Easy Ways to Stretch a Whole Chicken

A bird in the hand can become at least two on the dinner plate!

Perfect Roast Chicken

Photo by: Tara Donne ©Tara Donne

Tara Donne, Tara Donne

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Anyone on a budget already knows that buying a whole chicken is a money-saving move. But that’s only the beginning: a single chicken can produce more than one meal, even if you’re feeding a family.

How do you make the most of a chicken and guarantee that nothing goes to waste? Easy! Stretch the cooked meat as far as possible and then use what’s left of the bird to make otherwise meatless meals more flavorful and satisfying.

Here’s how.

Cook the Chicken

You can prepare the chicken however you like but roasting it works best for me. It always cooks up tender and juicy — and it’s easy to separate out the parts of the chicken that are destined for other purposes. Ina’s Perfect Roast Chicken recipe covers all the basic steps (remove the giblets and excess fat, season and truss the bird and roast) but you can cook a whole chicken in your Instant Pot or slow cooker too. Regardless of how you choose to prepare it, be sure to hold on to the giblets, any excess fat or skin that was trimmed from the bird and any pan drippings that resulted from the cooking process — they'll be useful later.

Shred the Chicken

Once your chicken has rested and cooled slightly, carve the large portions of meat from the bones and use two forks to shred them. Then, when the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove the rest of the meat from the bones and add it to your shredded chicken.

Shredding the chicken makes it easier to stretch it across several meals. A little goes a long way when combined with other ingredients (for example, in quesadillas, tacos or green salads). When you’re craving something that feels more chicken-centric try using some of your shredded chicken to top homemade pizza. You can use shredded chicken in Rachael’s Buffalo Chicken pie (just start from step 3) or make your own pizza dough and top it with whatever you have on-hand. Or, try adding a little shredded chicken to Trisha’s hearty, meatless pot pie; it’s a great way to make a chicken pot while using less meat.

Make Chicken Stock

After you’ve taken all of the bones, throw them into a large cooking pot along with a few aromatic vegetables and some fresh herbs (if you have them) to make chicken stock. Not only is the process incredibly easy but the end result tastes infinitely better than anything you can buy at your local supermarket.

Because homemade stock has such amazing flavor, it’s great for making othwerwise meatless meals feel more satisfying. Use your homemade stock for soups and stews, as your cooking liquid when making rice, risotto or couscous — and even when boiling pasta. Your food will have so much flavor, you won’t miss the meat at all.

Use the Giblets and Fat

Remember all those trimmings you set aside before you cooked your chicken? It’s time to put them to good use. If this is your first time saving extra chicken fat you probably won’t have enough to use just yet. But that’s ok — store whatever you have in a resealable bag in your freezer. When you have 8 ounces you can make schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). You can find the exact measurements and steps within this recipe. The schmaltz can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a week (or for several months in your freezer) and used in many of the same ways that other cooking fats can. Use it to fry potatoes, sauté veggies or cut it into flour when you’re baking homemade biscuits. Valerie even uses it in these unique Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

Last but not least, make sure those giblets and pan drippings don’t go to waste. They add incredible flavor to homemade gravy. I like Ree’e easy method. Just swap the turkey drippings for chicken.

And, there you have it. With a little bit of planning and culinary know-how you’ve got chicken stock, gravy, cooking fat and a couple of dinners — all from one bird!

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