Get a Week's Worth of Dinners Out of One Chicken
I am a part-time vegetarian. Back when I was a starving student with a $40-a-month food budget, I discovered that cutting meat from my diet on weekdays was not only good for my wallet, it was also good for the environment and my health too. Meatless Monday (through Friday) has never been a difficult diet for me to stick to, as I love fruits and vegetables. However, a lot of people have a hard time with Meatless Mondays because they miss the flavor of meat so much that going meat-free feels like deprivation.
If you are one of those people who struggle with going meatless, you can still have a greener, thriftier diet by using meat as a flavoring instead of as a main course.
Last week, I was able to buy a four-pound chicken on sale for $5, and I was able to stretch that $5 chicken over an entire week’s worth of dinners for myself and my husband.
I roasted my chicken, but you could easily substitute boiled chicken meat or buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the store if you don’t have access to an oven. And, since there are hundreds of chicken recipes available for free online or from the library, my week’s worth of chicken-oriented meals can be easily replicated over and over again. (See also: 25 Things to Do With Rotisserie Chicken)
On Sunday I did the brunt of my cooking for the entire week. It took two full hours of cooking, but the prep made the other six meals a cinch.
As you can tell from the hundreds of five-star reviews, this recipe for roasted chicken is bullet-proof. I’ve used both butter and margarine to make this chicken, and even the white meat comes out juicy. Since I was out of onion powder, I substituted garlic powder and it was just as delicious.
Before I put the bird in the oven, I removed the giblets and the neck from the body cavity. While the rest of the chicken was roasting in oven, I made “giblet juice” by boiling the gizzard, heart, and neck with just enough water to cover. After boiling the giblets over high heat, I reduced the heat and simmered everything for 45 minutes. Then I added the liver and cooked the broth for an additional 15 minutes.
I then pulled the giblets out of the hot broth, removed the meat from the neck, and coarsely chopped all the giblets. I set the broth and the chopped giblets aside separately.
Once the chicken was done roasting, I used this recipe to make super-easy chicken gravy.
Since I hate washing dishes, I made the gravy by just putting the still hot roasting pan directly on a hot burner and adding the other ingredients. (Obviously, you should remove the roasted chicken and the roasting rack before you commence with your gravy making if you choose to use this method). I only used ¼ cup of flour for my chicken gravy instead of ½ cup. You can add chicken broth or milk if you’d like richer gravy instead of the water called for the recipe. Instead of plain water, I used the “giblet juice” that I made instead.
Once the gravy was made, I let it sit in a heat-resistant Pyrex measuring cup until the fat separated. After I’d spooned off the fat from the top of the gravy, I stirred in the chopped giblets, and my gravy was ready to go.
Sunday night’s chicken dinner was an old-fashioned meal of biscuits and gravy. I used the Pillsbury biscuits that come in a tube, but you could substitute homemade biscuits or English muffins. The biscuits are really just the vehicle for the gravy to get to your mouth, so any kind of bread you like will work, really. To compliment the down-home main course, we ate the classic American salad of iceberg lettuce and carrots with blue cheese dressing.
After dinner I pulled all the meat off the now-cooled chicken. I put half the meat into the refrigerator and the other half into the freezer for later in the week. (Cooked chicken lasts two to four days in the fridge.) I put the chicken carcass into my Crock Pot with 10 cups of water, the cooked celery stalk, and one cup of rice, and I cooked it overnight on high to make jook.
Jook, or congee as it is sometimes called, is the ultimate Chinese comfort food. Even though it’s super easy to make and extremely frugal, most people who don’t live near a large Asian population have never heard of this dish. Even if you live near a Chinatown, jook is usually an off-menu item or something that exists only on the late night menu because it takes several hours for the rice to cook down to a porridge-like consistency. The recipe makes two entire quarts of jook, which I then froze in individual-sized Tupperware containers for easy meal planning.
Turkey jook, using the turkey carcass, is one of my favorite post-Thanksgiving meals. Pork jook, made with a hambone, is a nice alternative to split pea soup.
We used leftover biscuits as buns for our Monday night dinner of chicken sandwiches. One half of the chicken breast was enough to make four slider-sized chicken sandwiches. I made a spicy mayonnaise by adding some Sriracha sauce to some mayo, and I piled on the dill pickles.
If you are trying to feed more people with your one chicken or stretch your chicken even further, you can add additional ingredients to make chicken salad sandwiches.
Tuesday night I made Fettuccine Alfredo…with chicken. There are plenty of Chicken Alfredo recipes out there, but since I only wanted to use the other half breast for this meal, I made an ultra-rich Alfredo sauce for pasta, and then tossed in the cubed breast at the very end of the cooking process. This was easily enough food for two people and could easily have been stretched to serve four.
After three nights of heart-attack-inducing chicken dishes, I decided we needed a less fatty meal, so I made Chinese chicken salad using one of the thighs and a 10 cent package of ramen noodles for Wednesday night’s dinner. (Use the serving size feature to scale the recipe down for two people.)
If you have leftover plain pasta from last night, do not be afraid to add it into this salad instead of the ramen noodles. It will still taste good, but it just won’t have the crunch of the original.
I had originally planned to make homemade pizza for dinner on Thursday, which would have made good use of a very small amount of chicken, but I couldn’t get my act together. I added the meat from the second thigh to cheese and vegetable quesadillas for a quick meal instead.
On Friday I used the remaining chicken pieces to make chicken chili. Just add chicken to your favorite vegetarian chili recipe like I did. Or, if you need to feed more people, choose a chili recipe that can double as taco or sloppy joe filling.
Saturday night we ate the jook I’d made last Sunday. I defrosted two servings, added chopped green onions and some crispy wonton skins, and we were good to go.
After eating chicken for one entire week, I’m sick of it. But I will definitely menu plan around a single chicken the next time I can get one on sale. Instead of eating back-to- back chicken recipes, I’ll cook in advance and freeze the chicken in single serving containers for weekend meals down the road.