How To Stretch Meals From One Chicken

Buying a whole chicken and stretching it to make multiple meals makes sense in so many ways. Environmentally less processing, packaging and energy used in a whole rather than individual portions. Health reasons, reducing your meat intake and maximising your vegetables brings health benefits. Financially because it is usually cheaper to buy a whole chicken than individual portions, and if you use all of it you will make the most of your chicken and save your pocket!

Fresh V Frozen

Depending on what you have access to and how you shop, may depend on whether you buy a fresh or frozen chicken. I always buy a fresh whole chicken just because I know if for some reason I didn’t use it, it could go straight in the freezer whole or cut up. In general I’m usually using it within a couple of days of purchase and certainly within any use by dates.

I also like to keep some cooked chicken back and freeze it for another meal. Although technically you could refreeze a meal made with previously frozen chicken, I personally prefer not to.

One thing you definitely cannot do is refreeze raw chicken that has been defrosted. However you can refreeze a meal that has been created from a thawed frozen chicken once.

This is why I personally buy fresh so that I know I can cook and freeze without concern of how many times the meat from the chicken has been frozen.

Cook First Or Chop Up

Although there is nothing to stop you chopping up a chicken before cooking, especially if you want to freeze or use parts of a fresh chicken, such as legs and wings for a different type of recipe. In reality it’s harder to cut up than a cooked chicken, which once cooked will literally just fall apart once you start handling it.

Top Tips

Care must be taken handling raw meat, the equipment you use and suitable storage. Ensure you avoid any contact with other food items.

Whenever you are using frozen chicken (cooked or uncooked) ensure it has been thoroughly defrosted preferably overnight in a fridge and used within 1 day.

#1 Roast Dinner

I know I’m perhaps biased being from the UK but in my opinion you can’t beat a Sunday Roast! Yummy family meal, roast potatoes, parsnips and carrots can go in the same roasting tin or separate if you prefer. I usually make a cauliflower and broccoli cheese in advance which also gets popped into the oven at the same time. With or without stuffing, lashings of gravy. Most people in my experience want breast. Top tip to save on the meat consumption, don’t put the whole bird on the table, slice thinly and plate up individual portions, a spoonful of stuffing, a couple of potatoes and a splash of gravy make the plate look fuller and people are able to help themselves to the vegetables on the table.

The bird remaining in the kitchen is harder to get to and less likely to be picked at. Meaning more meals can be made from it!

#2 Remove All The Meat

Either the same day as roasting or at most the next day, I remove all the meat from the bones. As the chicken has been roasted it falls off easily. I separate it into different smaller containers. The skin, gristly parts and bones are put together in one (to make stock). The rest of the meat is pulled off the bones, legs and wings included and divided up, not forgetting underneath the bird. I try and divide the meat into the portion sizes I am likely to use as a maximum for future meals, whether that be later in the week or to freeze. In the images below the chances are by using other ingredients, particularly vegetables in my cooking I will be able to stretch 2 main meals for a family of 3/4 from one container of chicken.

If you have family members that prefer to eat off the bone, then you can keep the legs and wings in tact. However I do find that because I strip the bones and usually combine the meat with other ingredients, it tends to go further.

This was a small chicken under 2 kilos and used for a roast for 4 adults. I will add, none of us are huge meat eaters, the bulk of the meal will be vegetables. However, if you are a larger family or consume more meat, then you are likely to buy a larger bird. It’s all relative and the options remain the same.

#3 Make Stock

This is quick to do, as you’ve already separated the skin, bones and gristly bits, they can go in a large pan, season with salt and pepper, some leftover carrot, onion, 2/3 cloves of garlic, leek or celery and a sprig of Thyme or Parsley. Cover the whole thing with boiling water a good 2 inches higher than the contents. Bring to boil then simmer gently for 3 to 4 hours. Once reduced, I pour the whole thing through my sieve and I have stock that I can use for soup. Once cooled it can be frozen for another time or kept in the fridge and used within 5 days. If you don’t want to make the stock straight away you could just freeze the bones and gristle until you want to use it.

For soup why not checkout my post 7 Reasons Why You Should Make Your Own Soup scroll down to Soup Recipes for some family favourites.

#4 Revisit The Roast

If I’m going to do this I usually do it within a couple of days of making a roast dinner. Basically its the leftovers plated up and microwaved with fresh gravy. Roasted Potatoes are not so good reheated, so I will use either leftover boiled or creamed sweet potato. If I know I have a seriously busy day coming up, and likely to be late or not in the mood to cook, this is a good option. Sometimes I will literally plate it ready, so it only needs to go into the microwave. It also means that the family can have theirs when they are hungry if I’m going to be late.

#5 Curries, Casseroles & Stir-Fry

The beauty of the chicken being previously roasted is that it now only has to be thoroughly reheated. Whether using a favourite recipe or a ready made sauce, the chicken can be either dropped in near the end or heated in a separate pan and added when plating up. Unless I need to keep it separate I usually opt for adding once the vegetables are nearly ready. Adding the chicken at the start of the process for casseroles and curries will usually mean that the meat has virtually disappeared by the end, so its worth being patient!

For curries and casseroles I tend to use more root based vegetables, although not exclusively. For Stir- Fry I find it useful to use peppers, green beans, mange tout, kale and spinach. For all I will tend to have a base of onion or leek, garlic, mushrooms and carrots.

Also don’t forget nuts seeds and raisins can also be added to most curries and stir fries.

I’ve on purpose not provided specific recipe details here. It’s important not only to experiment, but to use what you have, and that will be different for every person. If you are new to making something out of next to nothing, then you may find it easier to use a ready made sauce first whilst you work out amounts for yourself or family size and the sorts of vegetables and meat amounts that you prefer.

#6 Chicken With Pasta Or Rice

Again because the chicken is cooked it is pretty much ready to go, speeding up cooking times.

Chicken Fried Rice is easy to make. Boil the rice first, then once cooked strain and fry in the frying pan with oil the chicken, a handful of frozen peas and a beaten egg. I will often serve this with a vegetable stir fry. Other times I will put everything in the pan rather like a special fried rice and once cooked add the the sieved cooked rice at the end.

Chicken & Bacon Risotto – This is a useful use up dish and can be adapted adding other veg. You can use long grain or risotto rice and the stock that was made from the chicken bones, or make up stock using a chicken stock cube. Roughly 600ml of heated up stock for 4 portions of rice. You add the stock slowly as the rice absorbs the liquid.

Start by frying the bacon (a couple of slices cut up) adding the rice stirring it around so it gets coated by the oils, add some chopped onion and garlic, if its starts to stick add a few table spoons of stock, once softened add some stock and keep adding more stock as the rice absorbs the liquid. Once roughly half way through the stock add other vegetables like peas, green beans, chopped carrots and broccoli or sweetcorn, Once the rice is swelling but not fully cooked add the chicken.

Alternatively for a lemon chicken option cook the chicken in an oven proof dish with the juice and zest of a lemon for 10-12 minutes and add to the bacon, vegetable and rice once cooked.

Rice doubles its size once cooked. As a portion guide allow 60g (1/3 of a cup) to 90g (1/2 of a cup) of uncooked rice per person.

Chicken & Bacon Creamy Pasta

Create this sauce very simply by softening in butter a small chopped onion, couple of clothes of garlic, the odd chopped mushroom if you have it, 2 or 3 rashes of bacon (sliced thinly) once cooked add the chicken and a pot of cream and season with pepper and Parmesan cheese (optional). Then pour onto your cooked pasta.

If you prefer a creamy tomato based pasta use a tin of tomatoes instead of a pot of cream and add in a couple of tablespoons of either Mascarpone cheese or double cream to taste.

As a portion guide use 2 oz or 56g of uncooked pasta per person.

#7 Pies & Pasties

Pies and pasties are another great option for leftover chicken & vegetables. Classics like chicken and mushroom or chicken and vegetable with either gravy or white sauce within the pie or pasty. If you don’t have time to make your own pastry there’s always ready made. I tend to keep some ready made pastry in my freezer for those moments when I have bits and bobs to make a great pie but don’t have time to make the pastry too. You do not even need to have a pastry bottom, you can always just have a pastry lid on an oven proof dish. Other fillings I have experimented with are chicken, vegetables and cheese, I tend to prefer Feta. Also chicken, mediterranean vegetables and pesto, just 2 or 3 dessert spoons of red or green pesto give a tangy twist to a pie or pasty and a tasty change!

#8 Pizzas, Pannini’s & Taco’s

From chicken and cheese based melts to pizzas with chicken and bits and bobs toppings, it surprising how far a few bits of leftovers can go. Whether a warm lunch or buffet style dinner, there’s ample things you can add to create a larger meal if needed, salads, fries, potato skins, pasta or rice, to name but a few.

If you don’t wish to make your own pizza, you can just use a wrap as a base or buy a ready made base or basic pizza and add your own toppings from what you have in the fridge. Onion, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes as well as the chicken and some extra cheese and suddenly you have a great pizza!

Frying up some chicken, onion, garlic, mushrooms and sweetcorn with some chilli powder and/ or paprika can make a different kind of taco filling, with salad, and a dollop of guacamole, sour cream and/ or salsa and you have chicken taco’s.

#9 No Cook Cold Options

Leftover cold chicken is excellent for salads sandwiches and wraps. Making up a sauce with honey and Dijon mustard or just mayonnaise and pepper mixed with chicken, chopped carrot, sweetcorn and cucumber will make a hefty filling in a wrap or sandwich or on top of a salad. I quite like to mix 1 part Dijon Mustard to 2 parts mayonnaise which gives a zingy sauce in which to add chicken, carrots, cucumber and sweetcorn and top with some black pepper. This can be put in a sandwich or on top of a salad, sprinkled with some fresh herb leaves or chopped spring onions or chives gives added flavour and decoration.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas to take away and try. Don’t be frightened to experiment. Recipes are there for guidelines, they can be adapted to suite what you have available to you, its really just having the confidence to give it a go. OK so perhaps don’t put yourself under pressure if you are having dinner guests. Other than that, whats the worst that can happen…the family complain, leave most of it and you make some toast!

Some of my best made family meals have been from leftovers and fridge craws. More often than not its more of a problem repeating a tasty dish that was a hit, with the same ingredients, than ending up with something inedible!

Make the most of your food, your time and your money. Its definitely a winning recipe!

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