Growing up in my house, you could always tell what time of the month it was by what we had in the refrigerator.
In the beginning of the month, it would be filled with food; food like fish and chicken, and sometimes beef. But at the end of the month, because my father would be waiting for his paycheck, the refrigerator would be nearly empty.
It’s not as bad as it sounds, because oftentimes, some of the best meals of my life happened when there wasn’t a lot of food left. My mother and father were incredible about making the most of what they had. They taught me that putting a delicious meal on the table didn’t take a lot of money, and throughout my career, the ability to think on my feet and make the most of the ingredients I had was invaluable when it came to being a chef.
For many, fall means going back to school and five nights of putting dinner on the table on a busy schedule. It can be exhausting, and it can also be costly. Don’t worry, because I’m going to show you how to take one ingredient, a four-pound chicken, and make five different meals out of it. That’s right, five. You can do it, you’ll see. Next time you go to the store and pick up a chicken from your butcher, you’re not just going to think about going home and roasting it anymore. You’re going to think about how many different meals you can make from the wings, the thighs, the breasts—even the gizzards! All it takes to stretch an ingredient is a little creativity, so here is a little inspiration to help you get started
Preparing Your Chicken for 5 meals:
To divide a 3-4 pound chicken into multiple pieces, first remove the neck, liver and gizzards from the cavity. With the front of the chicken facing away from you, pull one of the drumsticks outwards to stretch the skin and make a shallow cut between the leg and the body to expose the joint. Bend the leg downwards so that the ball of the joint pops out and cut between the joint and the socket to remove the leg. Repeat with the second leg. Next, working with one at a time, start by making one shallow cut along the side of the breastbone. Continue to make shallow cuts, angling your knife in towards the bone and away from the breast, and gently cut away the breast. When you reach the front of the breastbone, expose the joint between wing and the carcass and cut through the ball and socket to cut the breast away from the carcass, so that the wing is still attached to the breast. Lay the removed breast skin side down and cut away the wing at the joint to separate. Gently pull off the long, thin tenderloins from the underside of the breasts. Cut the skin from each piece of chicken and reserve the chicken carcass.
Chicken Stock for Chicken Noodle Soup
Makes 2 quarts
Once the real meat from chicken has been used, most people think that they are done with it. But if there is one thing that I learned from my mother, it’s that a chicken carcass with some water and vegetables, like garlic, onions and carrots, is worth its weight in gold. Here we’re going to make a nice stock that can be used in soups and stews. And then we’ll clean the carcass, because there’s still a lot meat in there!
1 chicken carcass
2 chicken wing tips, wings reserved for later use
1 chicken neck
Skin from 1 chicken
2 stalks celery, cut into large pieces
2 small carrots, cut into large pieces
1 Spanish onion, quartered
Rinse the chicken parts under running water until the water runs clear. Place in a large stockpot and cover with 4 quarts of water. Bring to a simmer. Skim any foam from the surface. Add the vegetables to the pot and simmer for 1-2 hours. Strain the stock, reserving the vegetables and carcass, and store until ready to use. Once the chicken carcass and vegetables are cool enough to handle, pick apart any remaining meat and dice the vegetables. Store together in an airtight container until ready to use.
Chicken Breast and Catalan Spinach
This recipe uses the breasts of the chicken, and it’s great for the cooks who have very little time. By slicing the chicken breasts very thin, the meal is ready faster. Just make sure to remember to remove the tenderloins from the breasts and set those aside for later.
1/2 bunch parsley
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 chicken breasts, sliced in half for 4 very thin pieces
1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup seedless dark raisins
10 ounces baby spinach, washed
Salt, to taste
Add the parsley, garlic and 1/2 cup of the oil to a blender and mix until smooth. Season the chicken with salt and marinate in the mixture for at least a 1/2 hour. In a medium sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and sear until the chicken begins to brown on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn the chicken over and sear on the other side until fully cooked through, about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pan over high flame. When the oil is very hot, add the apple cubes and cook until they are slightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the pine nuts and cook until they are browned, about 20 seconds. Keep the pot moving so that the nuts don’t burn. Add the raisins and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and stir together. Add the spinach, mix and sauté very fast until it starts to wilt. Then remove the pot from the heat; the spinach will continue to wilt off the heat. Add salt, to taste, and serve with the seared chicken.
Now it’s time to use the legs and the thighs. In this recipe, we’re going to sear them with garlic and oil so their skins are nice and crispy and their insides moist, and then we’re going to take a little sherry vinegar and chicken stock to make an amazing sauce. The best part? It’s all done in one pan.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 cloves garlic, smashed
2 chicken leg quarters, leg and thigh separated and cut into small pieces
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup chicken stock (see recipe above)
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium flame and add the garlic. Sauté until the garlic is lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. Add the chicken and sauté until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, bay leaf and sherry. Stir the mixture well so the oil and sherry emulsify and simmer for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and cook for 1 minute more. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and serve with a side of roasted potatoes or rice.
Watch chef José Andrés prepare a chicken dish known as “red paella.”
Chicken Rice “Paella”
Now we’re going to take all of the last little bits of the chicken and make an incredible chicken paella. Here we’re using the gizzards, the liver, the tenderloins and the wings to flavor the rice.
For the rice:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 reserved chicken wings
2 chicken tenderloins, chopped
1 chicken liver, chopped
1 chicken gizzard, chopped
One 14.5 ounce can whole tomatoes or 3 plum tomatoes, puréed
20 green beans
4 cloves garlic
4 cups water
1 cup rice
Salt, to taste
For the pipirrana (optional):
1 cucumber, diced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
Salt, to taste
In a large sauté or paella pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken wings and tenderloins until they are golden, about 2 minutes, and remove from the pan and set aside. Add the garlic to the pan, cook for 1 minute, and then stir in the green beans and cook for 1 minute more. Add the chicken liver and gizzard and the tomato purée and stir to combine. Next add the water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the rice and stir until the ingredients are distributed evenly throughout the pan. Return the wings and the tenderloins to the pan. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes without stirring. While the rice is cooking, toss the cucumber and tomatoes together with a little oil and salt to make the pipirrana. Serve the rice garnished with the pipirrana.
This is a classic Spanish recipe and also one of my favorites. The ingredients are so simple but the end result is this elegant, impressive dish. Serve them with a little of the soup you made with the stock, and you’ve got yourself a spectacular meal worthy of any weeknight.
For the béchamel:
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup flour
1 quart milk
Chicken meat picked from carcass used to make stock, chopped
Chopped carrots, celery and onions from stock, about 1 1/2 cups
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Salt, to taste
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for at least 10 minutes, or until the flour starts to take on a slight golden color. Stir in the milk and chicken stock. Cook, stirring continuously, until you achieve a thick, smooth consistency and the flour taste is gone. Add the chicken and vegetables to the mixture and simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt, to taste, and nutmeg if using. Remove from the heat and spread the mixture on a cookie sheet.
For the breading and frying:
4 cups breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
Once the croqueta mixture has cooled completely, take a small amount and roll into into 2-inch cylinders about the size of a wine cork. Repeat with the rest of the croqueta mixture. Bread the croquetas by rolling them in flour, dipping them in egg and then rolling them in the breadcrumbs. Repeat with all of the croquetas. In a saucepan, heat the oil to 375 degrees. Working in small batches, fry the croquetas until they have a nice golden color, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season with salt, to taste, and serve hot.
This story is part of National Geographic’s special eight-month Future of Food series.