Tuesday, July 14, 2009

1 chicken = 4 meals - part one

For centuries, rural cooks have recognized the utility, versatility, and caloric value of eating the whole chicken. While it may seem convenient to buy packaged chicken parts (thighs, breasts, etc.) individually, purchasing a whole chicken is far more economical, and can save you valuable time by serving as the basis for several meals. The economics are quite simple: boneless, free range chicken breasts can run $7-$8 per pound at a co-op or grocery store, but a whole chicken may cost as little as $3 per pound from the same producer, and farmers' market vendors in your area may be selling chickens for even less. If you pay $12 for a 4 pound chicken, you get breasts, legs/thighs, wings, and a carcass for making stock (for only $4 more than just buying the breasts). As an added benefit, whole chickens are "handled" less by the processor, which likely means a lower risk of contamination, and you know all of the parts are from the same healthy-looking bird.

Separating a chicken at home is quite easy, and after you do it a few times it will be second nature. Many food writers have written about how to squeeze several meals out of one chicken, but given the number of tight pocketbooks out there, it seems appropriate to provide another variation on the theme. Here we go.

Meal #1: whole grilled chicken
July in Minnesota is hot, so in the summer I recommend grilling your whole chicken to capitalize on warm sunshine, and keep the heat out of your kitchen. My favorite grilled chicken recipe is "alla diavola," a simple Italian version with lots of garlic and red pepper flakes. I posted this recipe back in June of 2007, but I've pasted it below because I love it that much. Make it! During cooler seasons, meal #1 could be a simple roast chicken, or even a rotisserie chicken purchased from a quality take out place. The recipe below serves 4 people, but will leave little chicken leftover for meal #2. If you have a larger grill, it is possible to prepare 2 chickens, so that is a possibility if you have company or a larger family, and still want leftovers. After eating your grilled chicken, reserve the carcass and any remaining pieces to use in meal #2, which I'll write about in the next post.

*Note: this is an easy recipe to make, but since you have to brine the chicken, I recommend making it for an early weekend dinner. You could skip the brine with good results, but the brine adds another level of juiciness that is worth the extra step.

Chicken and Brine:

  • 2 medium garlic heads
  • 3 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 whole chicken (3-4 pounds), butterflied and pounded (see below)
Garlic-Pepper Oil
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 4 teaspoons)
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • vegetable oil for grill grate
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for garnish
Use kitchen shears to cut through bones on either side of backbone (see picture in this sequence), then remove and discard backbone. Flip chicken over and use heel of your hand to flatten breastbone. Cover chicken with paper towels to protect skin, then pound flat using meat pounder or rubber mallet.

*Note: This may seem tedious the first time you do it, but you'll get much quicker after making this recipe a few times.

Combine garlic heads, bay leaves, and salt in gallon-size zipper lock bag; press out air and seal bag. Using rubber mallet or meat pounder, pound mixture until garlic cloves are crushed; transfer mixture to large container or stockpot and stir in 2 quarts cold water until salt is dissolved. Immerse chicken in brine and refrigerate until fully seasoned, about 2 hours.

While chicken is brining, heat garlic, black pepper, pepper flakes, and oil in small saucepan over medium heat until garlic is fragrant and sizzling and mixture registers about 200 degrees on instant-read thermometer, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, about 40 minutes. Measure 2 tablespoons garlic-pepper oil into 2 small bowls and set aside.

Remove chicken from brine and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Loosen the skin around the breast and thighs. Apply two tablespoons of the pepper oil underneath the loosened skin.

Ignite about 6 quarts (1 large chimney, or about 6 pounds) charcoal briquettes and burn until covered with thin coating of light gray ash, about 20 minutes. Empty coals into grill and bank half of coals on either side of grill, leaving midsection of grill free of coals. Position grill grate over coals, cover grill, and heat grate until hot, about 5 minutes; scrape grate clean with grill brush. Lightly dip small wad paper towels in vegetable oil; holding wad with tongs, wipe grill grate. Position chicken skin-side down on grill grate over area with no coals; cover grill and fully open lid vents.

Cook until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees, 30 to 45 minutes. Transfer chicken to cutting board; let rest 10 minutes. Carve chicken into four pieces, drizzle with remaining pepper oil and garnish with lemon wedges.

*Serve with a bold, spicy red wine, such as those coming from Portugal at the moment (watch this for ideas).
*For a quick side, place some fresh vegetables over the coal banks on each side of the grill during last 10 minutes of cooking.

*This recipe appeared in its entirety in the July/August 2003 issue of Cooks Illustrated

Photo credit: Machine is Organic on flickr

1 comment:

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