Monday, April 28, 2014

Sunday Supper: Enjoy Gourmet Meals AND Save Money!

One tradition I've always liked the idea of is a nice Sunday supper.

There are a lot of reasons this appeals to me - I often have more time for cooking on the weekend, it's nice to be able to look forward to a delicious and relaxed meal with family, and the leftovers can be used during the week.

With that in mind, this weekend I bought a whole chicken to roast, something I've actually never done before.  I was amazed that I was able to buy a whole 4 lb natural chicken for just $6.42!  On a per pound basis, buying a whole chicken is incredibly cheaper than any of the separately packaged parts.

I think a lot of people hesitate to buy and use a whole chicken because they don't know how to cut one up, or they don't know how to cook one, or they're not sure what to do with all that meat at one time.  Well, NEVER FEAR!

How To Roast A Whole Chicken (Hint - It's Stupidly Easy)

Once I got the chicken home, I unwrapped it and brined it.  The problem often encountered with cooking a whole chicken is that the breasts cook and then dry out before the rest of the chicken is done.  Brining will help to make sure the entire chicken stays juicy and delicious.

Sadly, I can never remember the water-to-salt ratio for brining off the top of my head.  I like to reference the Cook's Illustrated PDF, 'The Basics of Brining'.  This PDF explains how much salt to use based on what you're brining, how long to brine for, and all sorts of stuff in just 2 pages.  It's awesome!

Once I was ready to cook the chicken, I used the Cook's Illustrated method for roasting a chicken.  This method has been written up on the blog Tasting Spoons, and includes some great pictures.

This method basically calls for you to stick a large frying pan in your oven, preheat the oven to 450°, and then put the chicken in the hot pan breast side UP.  You cook the chicken for about 30 minutes at 450°, then turn the oven off and let the chicken sit in the oven for another 40 minutes.  BLAM - that's it!

The cool thing about this method (other than how simple & easy it is), is that it gets all parts of the chicken cooked evenly without drying out the breast meat.  This same principle is why rotisserie chicken is so good.

The one down side to this method is that the chicken skin doesn't crisp up.  The next time I think I might sprinkle a salt, pepper and sugar mixture on the skin and see if that helps (sugar helps promote browning through the Maillard reaction).

What To Do With All That Delicious, Delicious Chicken

Meal #1 - Ok - now you have an entire roasted chicken sitting in front of you.  Um.... now what?  Well, that first night I served sliced chicken breast with an easy giblet gravy and a green salad.  When you buy a whole chicken, you get the giblets - usually the neck, liver, heart, and gizzard.  Why not use them for something?

Wonderful (Trust Me) Giblet Gravy

Diced carrots and onion
1 tablespoon of butter
Couple of grinds of pepper
Giblets of your choice
Drippings from roast chicken
1 tablespoon flour

Sauté the onions and carrots in the butter.  Add whatever giblets you want - I use the neck, heart, and liver but not the gizzard.  I would recommend at least using the neck - it has a mild flavor.  Cover the veggie-giblet combo with enough water to cover everything and let it gently simmer while your chicken roasts.  Once the chicken comes out, add the drippings from the bottom of the pan to your gravy and pull the meat from the neck.  At this point, I personally put the neck meat, other giblets, and the gravy in my Vitamix with a spoonful of flour to make a smooth gravy.  Some people like a chunky gravy.  Up to you.  DONE.

That first meal only used ONE of the breasts - I had the rest of the chicken left.  I wrapped it up and tossed the rest in the fridge.

Meal #2 - The next night I used the meat from one of the legs to make chicken enchiladas.  I diced the meat, mixed it with a can of refried beans and some salsa, stuffed a few tortillas with the mixture, poured enchilada sauce over the top and sprinkled it with cheese.  After baking for 30 minutes, it was all set!  This dinner took me MAYBE 10 minutes to pull together.

Meal #3 - Next I plan to cook up some bow-tie pasta, make a quick white sauce (whisk together 1 TBS melted butter + 1 TBS flour in a pan, add milk and some Parmesan cheese) and toss in more diced chicken and whatever veggies from the pantry or freezer catch my eye.  Some red peppers, diced tomatoes, peas, or green onions would be good in this.  This meal will also take about 10 - 15 minutes.

These are only a few suggestions.  Anything you could do with a rotisserie chicken would work here.  Add chopped chicken to pasta!  Add it to risotto!  Add it to tacos!  Add it to a Caesar salad!  The list is endless.

So from one weekend meal, I now have the foundation for quick-and-easy dinners the rest of the week. From that one $6.42 chicken, I can feed us the rest of the week with just a few things I already had in my pantry.

I don't know about you, but to me this seems pretty magical.  Yup - pretty sure I'm going to stick with the Sunday supper tradition from here on out. :-)

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