Earlier this year I wrote about making chicken soup with bone broth and why bone broth is good for you. To recap, broth made from animal bones and the bits that hold it all together (think ligaments and cartilage) is where lots of good, nutritious stuff is hanging out. When you simmer these parts in water over a long period of time, you can make a broth that rich in vitamins, minerals, supports immune function and bone health. Best of all, it’s delicious!
I’ve been making bone broth pretty regularly lately, but it took me a while to find my groove. When I started I was buying bone-in chicken thighs, legs and breasts from the grocery store because cooking a whole chicken was a pain in my tail feathers. The first time I cooked a whole chicken I made a gigantic mess because, well, it was my first time. The second time I took it out of the oven too early, only to discover it was “too early” after I had begun carving into the poor beast. Do you know what happens when you put a half-carved, not-completely-done chicken back into the oven to finish cooking? It’s not pretty. It’s also not juicy or tender or moist or any other adjectives one might use to describe cooked chicken.
It was after chicken #2 that I gave up on the whole chicken business. Screw you Whole Organic Chickens! You are not exactly what I call “cheap”, even if “cheap” is was what you said when you were a wee chick fresh from the egg. Liars! You’re all (cute, fuzzy) liars! I’m outta here. I’ll be in the butcher department at Wegmans if you’re looking for me.
Fortunately, I shared my chicken frustrations with a couple of like minded friends who in turn, shared their chicken cooking expertise with me. Their advice gave me some much needed guidance and the courage to try again with a refined approach. I also got some helpful information from the nice lady who sells me chickens at the market, a couple of cook books and websites too. With this collection of tips, a little patience and courage, I’m finally getting this cooking-a-whole-chicken thing figured out. I do feel better buying chicken from a local farmer than I do buying parts of a chicken from the grocery store, so I’m trying to go the whole chicken route as often as I can.
With that, here’s what I’ve been doing to make bone broth these days. I’m having much better luck with my new found approach, my broth is a lot more gelatinous (that’s a good thing!) and feel like I’m coming into my own with the whole process in general. Fall is right around the corner, cold and flu season will soon be upon us! Bone broth is one more item I’m adding to my Cold and Flu Prevention arsenal! (The grandmas of our day totally knew what they doing feeding their families chicken soup when they were sick.)
In some ways I still feel like a poultry cooking and carving newbie, but let that fact be of comfort to you (like a nice hot bowl of chicken soup?) because I am proof you that don’t have to be a pro to make and reap the all health benefits of real bone broth.
With that, here’s what I’ve been doing lately, with a big, HUGE thanks to my friends and farmer’s market lady for their help in showing me the way. High five for community!
Cut Chickens Apart Before Cooking
This step makes the cooking process a lot more straightforward with a lot less cursing. The only drawback is that cutting up uncooked chicken is not exactly simple… but like anything else, once you learn how to do it it’s not a big deal. I’m sure the same could be said for cooking an intact chicken, but let’s not go there, I’m still feeling a little sensitive about it.
In order to make chicken dis-assembly easier, you’ll need a good pair of kitchen scissors. I like the OXO brand, they’ve made cutting up chicken really easy for my amateur chicken butchering self. I especially love that they come apart and I feel like they get completely clean when I wash them.
I told the children that if I ever caught them cutting constructions paper or yarn with these scissors, I would show them (with some mildly implied threat) how easily these scissors can cut through bone.
The other tool I use is a big serrated knife, which leads to my next piece of advice for whole chicken newbies:
Start with Half Chickens
I transitioned from store bought, pre-butchered chicken breasts and thighs to half chickens (from the market) before graduating to whole chickens. It is much easier and less intimidating to disassemble half a chicken before taking on the whole bird.
For that reason, I’ve been cutting my chicken in half first (with the bread knife) straight down the middle of the back and then cutting up a half chicken at a time. If you can get half chickens at your market or local farmer, I highly recommend starting there while you’re getting the hang of it. This also works well if a whole chicken is too much meat to have around at one time. You could cut your whole chicken in half, cook one half now and stick the other half in the freezer.
I’m still kind of a hack when it comes cutting up chicken, so I’ll hold off on any advice there. Fortunately Martha Stewart seems to know what she’s talking about, so I’ll point you to her guide on Cutting Up a Whole Chicken because I found this helpful.
Once my whole chicken is cut up, I divide the parts into separate pans because the smaller pieces are done sooner than the breasts. At 350, the smaller parts are usually done between 40 – 50 minutes, the breasts seem to take about an hour or so, depending on their size.
Once the meat is cooked and has had a chance rest for 10 – 15 minutes, start removing the meat from the bone. I typically save the meat from wings and drumsticks for soup, and some of the thigh meat too. I put the bones, cartilage, ligaments and any other funky looking parts straight into the crock pot (but not the skin – I’m all for eating fat, but chicken fat is a bit higher in polyunsaturated fat and I already get plenty of PUFA‘s from nuts and seeds.) I move the meat to a separate container to add to soup later, once my bone broth is ready.
I follow the same method with the chicken breasts, adding the bones to the crock pot once I’ve removed the meat, but we usually eat the chicken breasts as a part of a meal, for a main dish or for adding to salads.
I might do this in the afternoon if I’m making chicken for dinner, in which case I throw my bone broth together after dinner and let it simmer in the crock pot all night. (I’ll tell you though that I have a kitchen door that I can close, so we’re not smelling chicken all night long. I have a friend who moves her crock pot to the garage for night time cooking, the basement could work too.)
Other times I do this first thing in the morning, put all the meat in the fridge until I’m ready to warm it up later. The broth simmers all day and is ready just in time to have chicken soup for dinner! I haven’t strayed much from my original chicken soup recipe, it’s so good I don’t want to make it any other way.
Don’t Forget the Other Parts of the Chicken Too
I picked up an entire bag of chicken feet at the market for soup making this weekend – chicken feet are where you’ll find glucosamine chondroitin and collagen. (Joint health! Skin health! Perhaps some stretchmark prevention, pregnant mamas!)
I know, I know… chicken feet? CHICKEN! FEET! I’m trying not to think about it too much, but at least they were cheap – just a few bucks for a bag of 10 (ish). Worst case scenario I can make some good luck charms or key chains with them. (I smell an exciting blog giveaway! Good luck chicken feet charm key chains! You know you’ll want one. Or three.)
Chicken necks are on my soup radar too (I’m pretty sure I have never strung that combination of words into sentence ever before) and in other random chicken part news, I made chicken liver pate last week, although that has nothing to do with bone broth or chicken soup. “Feet” might be a good way to describe the taste of chicken liver pate. I’m still twitching.
Alrighty, that’s what I’ve got in chicken soup news today! As always, I very much appreciate any and all wisdom (chicken or otherwise) you might have, so lay it on us if you’ve got something to share.