Sunday, March 29, 2009

"And buy chicken necks!"

We got a whole chicken from TEFAP this month - actually, we got a very generous allotment from TEFAP this month, and it was well appreciated - so I found myself making chicken stock. I use this for "And Rice," which is a rice-based casserole. When I find myself boiling a chicken to pieces I think of Esther Rolle in the TV show Good Times. Whenever money was the topic she'd end the bit by laughing and saying "... and buy chicken necks!"

Anyway, we all know by now that chicken is not a budget food in economic hard times. The butcher I spoke to over at Safeway said that chicken just has too much processing overhead. According to him, the only way to make money in the meat business is in sheer tonnage, and the lower the processing cost the more tonnage you get. Pork, for some reason, stands out during hard times as the budget meat. (As we were talking he was putting out giant pork roasts at $1.89 a pound.)

So we got this chicken. I'm not overly fond of whole chicken, but it's easy enough to cook - in a pinch, throw it in the oven for a couple hours until done. Get as fancy as you like, but the important part is getting it completely done. I has some old garlic cloves in the cupboard, so I peeled them and put them in the cavity for flavor.

Then after dinner take as much meat off the bones as possible and throw all the meat, skin and bones into a large pot. Cover with water. Put a lid on the pot and boil the heck out of it until the rest of meat falls off the bones. There's lots of nutrition and flavor in the bones, you can boil it longer than that, but I prefer to fish out the vertebrae and cartilage before they're floating free in the broth. Add, if you like, onion, celery, salt and pepper, whatever is traditional for you, but ultimately all you really need is a chicken carcass and water. I used the roasted garlic from inside the chicken, parsley, salt and pepper. When you feel it's done discard anything you don't want to eat, like the bones and skin.

Here's a couple of basic chicken stock recipes. If you want to buy chicken just to make stock, you might find that chicken wings, necks and other less desirable parts are actually cheaper than a whole bird. Hence Florida's (the mom on Good Times) encouragement to buy chicken necks!. You could probably do this with ham hocks and beef soup bones, too, and a turkey carcass works well.

That one whole chicken? I will get five filling, healthy dinners out of it. We had chicken for dinner two nights in a row, then I made stock. I put it in two-cup freezer jars with meat and all. To make "And Rice", put the thawed stock in a pot, add a cup of vegetables and one cup of rice. Cook according to rice directions. Poof, cheap chicken and rice. (I should add that it takes three cups of stock and a cup and a half of rice to feed my family dinner. But I don't have three cup freezer containers.) You can also strain out the broth and use it for stock in any recipe. Save the meat for casserole or chicken salad.

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