Let’s face it—you can’t go out to eat every night! And some of us that wouldn’t anyway know that the best eating comes from the best ingredients cooked at home. This is a very economical recipe that will give a small family two, if not three, meals from a single chicken. Large families can pretend a roaster oven is a crockpot and place several chickens in the roaster oven, except the cooking times will be MUCH shorter, possibly only two to three hours depending on the cooking temperature and the number of chickens. (If you are considering using a roaster oven, a total of 12 pounds of chicken will fit inside an 18 quart roaster oven: two six-pounders, three four-pounders, or four three-pounders.)
This recipe may help answer questions we are often asked, such as, “How do you manage to feed such a large family on a small income?” and, “How do you DO it?” Part of the “secret” is that we try not to waste anything.
1. Choose a frozen 4 or 5-pound pastured chicken. Place in an ungreased oval six-quart oval crockpot.
2. Coat the exterior of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle generously with sea salt, which has a much fuller flavor than regular salt. DO NOT add any water. Our Windy Meadows Pastured Chicken does not need anything but sea salt to allow the natural flavors to come through (poultry seasoning is a frail attempt to replace the flavor lost when chickens are raised by modern production methods). You could slip a quarter of an onion and a few leafy ends of celery into the cavity of the chicken. If you want a more sophisticated flavor, place a few slices of a garlic clove and a sprinkling of fresh or dried rosemary on the chicken.
3. Turn on the crockpot to the low setting and go about your business for the day (or if you are a real go-getter start the crockpot the night before). The chicken will cook slowly while you are working hard doing something else. Cook seven to eight hours for a large chicken. (If you only want the chicken to take only half a day, put a fresh chicken on the high setting for three or so hours).
4. Remove the lid, carefully remove the chicken breasts (saving the chicken skin) and use them to fix the first meal using your favorite recipe. (Mmm…chicken salad sounds good…).
1. Use a slotted spoon to remove the remaining chicken from the crockpot to cool. Bone out the meat, watching especially for the thin, needle-like bone in each drumstick. Strain the pot juices into a heatproof jar (a wide-mouth canning jar works great for this) and when cool enough, place the jar in the refrigerator. Also set the chicken skin aside to be made into “bacon bits” (recipe follows). All that is left should be a well-scavenged skeleton of a chicken. Save for Recipe #3.
2. Decide “Where in the world” you would like to eat tonight. The meat you removed from the bones can be used in recipes limited only by your imagination. Here are some ideas:
·Mexican—Chicken enchiladas with jack cheese, green chilies and sour cream
·French—Chicken and mushroom crepes
·Country French—Chicken a-la-king over split hot buttered biscuits
·Indian—Chicken curry over steamed brown rice
·Italian—Add chicken to spaghetti sauce; serve over spaghetti with Parmesan cheese
·Chinese—Almond chicken with fried rice
·Jewish—Chicken soup with matzo balls
·German—Chicken stroganoff over linguini
·American—Chicken spaghetti (cook noodles in chicken broth)
·Southwest—Warm chicken in salsa, serve on tortillas with shredded lettuce and sour cream
·Western—Warm diced chicken in barbecue sauce and serve over split rolls
·Ranch—Chop or shred the chicken and add to your basic salad greens with shredded cheese, wedges of boiled eggs, diced avocado, halved cherry tomatoes, etc. Serve with a salad dressing made with buttermilk (or thinned sour cream) and mayonnaise seasoned with garlic powder, dill weed and sea salt to taste. Our family’s favorite basic salad is torn green leaf lettuce (and other mixed greens when they are available), finely grated carrot, finely slivered purple cabbage and thinly sliced celery.
Basic Chicken Bone Broth—Place all the bones from the chicken back into the crockpot with just enough water so as to barely cover the bones. Put a tablespoon of vinegar in the water, along with leafy celery tops and onion slices if you like. Turn the crockpot on the low setting and cook 24 hours. Keep an eye on the pot and add more water as necessary to keep the bones covered. This low, slow cooking with the little bit of vinegar allows the most nutritious components from the bones (calcium and other minerals) and cartilage (collagen) to leach into the cooking liquid. After about 24 hours you should be able to crush the bones between your fingers and will notice that the cartilage is entirely missing from the bones. Strain out the bones and give them to your pet (they are very soft and the can not choke on them) and use the broth as the base of a hearty, nutritious soup or for the liquid to cook rice.
Ideas for the remaining chicken bits:
1. Chicken fat for cooking—The creamy yellow fat that came to the top of the jar in your refrigerator (from step #1) is very flavorful, especially since it came from a pastured chicken. You can use the fat to sauté onions for other dishes instead of vegetable oil. The unique flavors of meats come from their fats.
2. “Bacon Bits”—Chop the skin that came off the cooked chicken into samll squares.. These can be slowly sautéed in a small skillet on medium or medium low heat without additional fat until they are crispy and brown (the use of a splatter screen is strongly recommended!!). Stir them around and turn them over occasionally to get them evenly colored. Carefully remove them from the pan onto paper towels and lightly salt with sea salt. Break into evenly sized pieces. These make wonderful “bacon bits” for topping salads or baked potatoes.
3. Concentrated crockpot juices—The jelled liquid in the refrigerated jar can be used in several ways:
·Dilute and use in place of water in sauces or gravies.
·Dilute and use to cook spaghetti noodles
·Add to the soup stock for a more flavorful broth.
·Freeze undiluted in ice cube trays and transfer to a labeled zip-lock bag for later use. You can drop these broth cubes into sauces and gravies while they’re still frozen.