Photo by jameelwinter
I’m excited to be participating in the Go Green & Save Green Series with several other green bloggers this week! We’ll be talking about different areas of green and natural living, showing you how to go green while saving money at the same time! Be sure to check out the great links at the end of this post!
After posting my chicken salad recipe a while ago, I was thinking that I should share my method behind the madness for cooking a whole chicken, and making homemade chicken stock, with you because it’s a great way to save money while feeding your family good food.
We usually use whole chickens because it’s the more affordable way for us to eat quality chicken. I usually get one or two whole chickens per month, cook them in the crock pot, shred the meat to use for meals, and make homemade stock to have on hand in my freezer.
How To Cook A Whole Chicken
1. Source your chicken
First of all, you want to find a good source for chicken – whether directly from the farmer, from a co-op, or from the farmer’s market. Ideally you want to buy pasture raised, or pastured, chickens, that are hormone and antibiotic free.
*One thing to note about labels on chicken: don’t be fooled by many brands of store bought chicken that say All Natural, or 100% Natural, on them. That label doesn’t mean much (I mean unless it’s fake meat, it’s technically “natural”, right?), because it doesn’t actually tell you anything about how the chicken was raised.
Another thing to watch for is that most conventional packages of chicken will say “Hormone Free”, with a little asterisk. If you read the fine print, it will say that the use of hormones in chicken is prohibited by the USDA. So it doesn’t really mean anything. And most likely, the chicken was fed a steady dose of antibiotics in their feed to keep them from getting sick. So more important that finding chicken that says hormone free, is finding chicken that is raised without antibiotics.
2. Rinse and Season the chicken
Once you’ve purchased your whole chicken and have home, you want to rinse it off, and put it in a large bowl, breast side down. The chicken that I buy still have the tail and a little bit of the neck on them, so I trim those off with some scissors. (Kinda gross, I know. But I think leaving the tail and neck on is even grosser!)
Season the side of the chicken that is facing up. Use whatever seasonings you like the best. I usually use salt, pepper, white pepper, onion powder and paprika, and I peel a few garlic cloves and put them in the inside cavity. You will season the other side of the chicken once you place it in the crock pot.
You can either put the chicken right in the crock pot, or if you are trying to get a more rotisserie style chicken you can place a few balls of aluminum foil in the bottom of the crock pot and place the chicken on top. Either way, you want to put the chicken in breast side up, so the breast is farthest away from the heat source, to keep the meat from getting too dried out.
So, flip the chicken over, place it in the crockpot and then season the breast side that is facing up. You can rub the spices in with your hand if you want, or just leave them sprinkled on if you don’t want to rub down a raw chicken. I’ve done it both ways, and it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.
3. Cook the chicken
I usually cook my chicken on low for about 6-8 hours. Your cooking time will vary based on the size of your chicken and your crock pot. You can tell when the chicken is done by pulling on the leg, if it wiggles and pulls away easier, it’s done cooking. When you take the chicken out, leave the juice at the bottom of the crockpot, that’s the good stuff!
4. Pick the chicken
Now this is the fun part (right!). I usually set the chicken into a 9×13 pan to minimize the mess, along with a bowl for garbage scraps, and a measuring cup and containers for the meat I’m going to be pulling off. Let the chicken cool until is is handle-able, but not too long.
The chicken meat should be pretty easy to cut off the bone and shred, if it gets too cold the meat will be harder to work with. Start cutting and pulling the meat off of the bones and shredding it as you go. I try to do a mix of dark and light meat in my packages of chicken that I’ll be freezing. We like both in our family, but I don’t like to have all of one or the other in a meal.
Put any bones that you pull out right back into the crock pot (remove the balls of aluminum foil if you used them), you can also put the skin back in, if you like, but I only recommend doing that with a free-range, pastured bird, not a conventional, store-bought chicken. And once you have all the meat removed, put the body cavity of the chicken into the crock pot too.
5. Store your chicken meat
I usually store my meat in packages of 2 cups. This is a standard amount for many recipes calling for cooked chicken meat, and allows me to get 3-4 packages of meat from each chicken, while still being enough meat for a meal for my family of four. I also usually have a little meat left over that I can use for chicken salad, or to put in quesadillas, or something like that.
6. Make Chicken Stock
Cover the bones in the crock pot with water and add a tablespoon or so of vinegar. This helps to pull the nutrients out of the bones and into the stock. Let it sit for an hour if possible.
Then turn the crock pot on low and cook the stock for anywhere from 8-24 hours. Sometimes I forget about my stock, or don’t have time to deal with putting it away, so I just let it cook away until a more convenient time. If you keep a bag of vegetable scraps in your freezer to add to stock, you can put them in for the last hour or two of cooking, along with any spices you might want to add. I usually only add a little bit of real salt, because most coventional stocks are high in sodium and if you’re replacing store bought stock with homemade stock in recipes you might miss that extra salt in the final dish.
7. Store your stock
Once your stock is finished cooking, you’ll need to strain all of the bones and veggies pieces out and put it into storage containers. I usually use a slotted spoon to get the big stuff out first, and then I use a fine mesh strainer and a funnel as I am ladling the stock into the glass jars that I use to freeze it in.
I fill my jars with either 2 or 3 cups of stock to be able to use in recipes. I label each jar with the number of cups so I don’t have to let it thaw and then measure it out when I need it for a recipe. If I know I need two cups of stock, I just grab a jar labeled “2 cups”, and let it defrost overnight in the fridge, or defrost it in the microwave if I forgot to plan ahead of time.
8. Use your chicken meat and stock.
Now you have meat and stock ready to go in your freezer for putting together quick meals at dinner time.
Here are some of our family’s favorite meals that use shredded chicken:
- Chicken Tacos or Quesadillas
Do you cook whole chickens and make your own chicken stock? If not, would you consider it? If yes, do you have any tips or tricks for cooking a whole chicken, or favorite recipes for your chicken?
Check Out These Other Great Posts in the Go Green & Save Green Series:
- Go Green With Food from Michelle at Open Eye Health
- 10 Tips for Making Baby Food from Rebekah at Simply Rebekah
- Eat in Season: September from Andrea at The Greenbacks Gal
- Grind Your Own Wheat from Stacy at A Delightful Home
If you’re interested in stretching your grocery budget even further, be sure to check out Live Renewed’s sponsor this month: Veggie Delights Recipes for lots of great vegetarian recipes!
If you’d like to learn more about living green and living frugally I’d love to have you as a Live Renewed reader! You can subscribe, either by email or in a reader, to get the latest posts, ideas and inspiration for living frugally green.
I hope you’re enjoying the Go Green & Save Green series! I also have a great new green resource linky beginning next week, I’d love to have you join with me! You can also connect with me on Twitter and Facebook!