A Whole Chicken: Pot or Not?

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I wish I would have taken a picture – or better yet, a video – of the chicken dance I did for my 7-year-old son the other day in the sink.

Rather, the chicken did the dance; I was just the puppeteer.

Paul got a kick out of the dancing (raw) chicken, and I relished the special moment with my son to do something a little gross. I have to tally up "cool mom" points where I can.

chicken stock gelatin (7) (500x375)

Tomorrow or the next day I’ll put my third whole chicken of the week into the slow cooker, but we won’t be eating chicken every day for dinner.

Some time ago a reader asked me to share a collection of recipes for a whole chicken beyond just "roast it."

The only problem is that, although I use whole chickens a lot, and a few years ago used them almost exclusively when we ate chicken, the recipes I can share don’t really use the whole chicken…but they’re better with a whole chicken.

Lost yet?

The chicken was too, so he danced himself right into the pot. Winking smile

What to Do with a Whole Chicken?

When folks first start moving to a whole foods diet, one of the things they find is that meat is more expensive when it’s consciously raised. When it comes to chicken, a fairly common experience is that, for reasons of either cost or availability, real food home cooks often have to buy the whole bird. Your local farmer may not even offer "boneless skinless chicken breasts," and if you can find them, the sticker shock usually scares people away.

If you mourned the loss of your chicken breast recipes and the quick convenience of grilling a few breasts or making stir fry for dinner, you’re not alone.

You’re also not stuck with roast chicken once a week just so you can keep up on making bone broth.

How to Use a Whole Chicken Without Eating It

I do a lot of things with whole chickens and don’t even make dinner for the family – yet. And no, tap dancing in the sink does not count on this list.

1. Stew the whole bird in the pot and pick off the meat.

Sometimes it makes sense to put a whole chicken in the stock pot, cook it up, and shred all the meat. If you roast a chicken and serve it to the family, you won’t get as much cooked, shredded chicken – and in my house, it’s important to me that my freezer has that available, in convenient 2-cup portions, please.

Many of the recipes I have that use a "whole chicken," then, don’t really call for a whole chicken. The ingredients include "2 cups cooked chicken." Such as:

2. Harvest the raw meat.

When I first posted about this way back, 3 years ago, it was a revelation to some. They had never thought of it.

I use my kitchen shears to cut breast meat out of a raw, thawed whole chicken. It’s sloppy and clearly the work of an unskilled butcher, but it works – I get enough chicken chunks to freeze a bag for an easy stir fry (veggie heavy) or a pasta toss, and then I put the bones into homemade stock and I still get at least two cups of meat.

In the photo above, you can see my hack job, plus another raw chicken, plus bones from a roast chicken at dinner underneath. Yes, you can mix raw and cooked bones, and even bones from people’s plates if you want. The long, hot cooking will kill any germs. (Like I say in the original stock making post, be sure to read my disclaimer and remember that I don’t know what I’m talking about at all!)

I used to always make massive amounts of broth at a time and freeze it; now I tend toward 1-2 chickens at a time, max, and I use the bones multiple times to get successive batches of stock. My "seconds," as I label them for freezer, are less flavorful and thick than the first batch, but they’re still good for chicken rice-a-roni and homemade cream of chicken soup.  I even go for "thirds" most of the time, but my mom thinks I’m being greedy and pushing it. Winking smile

3. Roast it – but don’t eat it.

I know, doesn’t make sense, right? But a whole chicken is a lot less expensive than a tiny bag of sustainably raised lunchmeat, and roast chicken has no match when it comes to flavor for sandwiches and wraps.

So sometimes, I make a dinner at the same time as roasting a whole chicken. I pick the chicken just to have cold, roasted chicken on hand. And of course, I make nourishing chicken stock from the bones. Use leftover roast chicken in:

Check out how I used three chickens in 7 meals plus had more broth for the freezer in this connected meal plan.

So my real answer to the question of "what do you do with a whole chicken other than roast it for dinner?" is that I turn it into an ingredient instead of a main course. It’s much more frugal that way.

How to Serve a Whole Chicken for Dinner

When we do serve a whole chicken for supper, it’s usually Oven-Roasted chicken with Tammy’s recipe like that.

You know it’s like a federal regulation or something that a whole, roasted chicken must be served with cooked peas and smashed or mashed potatoes, preferably mashed and as creamy as possible, right? Winking smile

Sometimes I’ll cook a whole bird in the slow cooker and serve it for dinner, and I’ve also tried and enjoyed Stacy’s Chicken Adobo, which makes so much extra sauce I’ve used it in 3 additional meals and still have a small jar in the freezer. (Stacy just published a new eBook called Crock On! – 40 original slow cooker recipes. What can I say? It rocks! It’s going to be my Bible for Thursdays when we walk in the door at 6:00 and need dinner, now. And it’s only 5 bucks!)

chicken w green bean rice casserole (5) smaller

My upcoming eBook has so many recipes that need chicken broth or cooked shredded chicken that it comes with a tutorial on how to always have both on hand. (Like chicken with rice and green beans, shown above)

And finally, this post is perfect for the week of Thanksgiving, because all the recipes offered will also work great for leftover turkey – and don’t forget to call dibs on the bones if you can! (To answer the question that will be asked in the comments, yes, I do make stock from conventionally raised birds, whenever I get the chance. There’s still PLENTY of nutrition to be pulled out of those bones, for free, and I’m not so scared of the world that I won’t eat non-organic food. Even if maybe I should be. I’m a realist.)

Do you want to see how I really, REALLY used the whole chicken this week? Brace yourself and check this out. Awesome, right? Winking smile

Help the real food rookies out! What’s your favorite shredded or whole chicken recipe?

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16 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Tammy says

    We have a lot of shredded chicken favorites, including: chicken enchilada casserole, chicken and (brown) rice casserole, and chicken and dumplings. I also love King Ranch chicken, but never get around to making it as the chicken enchilada casserole is so easy. We also enjoy chicken spaghetti, but as I could find no body to give me a recipe for that, I made up my own using foods I know my family likes and they gobble it up.
    When I cook my chicken for enchiladas, I boil the chicken with a variety of seasonings. I save the leftover Tex-Mex broth for use in a Tex-Mex rice dish instead of water, to enrich the broth the next time I want to make enchiladas, etc.
    I also use my plain broth to enrich the flavor for boiled potatoes, making rice, as well as any dish that naturally calls for broth. This adds a richness to the starch and requires less fat to get a rich flavor.

  2. says

    Is there a good way to freeze shredded chicken? Whenever I freeze my leftover chicken from roasting a hen, it’s always very dry and hard to manage when I thaw it.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      good question! I always just toss it in a ziploc bag, BUT I’m always using it in a wet application. If we do sandwiches or wraps, we just use it that week. I’m sure that freezing it in broth like Stephanie said is brilliant, and you can always drain the broth and maybe saute the chicken briefly to toast it up before making sandwiches. :) Katie

  3. Caitlin says

    I have a slightly unrelated question. I have a whole chicken in my freezer. I was going to cook it, and then my oven was acting up, so I froze it before went bad. Now it’s been in there for a little while and I want to use it, but my oven’s still a little tricky. Can I put the whole frozen chicken directly in my crockpot to make broth? And then use the cooked chicken for something? What would you suggested? Thanks!

    • J in VA says

      If it’s a ~3 lb chicken I’d say yes, you can put it frozen in the crock pot, make broth and have stewed chicken.

      But often the chickens I get from the farm are more in the 5 lb range which I thaw inthe fridge for a couple of days before slow cooking.

      A bigger chicken will likely not get hot in the center soon enough if it has to thaw then start heating—you know what I mean?

    • says

      Caitlyn, I’ve done this on numerous occassions and haven’t had any issues. I cook the whole chicken frozen for about 12 hours, pick off all the meat, then put the bones and 2 Tbsp vinegar back into the pot with whatever juices came from the first round.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I would thaw it first in the fridge like J said – it’s just safer to know that it will be done all the way. It will make awesome broth and moist, tender chicken that you can eat as a meal with those obligatory mashed potatoes and peas, or shred for soup or casseroles. Enjoy! :) Katie
      PS – I had an oven like that for 6 months, such a pain.

  4. shonda says

    I have been known to roast a whole 8 pound organic, free range chicken just to make enough curried chicken salad for a week of yummy lunches. I often wondered about harvesting the breast meat for chicken cordon blue, but never tried it. My current clean chicken source produces big birds (7-9lbs) which is great for lots of meat and i have been getting gorgeous yellow broth loaded with gelatin. Still haven’t done the chicken feet thing, but have mulled it over several times:) Happy Thanksgiving!!

  5. Laurie says

    Just had to share our “dancing fowl” moment… My husband killed a 20 lb wild turkey last week and my 5 year old son got a kick out of shaking the turkey’s head singing “chicken in the pot, chicken in the pot”! Lol.

  6. says

    Mashed potatoes with roast chicken? Blasphemy! They must be roasted! LOL. I love roasted rosemary-garlic potatoes with my roast chicken. We eat the legs and wings the day of, and the breast and “miscellaneous” bits get used for leftoverish things. Chicken and dumplings is my current favorite.

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