1/8-1/4″ slices
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, quartered
  • 8 oz. frozen peas
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/2 c milk
  • approximately 1 1/2 c chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Roll out 1/2 of the pie crust to about 1/4 inch thick and press into a 10″ pie plate.  Place in fridge to chill while you make the filling.
  2. Heat your roasting pan and pan drippings on the stovetop.  Throw in the onion, carrots, and mushrooms and stir to loosen pan drippings and soften vegetables.
  3. Throw in the chicken and stir until any excess water has evaporated.  Add flour to pan and stir until everything is evenly coated.  Stir over medium heat until flour begins to brown.
  4. Begin adding stock to thin gravy.  (You can use the stock that’s in process.)  Add stock until your gravy reaches the desired consistency.  Add milk and stir until incorporated.  Check taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Turn off heat and add frozen peas.  Stir until peas thaw.
  6. Fill the prepared pie crust until level with top of pie plate.  Roll out 2/3 of remaining pie crust until it will fit over the top of the pie plate.  Use your fingers to seal top and bottom crusts together around the perimeter of the pie plate.  Using a sharp knife, cut vents into the top crust.  Feel free to get decorative.
  7. Spoon the remaining filling into ramekins or other small oven-proof dishes as desired.  Top with excess pie dough.  Freeze on a baking sheet, then wrap in aluminum foil and place in freezer bags for a rainy day.
  8. The pot pie can be refrigerated overnight until you’re ready to eat it.  When ready to eat, preheat oven to 375.  Brush top crust with a beaten egg to encourage browning.  Bake pie for 45 minutes or until bubbly on the inside and golden on the outside.

Finally, make your chicken salad. I went with a curry one this time.

Curry Madras Chicken Salad

  • 2 Chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 T mayonnaise
  • 3/4 t madras curry powder
  • 1/4 t turmeric
  • 1/4 c golden raisins
  • 1/4 c slivered almonds
  • 1/2 t balsamic vinegar
  1. Cut the remaining cooled chicken breasts into a small dice.  Mix together with raisins and almonds.
  2. Mix mayonnaise, curry powder, turmeric, salt, and pepper together.  Add to chicken mixture and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
  3. Serve over lettuce with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

A note: you can use any of these recipes with a good grocery store rotisserie chicken in a pinch.

In case you’re interested in such things, here’s a time chart for your reference.

0:00     Preheat oven, prep chickens.

0:10     Begin baking

0:40     Turn chickens, lower heat

Make pie crust

0:50     Put pie crust in fridge

Chill

1:40     Take chickens out of oven, break down

1:45     Start stock

1:50     Roll out bottom pie crust

1:55     Make pot pie filling

2:15     Fill pot pie crust, roll out top pie crust, decorate

2:20     Assemble small “leftover” pies

2:25     Make chicken salad, dice chicken for portioning and freezing

2:45     Lower heat for stock

Chill, checking stock occasionally

6:00     Stop stock, pick over meat, refrigerate.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 17.February 2011 21:05

    LPFKed is our absolute favorite. Once you have tasted chicken that was raised and killed humanely, you realize you’ve never appreciated really delicious chicken before. We are so lucky that we live in a neighbor of amazing local food vendors that will knock your socks off. Don’t even get me started on New Deal Fish Market.

    • Darby O'Shea permalink*
      18.February 2011 10:14

      They’re great, aren’t they? I asked about the organic chicken special they advertise (only on Fridays, FYI), and ended up having a long conversation with the dude about how their “conventional” chickens are also all natural, no hormones, no gunk. Kind of awesome. And so cheap!

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