Two Chickens, Many Options

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Ingredients made from chicken

Some people can plan a meal for every night of the week (EVERY WEEK), with bulk meals and freezer meals and all that. Me — no.

I'm terrible at meal-planning. For a while I felt that meal-planning was the holy grail of homemade abundance, so I was always questing in that direction, or more realistically knocking about in the woods all day with my metaphorical horse, occasionally recalling the grail by firelight and thinking I'd better get on that.

Anyway, I've given up on this. I never will have a chest freezer stocked with six weeks (MONTHS) of ready-to-go dinners, as do some. What I will do, however, is this.

Ingredients

15 c. water Two chickens
12 T. salt A lot of other foods you like

Yields: food for several meals · Prep time: 60 min · Start to finish: 18 hrs

Instructions

1. Brine the chicken.

Put the birds in a stock pot and cover them with water. The volume of water always works out to 15 c. for me, but if you need more or less, note that the ratio for brine is 4 T. salt to 5 c. water.

Add the salt, plus whatever else you want: lemons, peppercorns, herbs, pickled garlic, you get the idea. The salt in the brine will penetrate all the way through the meat, carrying with it the flavors of your other ingredients. If you add acid (such as lemon juice or vinegar), this will help tenderize the meat, too.

Weight it all down with a dish or something that fits inside the stock pot, so you know everything's fully submerged, and stick it in the fridge overnight.

2. Roast the chicken.

You do you, but how about 3-5 hours at 225 degrees F? Start with the chickens on their bellies; then, with about an hour to go, turn them over and melt some butter on them. Always let a bird rest 15 minutes after you take it out of the oven before cutting into it. Apparently this allows the juices to redistribute.

3. Eat some of the chicken.

I love dark meat and so does everyone else, so we pick over the legs and wings while they're still hot. Yum.

4. Save the juices.

Pour off the liquid in which your baked birds swim, and use it for something.

Maybe you want to boil some beans or rice in it, so you have yet another tasty ingredient to choose from a few days from now.

Or maybe you want to make a gravy. To do that, pour the juices in a jar and chill. Once the fat separates, scrape it off the top and melt it in a pan. Whisk in a T. of flour, let it cook a minute or two, and voilà, you've got a roux. Now mix in the rest of the juice (it's probably a cylinder of jelly at this point; never fear) and whisk it up with the roux until it's smooth, hot and bubbly.

Since you started with the juices of a brined bird, this gravy will need no salt and probably no other ingredients either; it's just gonna taste good. Use it in something right away if you want, or put it in the fridge for later.

5. Separate the meat from the bones.

Pick the birds apart, cut the meat into cubes, and put them in the fridge. These can turn into a lot of other things later when you're hungry and lazy on a random Tuesday, when you can add a handful of chicken chunks to your mac & cheese, your leafy salad, or whatever else. Ahh, the relief of having food in the house.

6. Got giblets? Make pâté.

All right, organ meats are really good for you, and the nutrients they've got to give are quite rare in our country, so use what you got. Myself, I toss the heart and gizzard in the stock pot (see step 7). The liver, however, can be made into a delicious spread for crusty bread or crackers, to be eaten as a snack or served as an hors-d'oeuvre to awe your friends.

Melt a stick of (unsalted) butter in a pan. Chop up the liver and stir it in on low until it turns from red to brown. Pour this liquidy mess into the blender and process till smooth. If you want, sautée some garlic, onions or mushrooms and process those with it as well. (Last time I just added a spoonful of pickled garlic cloves and that was it.) Don't add salt to any of this. Brined liver is overly salty, if anything. Boots adds wine or, better yet, port to his pâté. (I do not.)

Once the spread is smooth and buttery in texture, spoon it into a little storage container, melt a little more butter, and pour it over the top so it forms a thin, protective layer. It's ready to use as soon as it's chilled through.

7. Broth the bones.

Put the bones back in the stock pot, cover them with water, and broth them for 6-12 hours. You can do this either on the stovetop with just enough heat to bring about the gentlest of simmers; or in the oven overnight at 190 degrees F. Why do I not mention the crock pot? Because it's too damn small, that's why.

After the broth has simmered for many hours, get ready to strain it. Place a colander inside a large bowl. Get a cheese cloth (or better yet, a flatfold diaper with birdseye weave by Gerber, which makes a terrible diaper but is a fantastic kitchen cloth). Wet the cloth through, wring it out, lay it in the colander as a filter, pour the broth through, discard the bones, transfer the broth to a storage container, and put it in the fridge.

If you're the broth-drinking type (many nutrients! great for your joints!), you know what to do next. If not, you can use the broth in a recipe later, or make a soup of it.

8. Improvise.

If you spend your afternoon doing all this, you'll end up with a full belly, some gravy or something ready to go, a tub of chicken chunks, some pâté, and many quarts of bone broth. That means you'll be ready to make a lot of tasty meals the next few days. Cook a recipe, prepare a soup, make a tray of appetizers, or throw together a pile of food when you're not sure what to eat.

Which brings me back to my failures as a meal-planner. I've realized that while I will never plan a comprehensive menu to get me through a week (at least, I'll never do it reliably), even I in my lazy, intuitive, feast & famine, pendulum-swinging mode of being, can absolutely prep the ingredients that will let me do whatever the hell I want on short notice.

This suits me much better. I would rather up and decide to make a bowl — of, for example, broth-seasoned brown rice and pinto beans, raw broccoli, tomatoes, corn, black olives, shredded cheese, chicken chunks and dressing — than sit down on the weekend and break my brain coming up with five different dinner ideas that then turn into tasks on my to do list. Ugh. What a chore. But the bowl, oh that part is good.

Menu Bowl

So, there's as close as I come to a weekly master plan. Have fun, and as long as you're here, tell me how you do things.

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