With the price of beef skyrocketing, now more than ever, chicken is becoming the backbone of the frugal kitchen. And why not? Chicken is much less expensive than beef or pork, and useful down to the bones.
Don’t pay full-price. Chicken is always on sale somewhere. If you don’t want to store hop, you can always find some cut of meat, fish and poultry on sale in your favorite market. Eat what’s on sale, and if it’s a loss leader (that means priced dirt-cheap to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks.
Buy whole chickens. The most frugal way to use chickens is to buy them whole and cut them up yourself. You’ll not only save money, but chicken tastes much better when cooked with the skin and bones. A whole, organic bird usually costs less per pound than precut, skinned and boned parts — and it tastes so much better. It is not difficult to cut up a chicken once you understand the five simple steps. Here is a video tutorial (www.allrecipes.com
detail.aspx), or, if you prefer, written instructions (www.allrecipes.com/howto/cutting-up-a-whole-chicken/) with pictures.
Three-way chicken. Whether you buy a whole raw chicken or a rotisserie chicken from the deli counter, you are looking at three meals from that one bird. Dinner No. 1: Roast chicken (more to come on this in a bit). Dinner No. 2: Chicken pot pie, chicken sandwiches, chicken stir-fry, chicken burritos or chicken salad using the meat your removed from the carcass following Dinner No. 1. Dinner No. 3: Chicken soup made from the carcass of the bird.
Roast whole chicken. Preheat oven to 450 F. In the meantime, remove everything from the cavity and rinse it inside and out. Dry with paper towels or clean cloth. Season well with salt and pepper. Place half a stalk of celery and half of a whole onion inside the cavity. Set the chicken breast-side-up in a baking dish or roasting pan. Put the chicken into the oven and reduce to 400 F. Set a time for one hour and do not open the oven door. After an hour, check if the chicken is done by inserting an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of its thigh. The internal temperature should be at least 165 degrees for the chicken to be done. If you’re under, put it back in to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes and check it again. Let the bird rest for about 15 minutes. Carve and enjoy.
Storing fresh chicken. Fresh chicken should be used within two days or frozen for up to nine months.
How to freeze: Freezing chicken in the original packaging is fine for up to two months. For longer freezing, over-wrap packages with foil, plastic wrap, freezer paper or plastic bags. For ease in defrosting, you may prefer to separate and wrap individual pieces or servings prior to freezing, so you only have to thaw the quantity you need for the meal you’re preparing.
How to thaw: Never thaw poultry at room temperature! The safest method is in the refrigerator. Allow approximately five hours per pound thawing time. For faster thawing, you can defrost using the cold-water method, by putting poultry in an airtight bag and placing it in a bowl or sink full of cold water and changing the water every half hour. And never use hot water, since it can stimulate bacterial growth.
Mary Hunt is founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website. You can email her at mary@everyday
cheapskate.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.