When I was young, at least once a week we’d sit down to dinner and one of us kids would exclaim, “Awe, Mom! Chicken again?” Mom cooked a lot of chicken, I think, because chicken was—and still is—an inexpensive source of (delicious) protein.
From time-to-time you can find whole chickens on sale for as little as $.79 per pound, and more typically from $.99 to $1.49 per pound. A five-to-six pound chicken at any of those prices is an amazing bargain; it can become the centerpiece of at least four meals for a family of four.
Chicken for 16
I prepare one chicken for four meals by roasting it. This may be the easiest way to cook chicken:
Dust a whole five-to-six-pound bird with poultry seasoning, onion powder, and pepper, and put it in the oven at 350 degrees. After 90 minutes, jam a meat thermometer into a breast so the thermometer doesn’t touch a bone. If the thermometer reads 160 or higher, remove the chicken from the oven, cover it, and let it sit for ten minutes before carving (the temperature will continue to climb at least to 165 degrees; the minimum safe temperature). If the temperature is below 160 when you check it, return the chicken to the oven for ten more minutes and check again.
Carve half the chicken for dinner: Remove a drumstick, wing, and thigh, and work the meat off the thigh with a knife. Then slice the breast into six or seven pieces. With sides such as peas, corn, beans, bread, salad, and mashed potatoes or rice, your first dinner is very robust. I usually repeat that meal the next day. Then the fun starts.
There’s quite a bit of meat on the bones after four people have had two meals. To remove that meat, put the chicken carcass into a stockpot and add water to cover it—about a gallon, depending on the shape of the pot. Cover the pot and set it to simmer for three or four hours at which point, turn off the heat and leave the pot to cool, covered, for a half hour.
By now the chicken skeleton, skin, and meat have disintegrated into a 3-D jigsaw puzzle. Pour off the liquid through a strainer into a second pot and then pick through the jigsaw puzzle, removing whatever meat you can find and adding it to the liquid in the second pot. It can take fifteen minutes but results in nearly a gallon of chicken and stock and chicken bits that you can turn into a robust soup to serve for two or more meals:
Place the stock and chicken on low heat and add 8 ounces of diced carrots; 2 sticks of celery, chopped; a medium onion, diced; 12 ounces of green beans; a quarter cup of white (cooking) wine; a quarter teaspoon of ground pepper; and a half teaspoon of poultry seasoning. Let this simmer for an hour, and then add 8 ounces of uncooked pasta or 4 ounces of uncooked rice and continue cooking until your preferred starch softens (10 to 20 minutes). Serve with bread and a salad.
Menus with cost and nutritional information:
Assuming you buy a six pound chicken at $.99 per pound, your first two meals look like this: Each diner gets 4 ounces roasted chicken, 3/4 cup mashed potatoes, ½ cup boiled carrots, garden salad with dressing, and 8 ounces of milk. A single serving provides 587 calories, 26 grams of fat, 127 mg of cholesterol, and 8 grams of fiber.
Each diner at your third and fourth meals gets about ten ounces of soup, a generous salad with dressing, a dinner roll, and a cup of milk—that’s 470 calories, 18 grams of fat, 42 mg of cholesterol, and 7 grams of fiber.
Over the course of four nights, you feed a family of four at an average cost per meal of $4.70. At that cost you can add dessert and still stay well within the budget.