IT all started harmlessly enough, when a friend recoiled in horror at the price of the whole, free-range chicken I had just purchased from my favourite chicken farmer.
It was €12, or thereabouts, for a chicken just over 2kg in weight: a slow-grown, free-waddling, chemical-free and well cared-for abundance of pure meat.
I’m always aware that people place different values on food; have different budgets and different priorities when it comes to eating, for example, fuel vs food, but the reaction took me by surprise. I knew that, for my €12, I could eke out easily 10 meals from one chicken for two of us — and even for someone as universally rubbish at maths as I am, knew that came to just €1.20 per person, per meal. That’s a kind of value for money that is hard to argue about.
But, at the same time, whether your chicken is one like mine, or one of the factory-reared two for €5 birds, the ethos of the consumer should be the same: make the most of every part of the bird.
Ever since, I have challenged myself to get at least ten meals from one bird, but always felt I could achieve more. Turns outthat a Covid-19 Lockdown is the perfect time to experiment!
I began with one whole chicken, roughly 2kg in weight, and set to work…
Let’s Begin - Crispy Chicken Skin
Remove the chicken skin from the breast only. Placing the chicken skin fat side up, use your knife to scrape away the fat. It takes some time and be careful not to tear the skin. The skin will stretch and expand as you work the fat away from it. Scoop up the chicken fat and place in an airtight container in the fridge for later.
Place the skin on a parchment lined baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil, some salt and pepper.
Place another sheet of parchment over and place another baking tray on top of that. Put it into a hot oven at 220 degrees Celsius for about 10-15 minutes until golden and crispy. Transfer onto a piece of kitchen paper to cool and take away any excess oil keeping it nice and crispy. Set aside.
Meal 1: Roast the Chicken with Spicy
We need to roast the whole chicken, but because we’ve removed the chicken skin from the breast, it now needs something to go on it to protect it from drying out in the oven. My favourite method is to make up a quick marinade with yogurt and spices.
Using bio-yogurt means the enzymes within it will break down the meat proteins retaining moisture and making the chicken really tender and juicy.
For the Marinade: Mix together 2 tbsp of live “bio” yogurt with 1 tsp of Garam Masala, a pinch of sea salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and some olive oil.
Place the chicken in a roasting tin, pour the marinade just on the chicken breast and roast for about 1hour 20mins at 220 degrees Celsius or until the juices run clear.
When cooked, use a knife to remove both breasts by cutting along the length of the breastbone on each side.
Slice the breasts across ways in 1cm chunky slices. I love serving this with homemade Pilau Rice and a quick Carrot and Coriander Pickle.
Allow any leftover meat to cool fully, place in a container and store in the fridge.
Meal 2: Using the Leg Meat: Persian Chicken and Giant Cous Cous Salad
The second meal is usually a salad using the leg meat – some of the tastiest meat on the bird!
Giant Cous Cous is a brilliant salad grain: 1 cup is enough for a salad for two people. Boil in salted water until just tender, drain and refresh under cold running water. Set aside to drain fully and cool.
Pull the meat from the two legs of the chicken, chop into bite size pieces. I had some scallions, radish, fresh chilli and alfalfa sprouts to use up; also some pomegranate seeds for a burst of freshness and some spiced flaked almonds.
To bring the whole thing together, I mixed a dressing of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, some Ras al Hanout spice mix, salt, pepper and garlic. I dressed the Cous Cous, chicken, veggies with this mix and added the pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander.
Meal 3: Chicken, Sage and Butternut Squash Risotto
At this stage it’s time to pull every last piece of meat from the chicken carcass - I’m always surprised at the amount of meat still available! I place everything into an airtight container, and then wrap the carcass and putting it back in the fridge.
Risotto is a simple dish of rice and stock that simply requires some time well spent stirring a pan along with some well-considered ingredients.
For this risotto, I roast some cubes of butternut squash with garlic and sage and add them to my risotto along with a generous handful of chicken, chopped fresh sage and lashings of grated parmesan.
Meal 4: Chicken & Tarragon Mayo Sambo, Making Stock and Schmaltz
Today, it’s chicken for lunch! I’m using up the chicken left over from the roasted breast meat chopped up with a small amount of the meat retrieved yesterday and mixed with mayonnaise and fresh chopped tarragon herb. Perfect with some crunchy salad leaves and some leftover alfalfa sprouts.
It’s also time to make stock and render the chicken fat for schmaltz. Place the carcass on a tray with the saved chicken fat from preparing the skin. Cover with parchment paper and roast for 25 mins at 220 degrees Celsius until a rich golden brown.
Drain the rendered chicken fat into a sterilised jar, set aside and cool.
Remove the roasted bones and place in a stock pot with two celery sticks, a small white onion (skin on), two garlic cloves, one sliced carrot and two bay leaves. Add enough water to cover everything, lid on and simmer on a low heat for 2.5 hours. Do not add salt! Drain through a sieve capturing all the juices and squeeze every last drop of flavour out. Set aside and cool. You should have about 500ml of stock.
Meal 5: Chicken Noodle Broth
Quick, easy and comforting – there’s nothing quite like it! Into a saucepan, place half the chicken stock and the same amount of water. Add a thumbnail sized piece of grated fresh ginger, 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped red chili, (to your taste), two tablespoons of soy sauce and the same of white miso paste. Bring to the boil and add your favourite noodles. When the noodles are almost cooked, add the chicken to heat through thoroughly. Spoon into warm bowls and top with sliced scallions, coriander and fresh chili slices.
Meal 6: Vegetable Cassoulet
Meal six could be anything you need chicken stock for! The stock will freeze perfectly well if you’ve had enough chicken by this stage! For this dish I wanted to make the most of seasonal veggies, in particular: Asparagus!
Keeping with the poultry theme, I roasted two Skeaghanore Confit Duck Legs with a quarter of a savoy cabbage, made some creamy herby mashed potatoes and cooked up a braise of leek, onion, garlic and carrot on a low heat in chicken stock with a dash of white wine. The beautiful Asparagus needed little work. I separated the tips from the stems, finely sliced the stems and added them to the braise 10 minutes before the end of cooking time, and added the tips for the last 3 minutes or so along with a handful of fresh chopped parsley, salt and pepper.
Meal 7: Schmaltz Butter and American Buttermilk Biscuits
Remember the chicken fat we rendered? Well now it comes into its own, whipping it up with double cream and butter into a light, fluffy chicken-y butter that is loaded with flavour!
I made a batch of simple American Buttermilk Biscuits, (a crumblier, lighter scone), and slathered the Schmaltz Butter onto the Biscuits. For a final flourish: that Crispy Chicken Skin we made on day one? Crumble that on top of your buttered biscuits and devour!
At the start of Project: Chicken, I had one 2kg bird. By the end, I had made 14 plates of food over seven different dishes for two people and was left with just the bones to throw out, weighing about 100g.
On average, the chicken for each meal cost just 86c – incredible value for money and a delicious variety of dishes using the meat, skin, fat and bones. Nothing wasted: just as it should be!