Friday, November 23, 2007

Cheaper Chicken - part two

Now to part two of the chicken saga.
Yesterday I sat and portioned out the second chicken which cost £5.98 and weighed 3.005 kg. I think we can ignore the .005 bit. Having had a bit of practice, I made a better job of it this time. There was no need to review packaged portion prices as that had already been done. But the weight differences of flesh from the smaller bird to this were amazing.
This time the chicken breasts weighed 460g each and from both I was able to cut away not just the fillet but also an adjoining piece which together were the size of a small chicken breast. This left the main piece - still huge, a round ball of a piece at one end, more fillet shaped at the other, so the ball piece was cut off - this alone could serve two if halved and bashed down, even the thinner piece could be cut in half to make two escalopes - thus making one breast serve five. Or the two breasts serve ten. Incredible.
The two chicken quarters weighed 340g each, both could be jointed to give two thighs and two drumsticks. The winglets were surprisingly meaty, each weighing 150g.

When it came to the carcase, there was still quite a lot of meat attached (on the underside there are good nuggets of flesh) so I managed to remove 100g more of chunky bits of meat. Then weighed the carcase. I was completely wrong when I expected much the same weight of bone as the first bird as this time the carcase weighed 900g. This was then added to the stock left over from the first bird (to give this a much more concentrated flavour) and the cooked meat picked from the bones came to the same as the first- just 9 oz (250g). But of course had I not picked off the flesh prior to cooking, it would have been 4 oz more.
Allowing for the rather hit and miss of weighing, being a bit difficult to hit an exact weight on the scales that I have, I seem to be a few grams short of the original weight, but that means the joints weighed more than I said.
Definitely the larger bird worked out the most economical taking into account the prices that would have been paid if the same weight of portions had been bought separately. If anything there was more fat towards the rear end of the larger bird, which I didn't mind at all because it all went into the stock pot, and once chilled the fat can be taken from the surface and used for cooking.
My Cooks' Encyclopedia says "goose fat is a good cooking fat, with some of the characteristics of chicken fat, being soft and can be heated to around 200C without burning". And under a separate heading the book says "chicken fat is not too saturated for an animal fat...softer and nearer in consistency to oil than other animal fats. When clarified it fries well and can be heated to 200C without burning.'' Whether suitable for roasting potatoes, I cannot say. There certainly would not be enough from the two chickens to do that in this instance.

It does seem that, almost like a pig, every bit of the chicken can be used to advantage. I dare say the cooked bones could be ground up in the food processor and dug into the soil, my dad used to use bone meal for this purpose, not a lot of difference I would say. The chicken skin itself holds most of the fat, but many people like to remove it from the bird and then grill it to make a crunchy snack. As some people do with the skin from fish. Takes all sorts.

Do hope I have managed to persuade many of you that it is worth jointing up a whole bird yourself rather than buying the portions separately. And a reminder that if all you are after is making your own chicken stock, then - if you are a regular customer- your butcher will almost certainly give you a free bagful of chicken carcases left after he has taken off the respective parts to sell separately. You may have to ask him which is the best day to collect. If you are lucky (you could try asking) he will pop in the winglets. With the winglets and the small amount of meat left on the bones, after cooking you should have enough meat to make a couple of proper meals, let alone pints of stock (which can be reduced by fast boiling and then chilled, frozen in ice-cube trays to make very concentrated stock cubes).

Now that we have the chicken, here are a few recipes to help use it up, the first being a version of Waldorf Salad, and a good one to make use of the cooked pieces taken from the carcase.
Chicken and Walnut Salad: serves 4
cookd chicken pieces (up to 12 oz)
2 ribs celery, chopped into 1" pieces
1 large red apple, cored and diced
2 oz (50g) walnut pieces, chopped
4 tblsp mayonnaise
2 tblsp Greek yogurt
salt and pepper
Place the chicken pieces into a bowl with the celery, apple and walnuts. Blend together the mayo and the yogurt, thinning with a little milk to give a pouring consistency. Season to taste. Pour over the chicken and toss everything together until evenly coated.
Line a shallow bowl with watercress and spoon the chicken salad on the top.

Chicken and Walnut Pate: serves 4
6 oz (175g) liver sausage
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
3 tblsp sherry
5 oz (125g) cooked chicken pieces, chopped
2 oz (50g) walnut pieces, chopped
watercress or parsley sprigs
Mash the liver sausage with the garlic and sherry, and when smooth, work in the chicken, walnuts and season with pepper to taste. Spoon into individual ramekin pots and garnish with sprigs of watercress or parsley. Great served with hot buttered granary bread.

Chicken Escalopes with Orange: serves 4
2 oz (50g) butter
2 oz (50g) flaked roasted almonds
2 small chicken breasts
salt and pepper
3 large oranges
2 tsp caster sugar
Slice the chicken breasts through lengthways and lay on a piece of clingfilm, cover with more film and bash each with a rolling pin or a clenched fist to make it evenly thin. Flour both sides of each escalope with flour, patting with hand to remove excess. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and fry the escalopes for a few minutes on each side, until golden (always check the meat is cooked through before removing from the pan - a lot depends upon how thinly they have been bashed). Keep them warm if needing to do it in two batches. But keep the juices in the pan after removing the last ones.
Meanwhile, squeeze the juice from two of the oranges, cutting off the skin/pith from the third and segmenting. Add the orange juice, segments and the sugar to the buttery juices in the pan and boil rapidly for a few minutes to thicken slightly. Place the escalopes onto a heated plate, pour over the orange sauce and sprinkle with the toasted almonds.
Tip: if you have no toasted almonds, toast ordinary flaked almonds by frying in the butter for a few moments until golden, then remove before adding the escalopes to the pan.