One chicken, four meals.

When we were both working, most Friday night dinners were completely predictable:  rotisserie chicken.  According to a recent article in the Toronto Star, “rotisserie chickens are as ubiquitous as burgers or tacos without falling victim to being dubbed trendy” – at least here in the “Greater Toronto Area”. (As an aside, I can’t help but laugh about that sobriquet – technically my tiny crossroads hamlet is part of the GTA, but what we have in common with the ‘mega-city’ to the east of us continues to elude me.)

Unless it’s a love of food.  Because I’m not talking about the rotisserie chickens drying out under lights at the back of the grocery store.  For $12, I would buy a free-run, clean-fed chicken, rubbed with herbs and olive oil, moist and tender.  They were simply better than any roast chicken I’ve ever made, and at the end of a long week they were satisfying and fast.

One chicken, a bit over a kg in weight (2.5 lb. more or less) gave us four meals.  The first dinner would be just roast chicken:  the leg and thigh for BD, who prefers dark meat; the breast for me. Served with cranberry chutney from Rose’s, a salad and oven fries (BD makes great oven fries, potato chunks tossed in olive oil, black pepper and rosemary, and roasted at 360 degrees for 45 – 50 minutes) that used, roughly, a bit less than half the chicken.

The equivalent pieces – the other leg and thigh, and the other breast, went into the freezer, to be gently reheated over a pan of water in a slow oven another time.  But at this point there was still a lot of meat on the carcass.  I’d chill it overnight, and then on Saturday strip the rest of the meat from the bones, chopping it into small pieces.

These smaller pieces of meat were destined for either ‘poulterer’s pie’: our version of shepherd’s pie created once BD couldn’t eat red meat, or chicken curry.  I’ve never actually written the recipe for poulterer’s pie down, but basically it’s a mix of chicken and vegetables, herbs and spices, in a thickened chicken broth, topped with a mash- I’ve used potatoes, sweet potatoes, a combination of the two, or a combination that includes parsnips; all work – and baked in the oven until bubbly.  It’s a great cold-weather meal.

Once I’d removed the meat from the bones, the carcass is destined to make chicken broth.  Roasting the bones in a slow oven for a while – 45 minutes or so – before making broth does give a richer flavour but it isn’t necessary if you’re using the carcass of a cooked chicken.  I put the bones, a chunk of chopped onion, and a bit of garlic in my slow cooker, fill it with water, and let it cook all day on low.

Once it’s cooked down to about half of the amount of water originally put in, I strain it and let it cool.  The bones are destined for the compost at this point (we have a municipal kitchen-waste composting pick-up here – the town takes it away once a week, composts it at the waste management site, and gives it away in the spring. When we did back-yard composting of kitchen waste, I stopped composting bones because there is a feed mill in the village…and feed mills attract rats…which like bones and meat scraps.  And I don’t like rats.)

I may do one of two or three things with the broth:  make soup immediately; freeze it in mason jars for later use, or, freeze it in ice-cube trays to give me chunks of broth to use when a recipe needs a small amount.  Mostly I make soup, which served with warm bread and pickles from Rose’s often make up Sunday suppers.  We’ve likely had pancakes and sausage for brunch, so a small evening meal is all we need.  And there is usually enough soup left over for at least one lunch.

So there it is:  one chicken, four meals. BD likes these chickens better than the one’s I’ve roasted (I’m not insulted, because I agree with him) so I think we’ll probably continue buying them, once the cool weather returns.  They fit our food ethics – they are locally raised, and I’m supporting a local small business by buying them, and I’m pretty happy with four meals for two from a twelve-dollar chicken.

The weather forecast calls for highs of 19 degrees C (66 F) later this week.  I think that’s cool enough for roast chicken, don’t you?

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