Bird of Plenty

In the post-holiday doldrums, eating frugally does not mean sacrificing deliciousness

The holidays are over. Any Christmas or New Year’s meal leftovers are gone—or should be. What’s that smell? Check your fridge.

Now comes the cold reality of recovering from any holiday overspending as the bills come due. I’ve got just the thing for the post-holiday belt-tightening: I call it Three-Meal Chicken. It’s really three separate meals made from one humble yet generous bird: roast chicken, chicken tacos and chicken broth. And it will cost you about $20 or less.

A roast chicken is one of those basic recipes that should be in everyone’s repertoire. The key for me is to generously salt the skin and inside of the bird at least 12 hours before cooking. This insures crispy skin and juicy, moist meat. Also, be sure to bring your chicken up to room temperature before cooking. Going from refrigerator to oven adds cooking time since the chicken is stone cold. And that can mean a dry, overcooked bird.

I sprinkle fresh thyme or rosemary in and on the chicken, and add chopped onions, garlic, carrots and potatoes to the same vessel I’m cooking the chicken in. I use a cast-iron skillet and place the chicken on top of the vegetables so they bathe in chicken fat as they cook. I add a little olive oil and salt and pepper to help them along.

Then it’s into a 375 degree oven for 60 minutes or so until the skin is beautifully browned and it feels like you can pull off a leg without too much trouble.

After it’s done, let the chicken rest for about 15 minutes so the juices seep back into the meat. Cut it right out of the oven and juice will run onto your plate instead of into your mouth.

So that’s the roast chicken. Now for the tacos, in particular a quick version of chicken tinga. Unless you fed a crowd, there should be meat left on the carcass. Pick it off and set aside. Reserve the picked-over carcass for the broth.

In a skillet, sauté sliced onions in vegetable oil until soft and translucent, and then stir in a few diced chipotles, the kind that come in a can with sauce. Include some of the sauce, too, adding a bit of water if it gets too dry. Now stir in the chicken and heat through. Heat up some corn tortillas and eat it up.

Now for the final act, the broth. One carcass is enough for this recipe but two is better. I throw my chicken bones into a plastic bag or a sealed container and store them in the freezer for just such an occasion.

Fill a pot with a gallon or so of water. Put the chicken bones in. Simmer for two or three hours, taking care not to let the broth boil. Next, add roughly chopped carrots, celery, onion, a bay leaf and some black peppercorns. Simmer another 45 minutes. Strain the bones and vegetables and pour the broth into another pot or bowl. Season generously with salt. I like to squeeze in half a lemon. Taste and see if it’s to your liking. You’ll probably want to add more salt.

Add some sautéed fresh vegetables for a quick soup, or simply sip your broth on its own as you look out the window upon a cold, winter night.

Sonoma County Library