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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chickens: Scratching out Savings!

I love chicken. It's so versatile! There are so many things you can do with it from main dishes to casseroles to soups and stews and salads. And, it's so much cheaper to buy the bird whole and do it yourself! I check prices when I travel and most cities (particularly if you have a Walmart or Sam's Club), you can find them for the 85 cents a pound price that I currently pay.

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Cutting up the chicken is very easy. And with just a little practice it won't take long either. It usually takes me between 20 and 30 minutes to cut up, prepare parts I'm cooking, wrap parts to go into the freezer and clean up my mess! That's not a lot of time invested for the amount of savings you realize! I'm going to try to take you on a step-by-step of preparing the chicken. First lay the whole chicken with the back side down on the cutting board. Peel the skin away from the breasts and feel for the long breast bone. Now lay your knife close to the breast bone and cut alongside it.



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Working underneath, carefully cut the breast portion away from the underside until you are left with a nice whole breast. Note that I usually cut these in half lengthwise prior to cooking. It not only makes a much more managable portion size, but cuts the cooking time in half. I wait until they are partly frozen to do this as it makes a nice even cut that way.


Once you have the breasts taken out, wrap each one and put them in the freezer until they are frozen. For this step you will want to have on hand those waxy inner wrappers that come with cereal, snack crackers, etc. It's the ONLY thing I've found that won't stick to the chicken....regular wax paper, foils and all the rest (even when sprayed with cooking oil) tend to stick. A piece of inner cereal wrapper cut to fit the chicken never sticks!


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What you do next depends upon the parts you like to eat. For my family I keep the thighs and the wings.


So, next I hold the wing out and cut it off at the first joint. Then I cut off the wing tip. Finally cut the wing in two at that second joint giving me two little "drumettes" for wings appetizers.


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Now I'm ready for the thighs. I hold the chicken body in one hand and the leg in the other. Pull the leg/thigh portion back until the thigh bone pops out. Proceed to cut around that bone, removing the thigh/leg portion. Your family may prefer having the thigh/leg portion, or maybe they just like the legs. My family just likes the thighs. Thus, my next move is to remove the leg portion from the thigh. Apparently I forgot to take a picture of this step....what you see below is the thighs following my removal.


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Now I individually wrap the thighs and place them in the freezer as I did the breasts earlier.


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I place the drumettes (wing portions) into plastic bags. IF I want to freeze them individually, I lay them out on a cookie sheet, not touching one another. Then I put them in the freezer. When they are frozen solid I can bag them together.


While the parts are freezing I put the "leftover" chickens in a large roaster and cover them with water. While they are cooking I can go do something else. When they come out of the oven I lift them out of the broth with a slotted spoon and let them cool. I pour the broth into a container and put into the refrigerator and let it cool. By the next morning all the fat has risen to the top and solidified. I can scoop all the fat off and bag and freeze the remaining fat-free broth!


Now I pick the "good meat" off the chicken and save that for another use....let's see....chicken supreme, chicken croquettes, chicken salad, chicken curry, chicken corn or rice soups, chicken pot pie - the possibilities are endless - ANY recipe that uses cooked chicken works! I sometimes "work it up" immediately and sometimes freeze that chicken for later.

When the chicken parts in the freezer are solid enough that they can be bagged, I bag them and mark them.


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ANOTHER FRUGAL TIP for BAGGING. Those FREEZER bags are somewhat pricey! And, I hate washing out bags. So, I bag my chicken FIRST in any old bags (such as the old bread wrappers you see here). THEN I put them in the freezer bags. That will allow you to re-use the freezer bags later without a lot of washing out AND the chicken is double protected too!

I just prepared 4 chickens for a total cost of $18.00. I figured this will make approximately 18 meals total between the breasts, thighs, wings and additional meat (not to mention the things I plan to make with the broth!). That comes out to about $1.00 per meal.....and THAT is totally squeezing the eagle if you ask me!