How to stretch a chicken four ways, part 1

No, this isn’t some fowl new form of animal torture. This is the gentle art of making do, using everything up and cooking the fridge empty. Serves 2, each time.  

This post was prompted by a conversation today with a young work colleague, who had no idea how to make soup.  We talked about pea & ham soup, tomato & bean soup, and chicken soup, how easy they were, how cheap and how good they taste for comparatively little work.  And chicken was on the menu tonight anyway, so that soup’s included below as well.  It strikes me that young women in her generation have no idea how to stretch food to feed either more people, or fewer people for longer.  All they know is processed food, and they have little awareness of raw ingredients. Their mothers were liberated from the kitchen, and the arts of domestic economy are being lost.

I’ll post the other two soup recipes another time.

Day 1 – Roasted. Take one medium chook (chicken, bird, whatever you want to call it, we call them chooks in Australia). Coat it lightly with olive oil, using a spray if you’re fat conscious (on the other hand, if you’re fat conscious, the rest of this blog is not for you…), and salt it to taste. I like a little. Roast it for 30 minutes per half kilo/per pound on a rack placed in a deep, heavy duty roasting pan. Put a cupful of water in the bottom when you put the bird in the oven. This will give you the beginnings of a nice gravy. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes while you make the gravy. Carve off the drumsticks and thighs in one piece, and serve with steamed vegies, roast vegies, mashed potato, rice, whatever takes your fancy.  Make the gravy by tipping any remaining juices out of the chicken into the pan. Put the pan on the stove top (hence the need for heavy duty) till it bubbles. Stir in half a cup of milk blended with a large heaped teaspoonful of cornflour/ cornstarch.  Stir like mad to blend the ingredients and prevent the gravy becoming lumpy.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as required. If it needs more salt, add a little stock powder, it just boosts the flavour a little.  Add more milk or water if it gets too thick. After you’ve done the washing up/stacked the dishwasher or whatever, strip the larger pieces of meat from the carcase and refrigerate.  Put the carcase in a deep pot, together with all loose bones, skin, etc.  Leave nothing out.  Cover with cold water and bring gently to the boil.  Let it simmer for an hour or two. Turn it off, cover, and go to bed.

The starring attraction, a 2kg chook. The last baste, half an hour to go

The starring attraction, a 2kg chook.
The last baste, half an hour to go

The supporting caste, a tray of fresh seasonal vegies roasting under the chicken

The supporting cast, a tray of fresh seasonal
vegies roasting under the chicken

Day 2 –  Soup. Using a slotted spoon, remove all the bits of chicken carcase from the water, pick them over for any remaining meat (which goes back in) and dispose of them by whatever means you prefer.  My worms can’t eat them, so they go in the green waste bin, wrapped in newspaper.  They will boost the calcium content of the compost that gets made from green waste.  Into the water, put 1 shredded leek or half a finely shredded red onion, a thinly sliced large carrot, about a quarter of a small pumpkin or hard winter squash, and a good handful of brown rice.  Add seasoning: I personally think it’s vital to have dried sage and thyme in this soup, as well as some stock powder.  Simmer this lot for a couple of hours.  If you want to add more scraps of chicken from the meat you’ve stripped off, that’s good too.  This big pot of soup lasts the Husband 3 or 4 days for his  work lunches.

Day 3 – Chicken pies.  I use GF puff pastry.  I’m not bonkers enough to try and make it myself (and I can’t anyway, my hands are too warm for pastry), and the commercial stuff is pretty good.  If you don’t need to eat GF, then by all means make pastry.  I sweat shredded leek and finely sliced mushrooms in butter. When they’re soft, I add some chicken, cut into bite size pieces.  I’m talking polite bites here, not the sort of thing the Husband constructs and then struggles to insert…. Once that’s warmed through, I add whipping cream – unwhipped – and a large teaspoon of grain mustard.  Sprinkle of seasoning, mix well, the pie filling’s ready.  Cool it. I use individual non-stick pie pans, with a lick of olive oil to grease them.  Line the bottom with pastry, add the filling, and then put a lid on it.  Make a hole in the top to let steam escape, and crimp round the edge with a fork to seal.  Put in the oven on a baking sheet and cook for minimum 20 minutes on 180C/350F, until the pastry is browned and puffy.  If you want to be fancy, you can brush with beaten egg before baking.

Day 4 – Chicken salad.  Again, we need bite size pieces.  To this add your choice of ingredients: baby spinach leaves, rocket, baby beet leaves, tatsoi, cornsalad, avocado, tomatoes, apple, carrot, capsicum, grapes, cold roasted vegies such as beets, potato, pumpkin and sweet potato. Dress with your preferred dressing: we like dijonnaise, or pesto blended with mayonnaise or plain greek yoghurt.  This salad has the virtue of using up the last bits of things, and has no fixed recipe.

I refuse to throw food away except when it’s wearing a green hairy coat.  I see that more often than I’d like, even on fruit I’ve only bought a day or so before.  So my life is an endless gentle stream of seeing what’s in the fridge/pantry/freezer before I decide what’s for dinner.  I don’t use recipe books except where chemistry is important (GF bread, for example).  I cook by instinct, by what’s available, by what’s fresh, and good and just ripened, by what my gut tells me is right for the season.  No sorbet in winter, no glorious beef stews in summer.  Even in this climate, we do have a sort of token winter when I can indulge my love of casseroles.  I must be doing OK, because the Husband regularly turns to me with his mouth full and tells me he loves me.

Here’s what Day 1 looks like, together with the side order.

The supporting act, a tray of leeks, tomatoes, onions, beets, pumpkin, sweet potato and asparagus, sprinkled with olive oil and fresh sage and oregano

The supporting act, a tray of leeks, tomatoes, onions, beets, pumpkin, sweet potato and asparagus, sprinkled with olive oil and fresh sage and oregano,
ready to go in the oven with the chicken

What are you having for supper tonight?
Bet it’s not as nice as mine.


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