When I am really busy, I don’t always have the time to cook from scratch everyday (and frankly, sometimes I don’t have the energy!). Yet, we eat well. One of my strategies is to cook something purposefully large on the week-end, and reuse it during the week, but in such a manner that the weekly meals do not feel like “leftovers”. I don’t think there is anything wrong with leftovers, but apparently, for many people, it a bad word. Chicken is the ideal meat for that – being so versatile. As an aside, this strategy also saves money: it’s cheaper to buy a whole chicken and cut-it up; you’ll eat less meat and more vegetables; you won’t give-in in buying take-out (or going out) out since you’ll have meals planned for the whole week!
In late summer, early fall, I want to take advantage of tomatoes, peppers, beans, tomatillos and other seasonal veggies. So a week of dinner menus based on that one chicken might look like this:
- Sunday: Roast Chicken
- Monday: Tomatillo-chicken Soup
- Tuesday: Fall Rainbow Stir Fry
- Wednesday: Tex-Mex Chowder
- Thursday: Fajitas
- Friday: Pizza
- Saturday:… oh well, you are on your own!
How does it work?
- Sunday: I eat the wings and the neck and my husband eat one half breast (and a lot of the crisp skin). There is no dispute, debate and argument about who gets what in the house: we each favor different parts of the chicken. While cleaning up, I debone the chicken before putting it away, and put all the bones and trimmings in a pot with water, seasonings and veggies to make a quick broth.
- On Monday: I use the broth, and a leg & thigh to make a big batch of Tomatillo-chicken Soup
- On Tuesday, one breast goes into the Rainbow Stir Fry.
- On Wednesday, I “beef up” the remaining tomatillo soup with plenty of vegetables including corn to make a robust Corn & Potato Chowder with Tex-Mex flavors.
- On Thursday, we feast on fajitas using the other leg & thigh.
- Finally on Friday, homemade pizza, using the remaining ½ breast as one of the toppings.
So the first order is to roast the chicken. As you’ll notice, this recipe could not be simpler. Sometimes, I highly season my chicken with garlic, herbs and/or spices, but not this time. In this simple roast, I just roast: no stuffing, rubbing with spices or adding a sauce, no basting with butter. Because I am going to use the meat in other dishes during the week, I want the chicken plain. Which is why it’s important to pick a really good chicken, which means: a pastured chicken that had plenty of room outside to range on grass and forage for at least part of its food. In other words, the type of chicken that you can find at small producers directly at the farm or the farmers’ market. Example of good chickens include those from Belle Meade in Sperryville and Polyface in Swoope, VA. Polyface chickens are available to people in Northern Virginia through its buyers’ club. And yes, I keep mentioning Belle Meade. But no, I have no financial interests and do not receive referral fees from either of those folks. They just produce great chicken in a sustainable manner (and other great meat) and I appreciate that: it shows in the taste (I don’t need gobs of butters to keep it moist either!)! If you do not have access to a small trusted chicken producer, buy the best chicken you can afford.
On to roasting the chicken. For two of us, I pick a chicken around 5 pounds: that’ll give us plenty to eat the whole week (including extra for a few lunches. I do not mind eating my left-overs!). If your family is larger, roast 2 or 3 chicken. With judicial placement, they can all be cooked at once. Depending on your oven (if you only have one oven), if you are doing 3 chicken, you may increase the bake time a little and you may need to butterfly the 3rd chicken so it fits on the 2nd rack.
A 5-lb chicken takes about 1 h ½ to cook. I follow Julia Child’s instructions to roast a chicken: I have done it her way for over 15 years, and I have never looked back. Julia’s formula to roast a chicken is 45 minutes + (7 minutes per pound) + a few minutes for fudge. So a 5 pound chicken will take about 1 h ½: 45 minutes + (7 minutes x 5 pound) = 1 h 20 minutes + 10 minutes fudge = 1 ½ h
Since the meat is very lightly seasoned, you may want to serve with some robustly flavored currently-in-season vegetables such as roasted tomatoes and roasted bell peppers that you can bake at the same time as the chicken.
Simple Roast Chicken
- 1 5-lb roasting chicken (2.25 kg)
- A Tablespoon oil (15 ml)
- ¼ cup lemon juice (60 ml)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- A handful of fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, bay, oregano – single or in combination. I used a mixture of thyme (English, Lemon, Golden, oregano thyme & caraway thyme.
Preheat oven to 450 F (235 C). Salt & pepper chicken.
Oil an oven proof pan (I use the oven pan). Stuff the chicken cavity with the fresh herbs and put in pan, breast up.. Roast chicken at 450 F (235 C) for 15 minutes. Take chicken out and gently pour lemon juice on breast. Put back in oven. Lower temperature to 350 F (175 C) and bake 65 to 75 minutes until the juices run clear (or a meat thermometer stuck in the thickest part read 160 F). Twice or so during that time, baste the chicken with the accumulated pan juice.
That’s it. You see why it matters to get a really good chicken?
Making the Quick Chicken Broth:
debone the chicken before putting it away, and put all the bones, the carcass and the wing tips, the neck (if you don’t eat it) and any trimmings in a pot with two or three of the following seasonings (no need for all!): one carrot, one onion, the trimming from a leek, a bouquet garni (a big sprig each of thyme, oregano, rosemary, thyme), a celery stalk, a tablespoon of whole peppercorns & coriander, 2 or three mushroom (or mushroom feet only), a couple of fresh corn cobs (kernels removed). The later is particularly good in this case, because the broth will be use for tomatillo soup: the flavors marry well. Add water to cover. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer 1 hour. Strain, saving the liquid and discarding the solids.
This is a quick broth (as broth and stock go) but it’s better and cheaper than just about anything you can buy in the store.
Next post: Day 2 – Chicken Tomatillo Soup