This is one of my favorite meals to make: Not only does it utilize every last scrap of the chicken, but it takes the logical tack that intact whole birds—whether chickens or turkeys—don’t really cook that well. The breasts cook faster than the thigh, the thighs cook faster than the wings, and so on. The solution: Cut the chicken up and cook each part separately yet concurrently (in its own stock and/or fat!) to ensure each section is at its best. This stupendous idea and accompanying recipe came from an old Mark Bittman column in the New York Times Magazine. I recall being so excited I ripped the page out of the magazine before I had even finished reading it, which is probably the first and only time I have ever done that. I implore you: Any time you find yourself craving roast chicken, give this technique a try instead.
As a simple dish that depends on huge chicken flavor, this is best made with the highest quality chicken you can afford. (For me it was Foster Farms vs. For Maximum Value, but in ideal world it would be free-range organic.) It makes 4 servings. Be forewarned this is a project meal—it’s well worth it, but make sure you’ve set aside a few hours.
• 1 whole chicken (3-4 lbs is best, but the smallest I could find was almost 5 lbs): $5.86
• 2 leeks, washed well and chopped: 75 cents
• 5 carrots—1 roughly chopped, 4 peeled and chopped: 15 cents
• 7 celery stalks—1 roughly chopped, 6 finely chopped, leafy tops reserved: 21 cents
• 1/2 an onion, quartered (no need to even peel it, since it’s for stock): 15 cents
• 1 bay leaf: 1 cent
• 12 oz. cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced: $2
• 4 thyme sprigs (garden): $0
• Salt and pepper (plus whole peppercorns): 2 cents
TOTAL: $9.14/4 = $2.29/serving
Remove the giblets from the chicken. Reserve all but the liver. (It’s best to save these up in the freezer for another use.) Cut the thigh-drumstick sections, breasts, and wings off the chicken. (Carefully cut through the skin first; you should then see where the joints connect and therefore where to cut. If you’ve never cut up a chicken before, watch this video.)
Set the thigh-drumsticks and breasts aside, cover, and place in the fridge.
Peel the skin off the chicken back and the thigh-drumsticks. (It really should peel right off like an article of clothing.) Leave the skin on the breast. Cut open the wings and try to remove as much meat as possible; dice and set aside in a small bowl.
Place the back, giblets, what’s left of the wings, onion, carrot, celery (I threw a few leaves in for good measure, since there were so many), bay leaf, and a pinch of whole peppercorns in a large soup pot and add enough water to cover.
Bring to a slow simmer and simmer for about 2 hours (or longer, if you have the time.) Occasionally skim any fat that rises to the surface.
Close to the time when the stock is done, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. To render the fat used for cooking, flatten the skin and put it on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
Roast for about 10 minutes, then turn over and roast for another 5-10 minutes until all fat has rendered. The resulting cracklins are great crumbled over a salad, but around here they never last more than a few minutes after emerging from the oven.
Pour 2 T of the fat (reserve the rest in the fridge as a tasty substitute for cooking oil) into a roasting pan that fits on the stovetop or a Dutch oven.
When the stock is done, strain it, pressing hard on the solids. You’ll only need about 3 cups (roughly, depending on the size of your pan); pour the rest into containers to freeze or refrigerate for soup or other recipes that call for high-quality stock. Discard the solids. (A co-worker says he will sometimes put chicken-stock solids in a blender and give them to his dog. I have yet to find the guts to try this.)
Reduce oven temp to 350 degrees.
Remove the chicken pieces from the fridge and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Heat the chicken fat over medium heat. Brown the thigh-drumstick pieces (about 5 minutes per side) and put back on the plate.
Brown the breasts, skin side down, for about 5 minutes, then the flesh side for about 1 minute. Set the breasts aside on a separate plate, re-cover, and put back in the fridge.
Add the reserved wing meat from the fridge, remaining vegetables, thyme, and a big pinch of salt to the pot.
Cook over medium for about 15 minutes, until significantly reduced. Nestle the thigh-drumstick pieces in the vegetables and add enough stock to come halfway up the thighs (again, this should be around 3 cups, depending on the size of your pot.) Bake, uncovered, at 350 for an hour. Remove the pot, add the breasts skin-side up on top of the vegetables, and bake for another 30 minutes. (Stir the vegetables a few times if they look like they’re getting too browned.)
Meanwhile, chop the reserved celery leaves for a garnish.
Remove the drumstick-thighs and shred the meat from the bones. (It should fall off easily.) Remove the breasts and slice them.
To serve, mound some vegetables on a plate, top with some shredded dark meat and light white meat, and garnish with chopped celery leaves.