How to Pinch Your Poultry Pennies
Shopping the sales, but still need to take the grocery budget to the next level? Figured out that poultry is cheap, but want it to be even cheaper? I've got your back. Following are several penny pinching poultry strategies, including how to feed four to six people from a single chicken breast.
Poultry is a penny pincher's dream. It's also yummy, widely popular and readily available throughout the world. It's also incredibly versatile. Here are some of the ways I put to work in our house.
Chop and dice.
I do this with boneless, skinless chicken and routinely am able to come up with 4-6 servings from a single breast. Some of the ways I stretch it? Stir fry over rice, lo mein, fajitas (you need thin strips for that one), chicken pot pie, tacos, chicken – pesto pizza, southwestern soup, etc. The more thoroughly you dice, the further it will stretch. Notice I didn't say “cube” the chicken. It's all about flavor and a more balanced intake of protein.
Search out some discount meat sources.
With as often as the ten pound bags of chicken leg quarters, split bone-in breasts and full roasters go on sale, this is more of an issue when it comes to the boneless and skinless breasts, tenders and thighs. I have noticed at one of the warehouse stores we have a membership to consistently carries these for as low as the regular grocery chains have been selling the bone in varieties for. If you stretch the servings in ways that don't require an entire breast per person, you can still save some money (and stress) this way.
Creatively extend your rotisserie purchases.
The best deal I've seen on these is also at the warehouse stores. Sam's sells the fully cooked rotisserie birds for only fifty cents more than the raw roasters cost, at least at the few I've checked. If you've had a full day shopping, and that extra fifty cents will save you oven energy (not to mention skipping a take out meal), I say go for it. We've already discussed this as a way to save some sanity on days we are out and about. A pot of basmati rice and a three minute sauté of some skinny French green beans in olive oil and garlic and we've got a nice sit down dinner for less aggravation than standing in line at Boston Market. As much as I like to try new things, a simple, traditional roast chicken dinner is still one of my all time faves. Plus you can get an extra meal the next day, for example sliced chicken salad, sandwiches or chicken and cheese quesadillas. Putting the leftovers in a crock pot with broth and veggies to serve with soup garnishes is another affordable way to go. We also go the extra mile and make our own stock, but I'll get to that in a bit.
Stretch it out with another filler.
The two that come most quickly to mind are TVP and refried beans. Think chicken and bean burritos or a TVP – chicken combo in such recipes as chicken and dumplings. You can also stretch the meat further by using several of the strategies listed in the chicken leg quarters link above, or consider chicken veggie kabobs as a fun grilling option.
Go for the stock options.
Whenever we finish a roast chicken dinner or have de-boned chicken leg quarters in abundance, we use the bones that nobody has eaten off of and simmer them with some leftover celery ends, onion bits and a touch of sage. Then we strain out the the bone bits and let the liquid cool, which lets the fat rise to the top for easy skimming. As a hack, we ladle most of the liquid into freezable ice cube trays for later use and save enough for soup that night, since we have already got the base in the slow cooker. If doing all that (particularly on an exhausting rotisserie option day) is too much in one setting, we often start a large bag or empty container of the leg bones and body cavities for the freezer. On a day when I have the time, I do it. It really takes the pressure off that way.
Regular and seasonal sales.
In addition to all of the chicken sales, it really helps to keep an eye out for seasonal markdowns on a bird many people will be shopping for this month, turkey. Any time now, it will seriously start going for a song. It also drops in price occasionally during the summer. Stock up for the freezer and always be prepared to feed a large crowd on the cheap. While the oil free, infrared turkey fryers are more than a little cha-ching, we are keeping our eyes peeled for sales. Why? Because we see this as an opportunity to use turkey as a crowd pleaser during a time of the year many people wouldn't consider doing so: summer. If my house doesn't have to heat up with an oven or large counter roaster (my answer to not being able to dish out for a double wall oven yet in my adult life), I'm more than happy to whip up the traditional picnic sides and have people over for a back yard gathering.
Explore the world of bone-in breast.
For many folks I know, this is just unheard of. But if you are a real heavy-on-the-meat, lots of potatoes on the side person, this is a way to enjoy it while spending less.
While I have de-boned breast meat before, it is not my idea of a good time. And I know some people go the extra mile and cut up and de-bone entire fryers to save a buck. While I certainly would if I had to, I'd rather not. A couple of things I wouldn't mind incorporating? Cutting leg quarters into thighs and legs. This would allow for a light breading and oven frying of the drumsticks, which are almost always kid pleasers. It would also separate the thighs for other recipes. All with one single cut per quarter. Not too much stress and no de-boning required. Also, the butterfly technique looks like something I wouldn't mind doing from time to time, and it makes for a way shorter cooking time in the oven. Here's an instructional video from Bon Appetit, and another more detailed one from You Tube. Other cool ideas for butterfly-cut chicken are cutting into halves to roast separately, or tossing them on the grill for an affordable way to enjoy non-boneless chicken in the summer. The whole chickens tend to go on sale quite a bit and while the price is similar to what thighs go for, you actually end up with some lower fat breast meat out of the deal.
These are my top picks. If you have another hidden gem of poultry pinching wisdom or a great budget recipe, please share below.