Cooking Whole Chicken - an example of frugal cooking concepts
Let's use cooking whole chicken as an example of how we might engage in frugal cooking. I'll give you a couple of recipes at the end of this discussion, but for now I just want to focus on the frugal aspects of using a whole chicken so some of the hints and tips of frugal cooking can be made more clear.
Once some of these concepts sink in a bit, you can make good use of them elsewhere in your frugal cooking adventures.
One of the first concepts is to use inexpensive ingredients. Chicken is one of them. Although we're all seeing a rise in the price of food, whole chicken continues to be a bargain. It's a bargain because chickens are fast growers, raised by the thousands, processed in an assembly line manner, and require minimal processing.
It's not uncommon for chicken to cost less than vegetables. When chicken legs are $1.20 per pound, whole chicken might be as little as 88 cents or even as little as 69 cents per pound. And, there isn't much need to compare this with boneless breast meat that is sold for $4 per pound. So, cooking whole chicken means we're getting the animal at a greatly reduced price, so our main ingredient is inexpensive.
Next, cooking a whole chicken gives us options with respect to how much it might cost to prepare. It can be baked, stewed, smoked, grilled, steamed, and fried to name a few common methods. Depending on how it's prepared, we can cut it up or you can leave it whole, so we have options in terms of the cost of cooking it and how much of our time might be consumed in this task.
Can we make use of the herb and vegetable garden that might help us in our adventure in cooking whole chicken? Heck yeah, how about onions, potatoes and rosemary? Those ingredients are easy to grow and go great with chicken. I'd stuff the chicken with potatoes and onions and prepare a nice butter and rosemary rub for the outside and perhaps bake it in the oven.
And what about our ability to store whole chicken? Well, it's one of the best keeping foods in the freezer. If you buy a chicken sealed up in a bag and then freeze it, you'll likely be successful keeping it for many months without any degradation in terms of flavor or quality. Raw chicken lasts a long time in the freezer, so it's ready when you are. Food spoilage is a big part of food waste, and chicken allows us the option of long term storage in the freezer, so it can help us minimize waste.
Continuing with the theme of minimizing waste, a whole chicken also lends itself to using every bit, especially if we cook it in a stock pot for soup or stew. If we prepare it that way, we can use every bit of the chicken, including the bones. Or, if you're like me and have a canine companion who enjoys a raw food diet, then you can feed the back and other unused (and uncooked) portions to your dog and they will enjoy it. Also, if you de-bone your chicken, your dog will enjoy just the bones. Don't worry, raw chicken bones aren't a problem - it's the cooked (and therefore dry) bones that splinter and cause trouble. In any event, cooking whole chicken lends itself to zero waste if you just do a little thinking about it.
It's a little off topic, but I mentioned that frugal cooking also includes that we consider wild foods. When we think of cooking whole chicken, wild foods don't exactly come to mind, but something close to it does for me. I've been known to raise chickens, and with a little space, you can keep a small flock as they require little care. With a larger space that has lots of natural food (and adequate predator protection) you can free range a small flock and they'll be nearly as frugal a food source as any wild food.
A former neighbor of mine used to raise Guinea hens, and his routine was simply to toss out some grain in the morning and provide them with a source of drinking water. He let them forage for the rest of their food during the day - bugs, worms, lizards, grasses. Chickens can be handled much the same way as they are natural foragers. Just provide them with water and a place to take refuge and roost during the night.
So, that brings us to our recipes for cooking whole chicken. Let's start with whole roast chicken. If we do it from a frugal standpoint, we'll end up with leftovers for various chicken dishes, including stew and soup. As we go through this meal, I'll try to show the key aspects of what I preach - low cost ingredients, less costly cooking methods, using what we can easily grow in the backyard, making use of long term storage items, and minimizing waste.
Done with Cooking Whole Chicken, take me back to Frugal Cooking