Chicken can be one of the least interesting meats. Overcook it, and it’s practically inedible. But with a free morning, a good knife and a little know-how, a single chicken can make a whole bunch of really delicious, interesting dishes.
As the owner of twelve chickens (and a rooster), I think of the chicken not merely as a plump, tidy ball of meat wrapped in Foster Farms plastic in the fridge, but also as a living animal scratching for food, rolling around in the dirt, resting in the sun. I can see them out the window as I write this, going about their business.
Which makes me more mindful when I am cooking a chicken to be respectful of the living creature it was. This I do by making the most of a chicken. And I will teach you to do the same. We have friends who invite us to dinner, and every time they inevitably serve a roast chicken. Properly brined and cooked, and roast chicken can be an enjoyable meal — and the leftover carcass makes a great stock. But I prefer to treat each part of the bird as a separate meat, and make something different with each: the breasts, the legs/thighs, the wings, the liver and the carcass.
You will want to use the chicken in several stages. The two things I do immediately upon carving the raw bird up are to make the stock, and make the liver spread for the crostini. Then you may choose to make the breasts or the thighs for dinner, or freeze the portions you will not be using immediately.
Let’s begin: unwrap that chicken from it’s plastic, and thank it for giving it’s life for your table. Remove the liver from inside and save for later (other giblets you can throw out or feed to your cat.) Now you are ready to butcher the chicken. There are good tutorials on You Tube if you don’t know how to do this. But it’s pretty intuitive:
• Working downward from the breastbone, one side at a time, carefully carve the breasts from the bone. You should be able to follow the rib cage until the breast comes free, and then cut away the skin to separate from the carcass. Wrap in plastic for later, or freeze in a freezer bag.
• With a large, sharp knife or poultry shears, remove the wings from the carcass at the shoulder joint. Cut off the tips and save for your stock. Then cut through each wing at the joint to create four segments — two drumettes and two wingettes. Wrap in plastic or freeze.
• Using your knife or poultry shears, remove the legs and thighs from the carcass. If you twist the thighs, they will dislodge from the joint and it will be obvious where to cut them loose (they actually almost pull away without cutting). You can continue and do the same to separate the thighs from the legs. But what I like to do is take a heavy cleaver and chop off the knobby part at the bottom of the leg. Then I chop the leg/thigh segments into three pieces, which make for less unwieldy portions when serving. Wrap in plastic for later or freeze.
• Now your chicken is carved, your carcass is ready to be rendered to stock, and it’s time to cook — a lusty Tuscan crostini to start an Italian meal, and crispy Korean chicken wings to begin an Asian feast; Japanese-style breaded breasts (a kid favorite!) and Cuban-style garlic thighs and legs (Te la comiste!); and a rich stock for your favorite soup — with chicken salad sandwiches made from the leftover meat picked off the carcass!! Now that’s called resourceful!
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serves 2 as an appetizer
1 large chicken liver
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. chopped shallot
1 tsp. chopped capers
1 anchovy fillet
1/2 cup red wine
freshly ground pepper & salt to taste
2 slices ciabatta or other crusty country bread
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add onion and capers, and stir cooking until golden, about 2 minutes. Push onion and capers to the side and add the chicken liver. Cook for about 2 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Add red wine and anchovy, and cook until all but about 1 tbsp. of the wine has cooked away, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
Place chicken liver mixture in a small food processor and add one more tablespoon olive oil, and blend very briefly to create a rough puree. (You can also do this procedure in a small bowl, mashing with two forks until pureed, if you do not have a small processor.)
Divide the mixture in two and spread on top of two toasts. Place in a toaster oven (or oven) and toast for about 5 minutes, until bread is crusty and golden and liver mixture is browned. Serve with cornichons.
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Korean-style fried chicken wings
serves 2 as an appetizer
4 chicken wing segments, lightly salted
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. corn starch
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp. ketchup
1 tbsp. red chili paste (Sriracha or other)
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. grated or finely chopped fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, grated or finely chopped
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
Mix together the flour and corn starch with 1/2 cup water. Heat the oil in a pan or skillet over medium-high until just beginning to smoke. Turn heat down to medium, dip chicken wings in batter and fry, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a paper towel to drain. Turn oil to low.
Mix together ketchup, chili sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, ginger and sesame oil until well integrated.
Return heat to medium, and re-fry your chicken wings, about 3 minutes per side, until golden brown. Remove from heat. In a bowl, toss chicken wings with sauce. Serve warm immediately, perhaps on top of some Asian cabbage slaw.
(*Note: this recipe can be expanded if you have more chicken wings. Double for 8 wings, quadruple for 16, etc.)
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Japanese panko-crusted chicken breasts with lemon
2 half chicken breasts
1 cup Japanese panko bread crumbs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
flaky sea salt to taste
Brine the chicken breasts for 2 hours in a mixture of 1 cup water and 2 tbsp. salt. Remove and pat dry, then soak in milk for 30 minutes.
In a pan or skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Place panko in a shallow bowl, and dredge chicken breasts to cover. Place chicken breasts in oil and reduce heat to medium. Cook for about 3 minutes on the first side, then carefully turn over and cook another 5 minutes on the second side, until golden. Turn once more, and cook a final 2 minutes on the side you started with. Remove to a cutting board, and let sit for 2 minutes.
With a very sharp knife, taking care not to dislodge the breadcrumbs, slice each breast crosswise at 3/4 inch intervals into scallop-size slices. Serve a few slices per plate. Squeeze a little lemon juice over each, and sprinkle with flaky sea salt such as Maldon. (Goes well with a little spinach sautéed in grapeseed or olive oil with garlic.)
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Cuban garlic chicken
2 chicken thighs with legs
1 cup flour
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 small white onion, cut lengthwise into slivers
1 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
salt & pepper to taste
With a large cleaver, chop the knobby ends off the chicken legs. Then chop each thigh/leg into three segments. Two hours before cooking, brine the chicken pieces in 1 cup water mixed with 2 tbsp. salt.
Remove from brine. In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Dredge each chicken piece in flour, and fry in the oil about 5 minutes per side until browned on each side.
Add garlic and orange juice. Cover pan and cook for 10 minutes. Remove cover, turn chicken over, add half of onion slivers and continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes, until the sauce is thick and reduced by 2/3. Remove from heat and top with remaining onion slivers.
Serve with Cuban black beans and rice.
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1 chicken carcass
1 large white onion
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
Place chicken carcass in a large pot with 1 gallon water, onion, bay leaf and 1 tbsp. salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming foam off the surface with a fine strainer. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, skimming occasionally, for 45 minutes. Let cool.
Remove carcass and onion. There will be a good deal of meat still on the carcass, even if you’ve done a masterful job in your original carving. Carefully pick remaining meat from carcass, and reserve for a later use (as in the sandwiches below).
Strain broth through a fine mesh sieve into another large pot. Bring to a simmer over high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, and continue reducing stock for another 45 minutes. Season to taste with salt, and store in the fridge or freeze until ready to use.
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Chicken salad sandwiches
1 cup cooked chicken
3 cippoline onions (small white onions)
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
1 ripe tomato, sliced
1 cup arugula
4 slices crusty ciabatta or other rustic bread
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper
Peel cippoline onions and cut in quarters. Place in a small bowl with vinegar for one hour.
Place chicken in a bowl with mayonnaise. Add onion pickles. Mix and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread 1/2 of chicken mixture on each of two slices of bread. Top with a couple slices of tomato and a handful of arugula. Place top slice of bread on each sandwich, and cut in half to serve.