Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Whole Chicken?

Yes, You Can!

A whole chicken? I can't do that . . . what the heck do you do with a whole chicken . . . and can I afford a whole chicken? Well the good news is that yes, you can afford a whole chicken. A whole chicken costs about the same as a package of chicken breasts or between $5 and $6, as long as you pick a small one, not one of those giant family roasters. (Those cost $9-$12.) However, there are so many more uses for a whole chicken than a package of chicken breasts. Yes, you can buy a whole roasted chicken at the grocery for about the same as a raw one, but there are two reasons to cook it yourself. First, you get to decide what herbs and spices you are using with your chicken. My grocery offers two or three kinds: regular, lemon pepper and BBQ. Yes, I love lemon pepper and I'm going to use it in this blog, but I also want fresh herbs, garlic, etc etc etc. Second thing it's that little word that starts with a P . . . yup pride. The satisfaction that you cooked it yourself, and can now brag that you made winner winner chicken dinner, chicken salad, chicken soup and whatever else you decide to do with your left over chicken. I'll come up with some more ideas before I get to the end of this.

Ok so now you have a chicken. It's in a plastic bag right? Get it out of the plastic bag in the sink. There's a lot of messy stuff in there. I rinse my chicken once it's out of the bag. I don't know if you need to or not, it just feels like the right thing to do. Then I put it directly in a foil covered roasting pan (this makes the cleanup easier and the cooking seems more even) and wash my hands. I grab the butter, herbs, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon pepper and prep those things up. Slice four tablespoons of butter, quarter the onion, smash a couple of cloves of garlic, wash the herbs and you are all ready to go. If you are going to cook immediately, preheat the oven to 350. 

The first two slices of butter and 1/4 of the herbs, today I'm using fresh rosemary and thyme from my balcony garden, get stuffed in between the skin and the breast meat. Just stuff them under the skin and push them all the way forward--you could add a clove of garlic in there if you wanted. The next two slices of butter and 1/4 of the herbs go in between the skin and the thigh meat. 

Inside the chicken I stuff the rest of the herbs, the quartered onion--whatever fits, and some garlic. If you have other veggies around like carrots or celery you could add those too! I usually run out of room too quickly--so this particular chicken only got three onion quarters. 

Next I coat the skin with a combination of salt, pepper and lemon pepper seasoning. Then cover the whole thing with foil. If you want to, before the foil, you can tie up the legs with butcher's twine or foil. I usually do, but today, because I wanted to see if it made a difference, I didn't. 

 Then the whole mess goes into the oven. Chicken needs to cook for about 20 minutes per pound at 350. My chicken is just over 5 pounds so it needs a total of 117 minutes or almost two hours. That's what the chicken people say. Reality is . . . it probably doesn't need that long. I'm going to cook it for about an hour with the foil on and then another 30 minutes with the foil off and check it. If I think it needs more time. It goes back in. 

So what can you do with your chicken once it's cooked? Well start with roasted chicken for dinner. Then harvest the rest of the meat from the bones and throw the carcass in a pot of boiling water and let it simmer into chicken stock . . . now you've got stock to make chicken soup from some of the left over meat. Just add veggies and you are all set! Chicken salad is super easy once you've got a cooked chicken. Cut the meat into chunks, add mayo, celery, relish, maybe some apple or grapes and salt and pepper and you are set for a couple of lunches. I like to make a basic spinach salad and top it with the roast chicken. You could also make pot pies, tacos, or anything else that calls for cooked chicken. The possibilities are literally endless. 

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