budget

Budget Tips for Great Chicken Dinners

Chicken can be a godsend to your grocery budget. Here’s how to make the most of it—no matter what cut you prefer.

BUY BIG 

THE WHOLE BIRD 

Take advantage of sale prices on whatever cuts you frequently use. Don’t hesitate to stockpile “sale” buys, even on whole chickens. It’s easy to freeze a whole chicken and even easier if you remove the backbone and flatten the bird. When going this route, consider adding a marinade or even salad dressing to the freezer bag. Chicken pieces are good for up to 6 months in the freezer, while whole birds are good for up to a year. Cooked chicken can also be frozen, but should only be kept in the freezer for 3 months.

To quickly roast a whole bird, if you want crispy skin and have time, liberally sprinkle the entire chicken with coarse salt and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight. Then, whether you salt or not, roast at 425°F (220°C) for 45 minutes to an hour, until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 180°F (82°C).

STRIPPING THE BIRD

Always remember that every piece counts so once a roast chicken dinner is carved and served, there are always gems of chicken left clinging to the bones. Make the most of these leftovers! Keep the chicken intact if you know you can use it soon. Cooked chicken can be stored for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. 

Once you’ve sliced off all the large pieces, use a sharp paring knife and your hands to scrape and pull off as much meat from the bones as you can. Turn the carcass over and dislodge those little morsels of meat from the bottom. They’ve simmered in all the chicken juices that collect in the bottom of the pan, creating the most succulent bits of chicken you could enjoy. I think of them as chicken oysters. If they don’t go directly into your mouth, use these juicy bits in lunch sammies and salads. Ever had a chicken omelette for dinner? These tiny pieces are ideal.

Divide the treasures you harvest from the carcass into at least three sizes and pop in separate freezer bags. The tiniest bits can be thrown into soup, or to mac and cheese if that is your kids’ go-to dinner. The next size up gets tossed into pasta sauces and stir-fries, and the largest ones reappear in casseroles, enchiladas, curries, entertaining pot pies and more. Each time you roast a whole chicken, the bags can be topped up. 

Want to use a whole chicken in a recipe that calls just for parts? Then cut the bird into as equal-sized pieces as you can. That may mean that each breast is cut in two. For the easiest technique, go to HOW TO SECTION A CHICKEN on chicken.ca. 

Some of the world’s best dishes—including Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic and Coq au Vin—classically start with a whole chicken that you cut into pieces. Neither requires expensive ingredients, but they are most impressive for entertaining and the bones add an incredible amount of flavour. 

PARTS

When you snap up a load of cut-up pieces of chicken at a budget price spread them out on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm, then tumble into a freezer bag. This prevents them from sticking together, and makes it a snap to take out whatever number you need for dinner. 

No matter which dish you want to make, many chicken parts are interchangeable. Hundreds of recipes on chicken.ca  give a choice of either a whole chicken cut into serving-size pieces, or 4 breasts, or 8 thighs. Count on 2 thighs or drumsticks for every breast called for in a recipe. 

It’s easy to cut those large leg and thigh portions in two and use them in separate recipes (thighs cook faster than legs) or any recipe calling for chicken parts. When entertaining, you can use these two budget pieces together in any of the many tagine recipes on chicken.ca. 

STRETCHING THE VALUE PACKS 

While value packs always bring savings, they usually contain more pieces than most of us need at a first cooking. But consider baking up a big batch; then you can serve them again in a few days in a slightly different form—on a bed of sautéed greens or quinoa, perhaps, or cut up and tossed in fried rice. Or freeze some of the baked pieces. They are a snap to defrost and reheat in the microwave. 

NOBLE STAND-INS 

Not only can most chicken pieces be used interchangeably, but they are smart stand-ins for more expensive meats. Don’t hesitate to sub chicken in much-loved classic dishes such as bourguignon or osso bucco. Just remember that chicken is always tender, so it doesn’t need hours of simmering. Follow your favourite recipe for these dishes without adding the chicken and let the sauce simmer for hours to develop flavour. Then add the chicken near the end so it has just enough time to cook through. 

Don’t forget to think chicken stand-ins for everyday dishes as well. A pounded chicken breast works beautifully in place of more expensive veal in scaloppini, while skinless boneless breasts or thighs are a great replacement for fish in sautés or coated bakes. Never hesitate to use ground chicken in place of ground meat in whatever you are making, from spaghetti bolognese to tacos or healthy burgers. 

BONE IN OR OUT? 

Bone-in or boneless cuts can be substituted in many preparations. Just remember that bone-in is thicker, so it will have to be cooked longer. That translates to roughly 10 more minutes for bone-in thighs, and 15 for breasts, over the time given for boneless. These numbers hold whether sautéing or roasting. 

SKIN OR NOT? 

Whether you keep chicken skin on or off is a personal choice, unless you’re using a slow cooker where the skin turns to flab. However it is a healthy move to strip off the fat- laden skin after roasting unless the recipe you’re following produces lovely crisp skin. . During roasting, the skin shields the chicken meat, keeping it moist—and remarkably enough, it will not add to the overall fat content of the meat underneath. Unless it is appealingly crispy, just lift off before eating. For more details, go to THE NUTRITIENT ANALYSIS REPORT which includes the following tip bit:

“A breast of chicken cooked with the skin on and then removed has less fat and calories, and more moisture, than a skinless breast. This means consumers can cook chicken with the skin on, retaining all the moisture and flavour they love, and then remove it prior to serving to achieve the same health benefit as a skinless cut.” 

GROUND FOR ALL 

Ground chicken, like all ground meat, should be used within a few days of purchase (check the best-before date on the package). When you get a great buy, though, load up. Simply cook it before freezing: you could make it into burgers, or cook it up as you would for a spaghetti sauce, keeping it as crumbly as you can. Freeze the sauce in the amount you’ll eventually use for chili, lasagna, pasta sauce, tacos, shepherd’s pie and more. 

Another fast trick is to put a pasta sauce on to simmer, then quickly roll the ground chicken into small rounds. Toss them into the sauce and simmer to cook through. Spoon on spaghetti, into pitas or wrap up in tortillas or naan bread. 

CHICKEN LIVERS

Often over looked, chicken livers are one of the best protein bargains at the meat counter. One of the supermarkets I frequent regularly have them priced at $2.50 a pound. 

Start by separating them into lobes, then trimming off all fat and connective tissue. Rinse, then pat dry. If you’re in a hurry, simply sauté in butter in a frying pan for about 4 minutes. (Don’t crowd the pan: If you are doing a whole pound, it’s best to cook in two batches.) You don’t want them to get dark brown, so adjust the heat as needed. Most people like them a little pink in the middle. To test, take one out and slice through. 

If you have the time and want to give your dish some extra punch, consider dusting them with flour mixed with curry powder, cayenne, or paprika before sautéing. I also love them with lots of finely-chopped jalapenos added to the pan. Other seasonings that marry well are Montreal chicken spice, herbes de Provence, poultry seasonings, lemon pepper and five spice powder. Serve over a bed of salad greens, on rice, quinoa, couscous, or toast. 

This site has many fast liver recipes to consider. My favourites include: 

ITALIAN LIVERS WITH TOMATOES. CAPERS and BASIL—a 10 minute main that includes cherry tomatoes. 

ITALIAN LIVER AND PEPPER STIR-FRY, which I serve over a bed of baby spinach or broad noodles. 

LUXURIOUS CHICKEN LIVERS—creamy livers to spoon onto appetizer toasts. I treat my liver-loving friends to this when they come by for drinks. 

For other smart ideas for your everyday cooking, check out COOKING LIKE A PRO ON A BUDGET.

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