With the price of beef skyrocketing, 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 or poultry on sale in your favorite market. Eat what’s on sale, and if it’s a loss leader (priced dirt-cheap to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks.
The most frugal way to use chickens is to buy them whole and cut them up yourself. Not only will you save money, but the 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. It is not difficult to cut up a chicken once you understand the simple steps.
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 you removed from the carcass following Dinner No. 1.
Dinner No. 3: Chicken soup made from the carcass of the bird.
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 one-half of a rib of celery and one-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 heat to 400 F. Set a timer for 1 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 165 F 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.
HOW TO STORE RAW CHICKEN
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raw chicken (regardless of if it’s whole; in pieces such as breasts, thighs, drumsticks and wings; or ground) should be stored for no longer than one to two days in the refrigerator. If the chicken was previously frozen, this timeline begins after the meat is fully defrosted. If you’re unsure whether you’ll get to cooking that raw chicken before this timeline is up, your best bet is to freeze it.
HOW TO FREEZE RAW CHICKEN
Freezing chicken in the original packaging is fine for up to two months. For longer freezing — up to 9 months — overwrap packages with foil, plastic wrap, freezer paper or plastic bags. For ease in defrosting, 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.
For safety’s sake, you don’t need to remove chicken breasts from the grocery store packaging before freezing. But for flavor and preserving the moisture inside those chicken breasts, it’s best to repackage.
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at Everyday Cheapskate.com, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”