Roasting a chicken is one of the simplest cooking tasks and an excellent choice for budget-friendly meals. A roast chicken makes a delicious everyday dinner or special occasion supper for four to six people, but did you know there are many more ways to stretch that whole chicken to make several economical meals and also produce less waste? Make a chicken salad for sandwiches with half of the meat and use the rest to make a casserole for another night. Or use the chicken in a big batch of pasta salad for a picnic or cookout. Instead of tossing the wings and carcass, consider using the remaining bones and pieces to make a flavorful stock.
Choose Your Favorite Whole Chicken Cooking Method
There are other ways to cook a whole chicken, but roasting is often the easiest and most effective route. Depending on the size and oven temperature, it takes about 1 to 2 hours to roast a chicken to golden-brown perfection. Season the chicken with salt and pepper or use a seasoning blend and add a few lemon halves or herb sprigs to the cavity for moistness and extra flavor. From buying and unpacking the whole chicken to optimal oven temperatures for roasting, this perfect roast chicken article takes you through the process step by step.
Depending on the size of your chicken, you can use just about any oven-safe pan, from your trusty iron skillet to a Dutch oven or shallow baking dish. Spatchcocking, or flattening the chicken, can also speed up the roasting time. Or you might try this recipe for flattened chicken under a brick. Some other cooking methods for whole chicken include smoking, poaching, using a rotisserie, slow cooker, or Instant Pot.
Creative Ways to Stretch the Meat
Once you have seasoned and roasted your chicken, shred or chop all of the meat from the breasts, legs, and thighs. A four- to five-pound chicken will yield approximately 5 to 6 cups of shredded or chopped meat, more than enough for two hearty pasta and chicken casseroles or two generous pots of chicken soup. Use the shredded chicken to make tacos, chicken a la king, or a delicious chicken and rice bog. Or add some chopped chicken to bulk up boxed mac and cheese.
And don't throw the flavorful skin away—add the crispy skin to a chicken or grilled cheese sandwich for fantastic flavor and texture. Or chop the skin toss it with breadcrumbs and melted butter to make an extra special casserole topping.
Don't Forget the Chicken Stock
Don't discard the wings and carcass—make stock! If you simply don't have time to make stock right away, cool the wings and carcass, then break them into smaller pieces. Put them in a freezer bag or container along with any fat trimmings and innards and freeze them to use another day. You can use the stock for cooking rice, lentils, pasta, and vegetables. Or use the stock to make a delicious homemade soup or stew.
You can keep your chicken stock simple with chopped onion, a carrot or two, bay leaves, and seasonings, or add a little white wine and some fresh herb sprigs for more complex flavor. Homemade stock can be salted or unsalted, and, best of all, you know there are no preservatives. The wings and carcass (with bits of meat clinging to it) will yield about 6 cups of stock. Freeze the stock in 1-cup containers or small freezer bags. Silicone ice cube trays are a great way to freeze the stock. Once the cubes are frozen solid, remove them from the trays and pop them into a freezer bag. Use the frozen cubes in a white sauce in place of some of the milk when you want a little extra flavor or use them as the steaming liquid for fresh or frozen vegetables.
Save the Fat and Giblets
The chicken fat, or schmaltz, is rich in flavor and used in many recipes, including traditional chopped liver, matzo balls, and dumplings. Freeze the chicken fat in a separate freezer container and add to it whenever you trim a chicken or chicken parts. When you have enough, you can render it and store it in the refrigerator for up to six months or freeze it for more extended storage.