How to Stretch a Chicken

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How to Stretch a Chicken

I don’t know about you, but right now I’m having a hard time finding meat. It’s harder and harder to get the boneless, skinless variety of meats that we are used to cooking especially. What might be available is the whole, fat, gizzards-inside chicken that scares you a little.

I have four kids, ages three to 11, so we can very easily go through a lot of food for dinner. And my kids are especially fond of meat. If I roasted a chicken, I’d dare to say they’d eat all the pieces and possibly be upset there wasn’t more. And right now, I’m just not willing to be so free with our freezer supply of protein. (We do also have lots of canned beans and peanut butter if we are low on animal protein!)

In the first week of our isolation, I was able to make a single whole chicken last us for three meals, and have some extra chicken broth to boot. Here are my easy instructions and recipes for doing the same!

Day 1

Cook your whole chicken in a slow cooker or Instant Pot, whichever you have and love. Rub the chicken with some salt and pepper, other herbs if you wish, add a cup of water, and slow cook for 8-10 hours on low or about 40 minutes on high pressure in the Instant Pot.

Next, pick all of the meat off the chicken once it is cool. Put the meat in a big plastic container or zipper bag. You’ll be surprised how much meat is actually on that bird!

For our first dinner, we are going to make Pioneer Woman’s Sesame Noodles, adding two cups shredded chicken and some kind of vegetable, like steamed broccoli and shredded carrot. If you already keep Asian ingredients like sesame oil and rice wine vinegar on hand, you might be able to make this one without going to the store.

Now, we are going to make chicken stock. Put all the bones and some skin back in the slow cooker or Instant Pot. Add at least two quarts of water; you don’t want to fill your Instant Pot past the max fill line or overflow the slow cooker, of course. Add any vegetable odds and ends you have from onion, garlic, carrot, or celery. (If you go ahead and chop the vegetables for your chicken soup, you’ll have them now!) Even skins from the onion and garlic are fine. Stir in one teaspoon of sea salt. Either cook on low in the slow cooker for another 12 hours or so or in the Instant Pot on high pressure for 45 minutes. Let cool slightly before straining through a fine-mesh sieve. I like to transfer my broth into Mason jars, making sure to leave a little room for expansion, then freeze for later use. You want to save a quart for your chicken soup, though, so put that in the fridge.

Day 2

You might need to finish your stock-making if you used a slow cooker. That’s OK, because we have lots of time, right?

About an hour before you want to eat, grab a child or two to help you make some chicken noodle soup. Soup is no exact science. Here’s how I go about it, usually.

Melt half a stick of butter in a Dutch oven or big saucepan. Add a diced onion and some sliced carrot and celery. Have your kid peel and chop the carrot and celery if they can. This will keep them busy for twenty minutes and totally counts as school. Somehow. When the onion is soft, add two minced garlic cloves and sauté for another minute. Throw in some herbs you like if you want. Parsley and dill are yummy.

Next, add your quart of chicken stock and two cups of water. Bring to a boil, then cover with lid, reduce heat to low, and let cook for 20 minutes. After that, uncover, bring back to a boil, and add some noodles. Egg noodles are traditional — you’ll need about half a package. But if you don’t have those, any kind of noodle is fine as long as it’s in small pieces. My kids really like cheese tortellini, and that works, too. Cook until the pasta is done.

Turn off the heat and add two cups shredded chicken to the pot. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add salt, pepper, and fresh herbs to taste. Finish with a tablespoon of lemon juice. Serve with some of that bread you’ve probably been baking if you’re anything like me.

Day 3

Tonight we’re going to make Chicken Pot Pie. Once again, I like the Pioneer Woman recipe, but you can use any recipe you want. Yes, it’s kind of similar to chicken soup, but it’s enough different that no one will care. I’m trying to stay away from doing pasta again, but of course you could do any kind of chicken casserole with pasta or rice, too. The point is, you have plenty of chicken left to make this third meal! Woohoo!

Pat yourself on the back, have a glass of wine or an extra cup of coffee, and let someone else do the dishes.

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I am a stay-at-home mom to four kids (ages 13, 11, 8, and 5) - as well as a freelance writer and editor. We live on campus at Baylor School, where my husband teaches. After living in Ohio, Indiana, and Virginia, Tennessee is home and has been for 17+ years. I do some freelance writing and editing when I am not chasing the preschooler, keeping my 8-year-old from climbing the curtains, listening to my 11-year-old talk about Minecraft, or buying way too much (SALE!) clothing for my 13-year-old daughter.