Bone In Chicken Breasts – How to deal with them in a frugal manner…

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.

Note: In 2014, I found the sales price of chicken breast in my area almost doubled. The best consistent sales price I’ve found is $1.99 a pound, although every once in awhile I see it for a little less. Keep that in mind as you look at my pricing.

12 Chicken Breasts, 11.50 pounds. 12 Meals

12 Chicken Breasts, 11.50 pounds. 12 Meals

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.

If you have no interest in making stock, you may find the boneless to be a better deal if it is around the same price as bone in. When I weighed out four breasts with skin and bone, they came to one pound, 10 ounces (26 ounces) and cost $1.61 at 99 cents a pound. The bone, as clean as I could get it, and the skin portion of that came to 10 ounces, or $.62. The four boneless breasts came to a pound, or $.99 cents. So, in essence, I lost that 62 cents – except I made stock from it and the bones still had enough meat for the soup a big batch of soup.

Now, I’m going to make the comparison a bit more difficult. Sometimes boneless breasts are fairly free of fat and other nasties, sometimes not. I recently bought a package of boneless breasts and found five breasts, weighing 4.75 pounds or 76 ounces, but almost 6 ounces was fat and gristle. If we cut proportion down to the same as the above breasts and bought them at 99 cents a pound, and I’m rounding off, we’d be looking at about a $1.61 for the total, and 2 ounces of nonusable parts instead of 10. The waste would be 12 cents.

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, maybe more. I know I’ll make at least 12 meals for four, maybe more, and will have left overs from some of those meals. Without even counting the left overs, 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. I do want to tell you my hands were impeccably clean – and I washed them multiple times during this, each and every time I picked up the camera. I did, however, make pickled beets the day before and there was some slight staining on and under my fingernails! Just so ya know! And do wash, wash and wash when doing a project like this!

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First, to remove the breast portion from the bone, pull the skin off (lightly score it along the side of the chicken if it’s on tightly) 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. The tenderloin will be on the opposite side of the ribs.

Remove skin and make a small incision at the bottom of the breast - I'll put my finger in there and pull up as I begin slicing the meat off the rib side (left side in this case)

Remove skin and make a small incision at the bottom of the breast – I’ll put my finger in there and pull up as I begin slicing the meat off the rib side (left side in this case)

Gently slice, pulling the flap of chicken breast up from the bone. Just glide your knife along, lifting as you go, getting as close to the bone on the rib side as possible. The chicken really “wants” to be cut this way; you’re simple separating the muscle groups.

As you slice the breast, get as close to the ribs as possible. Keep pulling back and it just lifts away. Sometimes it is attached on the tenderloin side, too, That can be cut at the end.

As you slice the breast, get as close to the ribs as possible. Keep pulling back and it just lifts away. Sometimes it is attached on the tenderloin side, too, That can be cut after you’ve gone up the rib side or at the same time. The pointy end is at the top of the photo, now.

The breast may or may not be attached to the opposite side, the other side of the tenderloin. It’s a simple matter of a quick slice or two to separate that side. It’s only lightly attached to the bit of bone on the other side and appears quite separate from the tenderloin so it is easy to see where to cut.

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 usually 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 be left with the chicken breast almost separated and the bone showing right along the top breast part you are holding (the left hand piece.)

The problem bone isn't all  the whitish bone at the bottom of the breast, it's the narrow, diagonal bone on the left hand side breast portion, near the center.

The problem bone isn’t all the whitish bone at the bottom of the breast, it’s the dark, narrow, diagonal bone on the left hand side breast portion, near where it is attached to the rest of the breast.

Turn your knife around, and slip it under that protruding piece of bone and pull the breast away from the rest of the carcass as you cut toward the carcass portion. 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 in one nice piece.

Turn your knife around and pressing toward that bone releasing the breast.

Turn your knife around and pressing toward that bone releasing the breast.

Now you have a nicely shaped breast with the bone and tenderloin left behind. You can see the tenderloin on the right and where you’ll cut is marked by the slight line of fat running along the rib cage.

The breast is now separate, but the tenderloin is still on the rib cage. The white line defines it.

The breast is now separate, but the tenderloin is still on the rib cage (on the right.) The white line defines it.

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. If the tenderloin isn’t distinct, you can press lightly and it will pop up.

Pressing the tenderloin causes it to pop a bit so you can start to make gentle slices with your knife along the length.

Pressing the tenderloin causes it to pop a bit so you can start to make gentle slices with your knife along the length.

With a few slices, the tenderloin will practically fall off the bone. Push back on it as you cut.

Push back on the tenderloin as you slice.

Push back on the tenderloin as you slice.

See the ligament running down the tenderloin? That is nasty, and not edible. It starts out at the top, but runs underneath the meat in a string. It needs to be removed.

The ligament looks small, but runs underneath the meat - it is not edible and needs to be removed.

The ligament looks small, but runs underneath the meat – it is not edible and needs to be removed.

Just like when you’re cleaning a pork or beef tenderloin, put the tip of your knife under the tenderloin a few centimeters in and cut to the outside edge, freeing up a flap of the ligament.

Place your knife under the ligament and run it to the edge, freeing enough to hold on to.

Place your knife under the ligament and run it to the edge, freeing enough to hold on to.

Sounds weird, but turn the chicken tenderloin over and hanging on the ligament, slide the knife across it back and forth in a slicing, sawing motion against the ligament. It comes right out.

Turn the tenderloin upside down, hold the ligament and run your knife back and forth in sawing motions.

Turn the tenderloin upside down, hold the ligament and run your knife back and forth in sawing motions.

The ligament comes right out, leaving you with a perfect little tenderloin to use.

The ligament comes right out, leaving the tenderloin behind.

The ligament comes right out, leaving the tenderloin behind.

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.

Comments and discussion always welcome - tell me what you think.

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