I love the challenge of taking a bargain price meat like Ham, Turkey or Boston Butt and really making the most of it – but I especially like finding a healthier “premium” meat, like bone in Chicken Breast and doing the same. I look for prices of about 99 cents a pound (the low in my area) and stock up, and use it to its full advantage.
Boneless breasts are often on sale for the same price, but I generally prefer the bone in – I find them much more versatile to use and a better value because then I can make stock, an item expensive to buy at the store and one that is often full of strange ingredients. I notice a vast improvement in my cooking when using home-made stock, and it just doesn’t taste quite right in the box or can. Bone in breasts also:
- Tend to be larger
- Stay moist and flavorful when roasted or braised
- Can be trimmed into quality pieces that are much more uniform than packaged boneless breasts.
Recently I bought four packages of bone in breasts (11.5 pounds) at $.99 a pound - there were 12 breasts total, three in each package – total cost: $11.38. Most families of four I know would simply buy two packages of breasts and cook them; the cost for the protein portion of the meal would run about $5.70, even at this great sales price. Me, I make multiple meals out of the 12 breasts. I’m figuring that this chicken will make about 12 meals. That makes my protein average about 95 cents per meal. Crazy, huh? and all for a few minutes work that I’ll show you how to do, below. (By the way, most of the health gurus and nutritional guidelines recommend that an adult eat no more than 6 ounces of protein a day, so these amounts are not skimpy – some meals will have a little less, some more…) Here’s what I plan on doing with my chicken, keeping in mind that some of these recipes make more than 4 servings, which mean some of them will have left overs in addition to the meals I’m making:
- 4 Chicken Cordon Bleus (meal 1.)
- 8 boneless breast (two packages of 4) to freeze for meals (meals 2 & 3.)
- 3 1/2 cups of cooked chicken: some for soup – probably about a half cup will go in my Chicken Noodle Soup (meal 4) and I might make a casserole and use about 1 1/2 cups of chicken – maybe my Artichoke and Chicken Casserole – it has cheese, too, to stand in for protein, so I can short the chicken just a bit. (meal 5.) I may make a Chicken Salad like Fruited Chicken Salad (meal 6)
- 6 packages of chicken tenders and trimmings for things like this marvelous stir fry, based on Mah Gu Gai Pin. My kid would kill me if I didn’t make chicken nuggets (I’d just modify Bobby Flay’s Oven Fried Chicken recipe. This simple Chicken Coconut Curry is a fantastic way to stretch a bit of chicken, and I’d probably make a burrito or burrito bowls with one packet, and then make yet another stir fry – this one Cashew Chicken. (meals 7 – 12.)
- Chicken broth, which I like to condense down, and use part for soup and freeze the rest in ziplocs. (I use the same recipe for turkey and chicken broth)
Here’s how I break down the chicken. Caveat: Make sure your knife is sharp - the same few minutes of work with a sharp knife will be a misery with a dull one:
First, to remove the breast portion from the bone, pull the skin off (lightly score it along the side of the chicken and just pull.) Then make a small incision at the bottom of the breast (the pointy part.) Place your finger in there and determine where the tenderloin is – it’s nice to keep them intact. Gently slice, pulling the flap of chicken up from the bone. Just glide your knife along, lifting as you go, getting as close to the bone as possible. The chicken really “wants” to be cut this way; you’re simple separating the muscle groups. When you reach the top of the breast, there is a small bone that extends into the breast area – what would be part of the “wish” bone in a whole chicken. This bone will stop your knife.
Bring the knife up, still pulling on the breast meat and scrape the knife along the edge of the bone, letting it guide you, feeling it as you go. You’ll basically just “scrape” the bone out, lifting the breast portion and moving the knife around the bone to release as much of the breast as you can.
Now you have a nicely shaped breast with the bone and tenderloin left behind. Next you’ll want to remove the tenderloin from the bone. If you press on the tenderloin, you’ll see exactly where to run your knife, in between the meat and the bone: Now you’ll have the tenderloin to use as you wish. One thing I didn’t think to take a photo of is the ligament running through the tenderloin. It’s not very good to eat, and I grab ahold of the protruding end of it and slide my across it back and forth in a slicing, sawing motion – the worst of it usually just comes right out. The last thing I do is weigh and portion the meat. I trim each breast to between 5 to 6 ounces, and bag, label and freeze the chicken. (Well, I don’t actually weigh anymore because I seem to have developed a really good feel over the years, but I certainly used to!) I’m a firm believer in having a small kitchen scale around and a small electronic one can be as little as 15 bucks or so.
I like to put the number of breasts I’ll use for a meal in one package, and place the trimmings and tenderloins into packages of about 6 to 8 ounces each. To me, that’s a great size for stir fries, nuggets or casseroles.
As the broth cooks, I’ll remove the breasts, strip them of their meat, then toss the bones back in to simmer for a couple of hours. There is always enough meat to get a casserole and chicken for soup out of it, and enough broth to make two soups (or a double portion of one.) If you leave the meat in the whole time the soup cooks, it won’t taste very good at the end.
When I first started cooking on my own, I was a bit squeemish about all this, so sometimes I would roast the chicken first, then remove it from the bone – I still sometimes roast the bones or the chicken for flavor – it makes a great stock. It all depends on whether or not I want precooked chicken or raw chicken for future recipes.