Recipe Week Eight

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chicken Parts

Chicken Parts

I don’t think this necessarily meets the criteria I set initially for cheap healthy food (whole grains and vegetables) but this has been on the list to write about since I started and I decided it was time. All you vegetarians should look away quickly and come back some other time.

This is another one of those things that seems fairly basic to me but I know is not basic to a lot of people.

I usually buy a whole chicken and cut it up rather than buying a cut-up chicken or a package of pre-cut chicken pieces (i.e., a styrofoam tray with legs, wings, breasts, backs shrink-wrapped to it).

I used to almost always buy a whole chicken, because a whole chicken was the cheapest per pound, but then chicken legs started being cheaper than whole chickens. Legs have gotten a little more expensive, but drumsticks are still usually cheaper. So lately I’ve been buying drumsticks if I want a little bit of roasted chicken or to use in some other recipe.

But if I want to make something with chicken breasts, I will always buy a whole chicken and cut it up and use the breast meat in the recipe and then wrap the other pieces and put them in the freezer for later use. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are crazy expensive, and usually not very good; I think the meat tends to be dry and has less flavor than meat you get from a whole chicken. Also if you get the ones with the bones you can use the bones to make stock that you can keep in the freezer and use in soups, casseroles, pilafs, etc. It’s just much better buying a whole chicken.

Also you can then use the non-breast pieces in nearly any recipe that calls for chicken parts. You can poach them and take the meat off the bone and make chicken salad or chicken soup or freeze for later use, or you can make chicken and dumplings, or you can make yourself some good old-fashioned fried chicken and have one of the best meals ever created, fried chicken and mashed potatoes with milk gravy. Yum. Mee.

I think the thing that gets a lot of people is the idea of cutting up a chicken. I think it seems harder than it is. But if you have a reasonably good knife, you can cut up a chicken without too much trouble. When I started, I followed the instructions from the Better Homes and Gardens (plaid) cookbook, which I will include here in their entirety for those of you who prefer visual aids.

Step One

Step One

Step Two

Step Two

Step Three

Step Three

Step Four

Step Four

Step Five

Step Five

Step Six

Step Six

I’ve done it enough that I can do it without instructions at this point, but for those of you who find the idea intimidating, you should know that it’s one of those things you will definitely get better at the more you do it, and also know that it doesn’t matter too much if you do it wrong the first few times. After a few attempts where you feel like you’re randomly hacking away at the poor bird, you’ll eventually figure out how to tell where the joints are and where you can cut that will go through easily (or relatively easily at least, sometimes you just have to hack, there’s no way around it).

Just do it a few times for yourself and people who will not think less of you for cutting up a chicken badly before attempting to do it for an important dinner party. You’ll get the hang of it.

Last week (or the week before? I’ve lost track) I bought the chicken pictured at the top and used it in one of my easiest and most favorite chicken recipes, Lone Star Chicken.

This recipe is from Marion Cunningham, and is in both The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, where I first saw it, and also in her great cookbook The Supper Book. You could use the whole chicken if you want — or you could buy just get drumsticks or legs or whatever is cheap — but I nearly always use the legs (drumsticks and thighs), wings, and back from a whole chicken I’ve cut up, and use the breasts in a different recipe.

Next week I’ll give my favorite recipe that calls for chicken breasts. But for new here’s…

Lone Star Chicken

1 can (18-3/4 ounces) solid-pack tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 chicken (2-1/2 to 3 pounds) cut into 8 pieces

Put the tomatoes and their juices into a large, stove-top casserole and break the tomatoes into bits. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano and vinegar; stir to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer on top of the stove, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the chicken parts, pushing them down into the sauce. Cover the casserole and bake for about 1 hour.

Serves 4

And a few notes…

I usually get a larger can of tomatoes and use less than a whole chicken. I also use less cumin because I have a weird thing about cumin. I’m not sure that it matters exactly how many pieces the chicken is cut up into; I think the point is to not put the chicken in whole but to cut it into pieces. I think this would work in a slow cooker, but I don’t have enough slow-cooker experience to give instructions.

I serve it over pasta, though I think it would also be good over rice. If I get tired of it before it’s gone, I take the chicken off the bone and freeze together with the sauce. It’s great to be able to cook some pasta and have some nice chicken and tomato sauce without having to do anything.

6 Responses to “Recipe Week Eight”

  1. Lorrie Says:

    What an idea — cutting up your own chicken! We have become so spoiled and separated from the origins of our food. My mom used to cut up chickens by herself all the time, because it was cheaper and fresher that way. She was feeding a family of nine and fed us well on one salary by being frugal and cooking from scratch. She made fried chicken, chicken paprikash (her parents were from Hungary), chicken ala king and homemade chicken soup. We fought over the drumsticks, especially from the fried chicken! Sometimes my mom bought extra chicken legs (on sale of course) so that there would be enough for everyone who liked them. Those were the days! I learned to cut up a chicken at an early age, but have to confess that I rarely do it these days. Next time whole chickens are on sale, I will be buying a couple. And, I look forward to trying your new recipe. Thank you!

  2. auntieintellectual Says:

    I love the food splotches on the cookbook pages!

    But I think I will stick to cutting up tofu.

  3. lessisenough Says:

    Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

  4. lessisenough Says:

    Well my grandmother grew up on a farm and had to kill the chicken first before being able to cut it up. She still shudders about that, she’s not too nostalgic over farm life. But one of the tricks she taught us is to soak the chicken in salt water for a few hours before frying, it makes it much more tender and flavorful.

    I think my mom is on the way to being a celebrity among my niece’s friends. She cooked fried chicken for a birthday dinner a few weeks ago and apparently one of the girls said something like, “This completely changes how I feel about chicken.” One of the moms called after her daughter got home (could have been the same girl, not sure) and said, “What does your mother-in-law do to her chicken?” My sister-in-law said, “I don’t know, I just eat it.”

    So next time you make fried chicken, soak it in a bowl of salt water for a few hours first. It’s good.

  5. Lorrie Says:

    The truth of the matter is, I never make fried chicken. My husband thinks it’s not healthy. But then, with fried chicken, who really cares. Now, however, I believe I might do it. Having done it with my mom for many years growing up, I still know how. First you dip each piece of chicken in seasoned flour, then in a mixture of egg and milk, and finally in bread crumbs. You let the pieces sit for awhile (don’t remember how long – will have to ask Mom) and then fry in bacon grease. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it (sorry, vegetarians). I don’t fry enough bacon to use bacon grease, nor do I use lard like my mom did, but I’m sure I could still make it good. I’ll have to try the soaking too. I’ve read about brining poultry before, but have never tried it. Thanks for the tip. And, as you have probably figured out by now with my comments appearing fairly often, I sure enjoy your blog. It’s like the internet version of having a pen pal!

  6. lessisenough Says:

    It is a little bit like having a pen pal … with pictures and everything.

    My family does a more minimalist version of fried chicken. Brine the chicken pieces, then coat with seasoned flour. That’s it, no egg or bread crumbs. The rest of my family uses Crisco shortening but I usually use canola oil or peanut oil with a little bit of bacon grease, because that’s what I always have around, I don’t always have Crisco.

    And this is making me want to make fried chicken! The problem for me is not health or money or time, but the fact that I don’t have a dishwasher and fried chicken generates a large amount of greasy dishes that are a pain to clean. So I have to decide if the good-ness of the chicken outweighs the pain-in-the-butt-ness of the dishes. Every now and then the chicken wins out.

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