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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

How to Use Two Chickens

Of course, you could break them down into quarters or eighths, or debone them, and use the pieces in three or four completely different dishes, braised or grilled or whatever, or freeze them for later—that might be the really smart thing to do if, like me the other day, you happen to come across nice-looking chickens on sale at the grocery store. (And no, Mom and Mr. Chalmers, they were not expired.) What I'd like to convey here, though, is an easy way to make the most of a couple birds without spending a lot of time cooking or putting a lot of thought into the matter, and using as few fresh ingredients as possible. Sorry there are no pictures, but you've all seen roast chicken, chicken stock, pot pie, and chicken salad before, right?

What you'll need (not in order): 2 chickens (natch), 1 lemon, 1 1/2 onions, 1 bunch of celery, 3 parsnips, handful of frozen peas, 2 cloves garlic, bit of parsley, 1 tablespoon olive oil, flour, about 2 teaspoons dried thyme, salt and pepper, mayonnaise, and capers and fresh herbs (optional).

If you know you're going to make all of what follows, start out by dicing 1 of the onions, all of the celery, and the parsnips, and chopping some parsley; you can put everything in a couple of bowls in the fridge and save yourself a little cleanup time later.

So here we go. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Thinly slice 1 lemon and put half of the slices in each of two baking dishes or roasting pans. Pull the fat and extra skin off from around the cavity of each chicken; set it aside. Set the livers aside. Put the hearts and gizzards in a freezer bag to use later, when you have enough to grind and put in Cajun rice (or if freezer space is too precious, give them to the dogs). Chop off the tips of the wings and put them in a separate freezer bag to collect for stock; put the necks in the bag too.

Rinse the chickens. Spatchcock them: Stand one upright, breast side facing away from you, and use a heavy knife to cut down one side of the backbone, then cut down the other side and pull out the backbone (put the backbone in the bag for stock). (Cutting out the backbone would probably be easier with poultry shears; use 'em if you've got 'em.) Lay the chicken out flat on the cutting board and press down with your palm on the breastbone to crack it and flatten it further. Pat dry with paper towels, then season all over with salt, pepper, and a little dried thyme. Place the chicken breast-meat side up on top of the lemon slices. Do the other chicken the same way. While the knife and board and your hands are all poultried up, finely dice the fat and extra skin, and chop the livers; set aside.

Roast the chickens for, oh, 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the skin is dark golden, crisp, and puffed up and the juices from the thigh run clear. Have one of the chickens for supper. Put the other in the fridge.

Render the fat with 1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic, and a pinch of salt to make schmaltz and gribbenes (you'll get about 2/3 cup schmaltz; put it in the fridge to solidify), and cook the livers with the gribbenes to make a spread for bread or toasts (add a few capers, maybe a minced anchovy, maybe some sage or parsley or tarragon if you like).

A day or so later, use the second roasted chicken: Take all the meat off the bones and set the meat aside; discard the smaller bones, skin, and excess fat. Put the larger bones in a stock pot with 1/2 onion (unpeeled is fine), some parsley stems, celery trimmings, a bay leaf, and some peppercorns (and whatever else you like to put in stock). Cover with water and simmer for 1 or 2 hours, skimming the foam from the top if there is any; strain the stock and discard the solids.

Make pot pie (I didn't have carrots or potatoes, so I used parsnips this last time to cover the sweet and starchy bases, and it worked just fine; also, in the crust I used the schmaltz instead of shortening or butter—it was a little harder to roll out, but it tasted really good and made the pot pie even more chicken-y): Combine 1 1/2 cups flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Cut in the solidified schmaltz. Sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon cider vinegar and 3 to 5 tablespoons ice water and gather the dough into a ball. Wrap it, flatten it into a thick disk, and freeze it until firm. Roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap into a circle or rectangle to fit your pot-pie baking dish. Place on a plate or baking sheet and freeze again.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a skillet over medium heat, cook about 1 cup diced celery and celery leaves, 1/2 diced onion, 3 diced parsnips in about 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the onion is soft, sprinkle about 2 tablespoons flour over the vegetables and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Pour in enough of the stock to cover the vegetables, then add about 1/2 cup half-and-half or milk, a handful of chopped parsley, all of the dark meat from the chicken and a little of the breast meat, and a handful of frozen peas. Transfer to a baking dish or a deep ceramic soufflé dish, cover with the almost-frozen dough, crimp the edge, and cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake until the filling is bubbling over and the crust is nicely browned on top. That's your second chicken supper.

If you can bear to eat more chicken, celery, and onions, make chicken salad: Dice the remaining chicken breast meat, add diced celery and leaves, a little diced onion, and mayonnaise, salt, and pepper to taste (I add my pepper after it's on the sandwich). Obviously, fresh herbs are good here, as is a squeeze of lemon juice or a few capers.

God, it's only Wednesday and I'm so sick of chicken I could die happily without taking another bite of it.

1 comment:

Deborah said...

wow, great tips, gonna run right out and try it! Now if you can just help me to stop making dried out crock pot pot roast (how is this possible???), life would be perfect!