It’s a little frustrating that most recipes I find for chicken call for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Don’t misunderstand; I certainly appreciate the ease of those neat little cutlets. They cook quickly, they are easy to work with, and they don’t even look like any sort of living animal. The down side of course is they don’t have much flavor, and the texture is pasty, and if I think about it, even a little bit, I know that they WERE part of a living animal, usually one that had a miserable, drug laden life and was butchered in appalling nditions.
Wait, that’s more than one downside isn’t it? I also know that, as a farmer it’s difficult to provide my customers with boneless, skinless breasts that would be tasty, and humanely raised and butchered. The processing is significantly more expensive and the chickens we raise are more than just that one part. We need to make use of, and profit from, as much of the animal as possible. That’s part of keeping our prices reasonable, and our business sustainable.
So all of that brings me back to my original complaint, the over abundance of recipes for boneless, skinless chicken breasts! Here are some ways I’ve found to get around that problem.
Cook a half chicken ahead of time I often put a half chicken in a skillet with a little bit of water, cover it, and turn it before on starting the rest of the meal. It takes about 30-45 minutes to cook while I take care of whatever else is going on (homework, food prep, emptying the dishwasher, whatever) and when I’m ready to put the rest of dinner together I can easily pull the meat off the bone and get on with the recipe. (If I’m using a small whole chicken this way I cut it in half with kitchen shears before putting it in the skillet, this cooks quicker than keeping it whole.)
I can easily add the cooked chicken to pasta or rice dishes. This has the additional benefit of stretching a smaller piece of meat to feed more people. Last week I did this with a two pound bird and easily fed four adults and three kids with a Lemon Caper chicken similar to the one in last month’s newsletter.
Crock pot cooking is another easy way to use whole chickens. Like the above method, I can remove the meat form the bone and add it to other recipes, or I can make the whole meal in the crock pot. I used to think of cocrock pot cooking as more suited to wintery comfort foods, but I do love not having to heat up the kitchen in the summer!
Finally, I’ve learned how to cut up a whole chicken. Julia Child I’m not, but I can get it into recognizable pieces. I learned by following the pictures in my old Betty Crocker cookbook, but there are lots of resources online now with video and audio instructions to follow. This one from Gourmet Magazine is quite helpful http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zW5BFvCmV7k. Give it a try! Don’t forget to save the neck and back. Keep a zip lock bag in the freezer and throw them in until you’re ready to make a batch of stock.