Thursday, 12 December 2013

Two for One Chicken Dinners: Making the Most of Your Chicken

These days I only ever buy free range and/or organic chickens, so to make the most from the money spent I always try to get at least 2 meals from every chicken. Plus I will combine the back and rib sections from several chickens to make chicken stock for soups or risotto.

These simple measures help to stretch the food budget just that little bit further. I have shared some of my favourite chicken recipes here to help you stretch your food budget that little bit further.

*These recipes will all work equally well with leftover turkey.*

 Chicken Dinner 1 - The Roast

Roast chicken with stuffing and chipolata sausages

Picking out a good chicken to start with is paramount. The breasts and thighs should be plump with large pads of fat. A 2.5 - 3 kg chicken is generally a good size to feed a family of four plus give some leftovers for the rest of the week.

Check out my tips for cooking the perfect roast dinner.

Preparing a chicken for roasting

The "experts" can't agree on whether it is better to rinse the chicken or not. I prefer to rinse the inside and make sure the cavity has been cleared. Then it can be patted dry inside and out with a few sheets of kitchen paper.

Tuck the wings behind the back. Check the inside of the chicken and pull out any pads of fat that may be present. These are useful for basting the chicken during cooking.

Place the chicken in a roasting tin and place reserved fat from previous roasts around the outside and on top of the chicken. Place the reserved pads of fat on top of the chicken as well. Lard or butter will work if you have no reserved fat.

Stuff the cavity with your favourite stuffing, if you wish. Otherwise, put a small onion cut in half, a few sprigs fresh thyme, a small handful of fresh parsley, and a sprig of fresh rosemary inside the cavity.

Cover the roasting tin with a length of foil, pleated to allow for expansion. Put it into a preheated oven on the middle rack.

Oven temperature: Gas mark 6/ 400F/200C/moderately hot.

The chicken needs to cook for 25 minutes per pound, plus 25 minutes. Be sure to include the added weight of the stuffing.

Uncover the chicken and baste it when it has 1 hour cooking time remaining. Leave it uncovered so that it can brown.

Invest in a Good Roasting Pan

We've all seen the flimsy disposable roasting trays you can get in the supermarkets around the holidays. They're pretty worthless and unless you only intend to cook a roast once a year, completely uneconomical. Invest in a roasting pan which you can use over and over again. I strongly recommend against purchasing a pan which has any non-stick coating. The heat from the cooking fat will peel that right off and you will end up with the flakes on your food. Yuch!

Master Class Roasting Pan, Vitreous Enamel, 40cm x 28cm x 7.5cm

Finishing off the Roast

Once you have roasted your chicken, drain off all of the fat and any liquid from the roasting tin into a glass container. I use a pyrex bowl. When cool, that can be kept in the refrigerator, covered or uncovered.

After your meal, pull off as much remaining meat as you can from the chicken. Save that in a covered bowl for 2 - 3 days in the fridge.

Use the carcass and any reserved jelly and fat to make a chicken stock.

Chicken Dinner 2: Leftover Chicken

Chicken Enchiladas

Chicken Enchiladas, Wikimedia Image in Public Domain
Dice the cooked chicken and place into a bowl.
Chop 1 onion
Seed and chop 1 green pepper
Seed and chop 1 red chili
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan. Add the chopped vegetables and cook until soft.
Add 1 teaspoon ground cumin
Add 1 teapoon ground turmeric
Add 1/4 teaspoon, more or less to taste, dried chilli
Add 1 heaped tablespoon plain flour.
Stir constantly for 1 - 2 minutes over a low heat.
Gradually add enough milk to make a medium white sauce. (No, it won't be white)
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once the sauce is made you can either -

Roll the chicken up in tortillas with a bit of sauce and a small amount of cheddar cheese.
Place them in a casserole or deep baking dish, cover over with any remaining sauce, more cheese, and a few chopped chillies.


Make what I like to call a chicken enchilada lasagne.

Butter the bottom of a casserole dish. Put a layer of tortillas, a large handful of chopped chicken, a layer of sauce, and a bit of cheese. Repeat the layers, finishing with the cheese. Add a few green chillies to the top if you want.

Both will bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes in a moderately-hot oven. Gas mark 5/375F. The sauce and cheese should be browned and bubbling on top.

Chicken Pie

Chicken pie with puff pastry

Make the filling

Dice 1 cup cooked chicken
Chop 1 onion
Peel and dice 1 large carrot
Mince 1 clove garlic
1 cup frozen peas

Saute the onion, carrot, garlic, and peas until the onions and carrots are softened.

Add the diced chicken.

Add 1 teaspoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.

I will also add in any leftover cooked vegetable, sausage, and stuffing from the roast dinner.

Season to taste.

Make a gravy

Use the saved chicken fat and jelly from the roast and about 1 pint of the pre-made chicken stock.

Melt the chicken fat in a deep pan, add butter or lard if you need more fat to equal about 2 tablespoons total.
Add 2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
Stir that over heat for 2 - 3 minutes.

Remove from the heat.

Add the jelly.

Stir until that is fully incorporated.

Gradually add 1 pint chicken stock

Stir each time until the liquid is incorporated.

Return to the heat. Stir continuously until it has thickened. Add more stock if needed to thin it down. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add enough of the gravy to the filling to make a wet mixture.

Spoon this into a deep casserole dish.

The topping

There are three choice for topping a chicken pie.

Mashed potatoes
Shortcrust pastry
Puff pastry

Mashed potatoes
Peel and dice 1 kg (about 2 pounds) potatoes.
Boil until just soft.
Drain and mash.
Mix in 1 tablespoon butter
Season to taste.

Cover the pie with the mashed potatoes, sealing them around the edges.
Run a fork over the top to make a grid pattern.
Dot the top with butter and season with salt and pepper.

Shortcrust pastry

I buy my pastry any more as I am, to be blunt, rubbish at making pastry.

Roll the dough out large enough to cover the top and sides of the dish.

Whisk 1 egg

Using a pastry brush or your finger, coat the rim of the casserole dish with the beaten egg.

Lay the pastry over the dish and press into the sides of the dish. Trim off any excess.

Use the excess pastry to create shapes to decorate the top if desired.

Or, using the back of a knife gently run diagonal lines across the top of the pie to make a cross-hatch pattern.

Use the tip of the knife to make a hole in the center of the pastry to let any steam release.

Use more of the egg to paint the top of the pie.

Puff pastry

You're definitely better off buying this pre-made. You can get it in a block, or pre-rolled. It is found in the refrigerator section with the butter and fats .

Take it out of the fridge and let it sit for 10 minutes to come up to room temperature.

Roll out the block to a size slightly larger than the casserole dish.

As with the shortcrust pastry, paint a layer of egg around the rim of the dish then place the pastry and press the edges into the rim. Trim off the excess. Make a cross-hatch pattern across the top using the back of a knife.

Paint more of the egg over the top and make a hole in the center to release any steam.

Instead of making a pie, why not make a slightly dryer filling and create these delicious chicken pasties. 

Chicken pasty

Roll out the puff pastry and cut into 6 - 8 inch diameter circles. I use a small plate. Spoon some of the filling onto one half of the circle, fold over the top and crimp the edges. Make a small hole to release the steam.

Paint a bit of beaten egg over the top.

Cooking any of these
Put the pie or pasties on a baking tray in a pre-heated oven.

Temperature gas mark 6/400F/200C/moderately hot.

Cook for 35 - 45 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and the filling is hot and bubbling.

Chicken Soup

I've already shared this recipe for Chicken, Leek, and Sweetcorn Soup

*These recipes will all work equally well with leftover turkey.*