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The Frugal Chicken

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If there is one thing in life I am not, it is disciplined.

If there are two things in life I am not, it is disciplined and frugal.

Frugality and discipline. The traits are pretty close friends. If you are disciplined, you can resist the temptation to indulge. If you are frugal, you have decided to be steadfast in your spending. Unfortunately I have not been blessed with either of these characteristics.

To put it nicely, I am too easy going and spontaneous to be held to budgets and hard earned habits. To put it realistically, I can be a bit flighty when it comes to maintaining a gym routine longer than a week or saying no to the urge to buy expensive cheese. I have been working on these habits during the oh-so-holy time of reform that is January, but that’s a story for another time.

There is, however, one thing I have done for many years that speaks to both frugality and discipline. And that is roasting a chicken and then making stock. This process is extremely economical in that buying a whole chicken is always cheaper than buying a butchered chicken. Roasting and making stock also takes discipline, considering I need to commit myself to the endeavor of three or four hours in the kitchen and lots of heavy lifting of pots.

This process of frugality and discipline, despite its incongruity with my natural state of being, is the Sunday mass of my cooking religion. It must be done with some regularity to maintain and renew my faith in the power of home cooking. The process upholds all the basic tenants of my kitchen belief system. It fills me with a spiritual calm like no other cooking task can. And just like religion, roasting a chicken and making stock is something others often see as too much work, too intimidating, or not worth the effort.

I am here to tell you, dear reader, that this is not the case. Yes, both of these processes take time, but the practice itself is dummy proof once you’ve done it a few times. And the results and products are well worth the time and effort put into them. When it comes to roasting a chicken, which I admit can be intimidating, I have found no other guaranteed recipe than that from the holier-than-thou Alice Waters.

The basics are roasting for twenty minutes breast side up, twenty minutes breast side down, and then ten to twenty minutes breast side up again until toasty brown. I have tried other methods and have been faced with the horrifying shame of cutting into the thigh and finding a raw pink scar of failure. The horror! Alice Water’s method? Perfectly cooked every time. That crazy lady knows what’s up from time to time.

After you have roasted and carved the chicken, you will be left with this terrifying heap of chicken back flesh and backbone which we call a carcass because we can’t think of anything less gross to call it. This will be used to make stock. Throw together with some weepy carrots, sad onions, and limp celery (or just fresh vegetables if you’re one of those disciplined people who never leave veggies to die a slow death in the crisper) and then simmer away for 2 – 4 hours. Really, any basic stock recipe you find online will do the trick.

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Homemade stock, roast chicken drippings, and glorious chicken fat

Best of all, roasting a chicken yields not just a carcass for stock making and a roast for dinner, but also delicious versatile chicken fat and roast drippings. Simply save the pan drippings from your roast chicken in the fridge overnight, and when you wake up you’ll find the fat perfectly adhered to the surface of a deeply golden gelatinous chicken essence.

That’s four products for the effort of one! It’s like an infomercial where you get not one crappy product but four! Except that these products are not crappy but delectable and can be used to make so many more delicious things like Ree Drummond’s amazing chicken and dumplings, which coincidentally I just made tonight.

I have probably made this recipe more than any other in my home cooking career. It never fails, and the results are spectacularly good on a cold winter night or packed away for the best mid week lunch ever. Please make this today, or tomorrow, or this weekend. Even if you ignore my urgings to spend half of your hard earned Sunday roasting chickens and making homemade stock, this recipe really is dynamite. It really is best with homemade stock, but if you use store bought I promise to look the other way.

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Ree Drummond’s Chicken and Dumplings (modified for use with roast chicken and boyfriends who don’t like onions)

2 Tablespoons butter or chicken fat

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup flour

Shredded meat from roast chicken (I prefer a mix of light and dark meat)

1/2 cup diced carrots

1/2 cup diced celery

1/4 cup diced onion

1/2 teaspoon ground thyme

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

6 cups homemade stock (supplement with water if your stock didn’t yield six cups)

1/2 cup heavy cream

Dumplings:

1-1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup Yellow cornmeal

1 Tablespoon (heaping) baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cup half-and-half (or watered down heavy cream if you don’t want to buy two dairy products for one recipe)

Melt chicken fat or butter in heavy bottom dutch oven or pot. Add diced onion, carrots, and celery. Stir and cook for 3 to 4 minutes over medium-low heat. Stir in ground thyme and turmeric, then pour in chicken broth. Stir to combine, then add shredded chicken. Cover pot and simmer for 10 minutes or until veggies are tender.

While chicken is simmering, make the dough for the dumplings: sift together all dry ingredients, then add half-and-half, stirring gently to combine. Set aside.

Pour heavy cream into the pot and stir to combine.

Drop tablespoons of dumpling dough into the simmering pot. Cover pot halfway and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Check seasonings; add salt if needed. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

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2 Comments

  1. Sarah! I love this post. I, too, am a Sunday chicken roaster, but I can’t wait to try the Alice Waters method, as I sometimes do weep over my “perfectly roasted chicken” when I cut it open and find uncooked pink flesh!! Thanks for sharing your tips. 😉

    • It’s the saddest feeling in the world, especially if you’ve already turned the oven off! I hope the Water’s method works for you too — let me know how it goes!

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