How to make 3 meals from 1 chicken
Since moving to wintry Canada from sunny Australia more than four years ago, slow cooking has taken over my kitchen repertoire. In a climate that — to this sun-loving Aussie, at least — seems cold and dry in the extreme, warm, moist foods like soup are essential.
Seasons and elements
I’ve long thought about seasons as unique combinations of the qualities hot, cold, dry and moist, but this connection may be new for you. When thinking about seasons in elemental terms — spring is hot and moist, summer hot and dry, autumn cold and moist and winter cold and dry — it’s easy to see how the foods you crave in each season complement what’s occurring outside.
Summer’s hot, dry qualities call for cool, moist foods such as salads, tropical fruits and fresh seafood. In Australia and New Zealand’s north, summer is the longest season and many Aussie food rituals are designed to balance summer’s heat.
In more extreme locations, like Canada, the opposite is true. Winter extends for almost half the year, so food rituals centre on dishes full of heat and moisture to balance winter’s extreme cold and dry. The consumption of “hot” foods, like soup and slow-cooked meat, helps transfer heat into the body, hence the craving for soup to warm up on a winter’s day.
One chicken, three meals
Now that I’m often cooking for four — myself, my partner and my two teenage step-kids — I’ve developed an economic food ritual that combines slow-roasted meat and homemade soup. By revisiting traditional food practices, such as stock-making, I can stretch one roast chicken into three meals. I like to think of stock, the foundation of any good soup, as a recycling process for roasted meat and bones.
Turning your roast-chicken dinner into a total of three meals is simple. In short: cook your roast, turn the carcass and any leftover meat into stock and then use the stock as the base for two more meals — soup and risotto, for example. My favourite is to make one batch of chicken soup with leftover chicken bits, carrots and celery, and one batch of creamy (yet dairy-free) pumpkin soup, splitting the stock between the two.
Stock, broth, soup
Stock, also called broth, is made by simmering a combination of bones and meat. Purists refer to simmered meat and bones as stock, with simmered meat (no bones) and vegetables known as broth. To further confuse things, broth may have stock as a base, and most tasty soups get their flavour from rich stock. Stock is the term I’ll use here.
Soup, nutrition and digestion
Sally Fallon, in Nourishing Traditions, writes: “Meat and fish stocks are used almost universally in traditional cuisines. Properly prepared, meat stocks are extremely nutritious, containing the minerals of bone, cartilage, marrow and vegetables as electrolytes, a form that is easy to assimilate.” Your homemade stock provides minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium along with non-essential amino acids.
Stock also provides hydrophilic colloids, which normally come from raw foods. These support digestion as they help pull water into the gut. As Fallon writes, “Gelatin in meat broths has the unusual property of attracting liquids — it is hydrophilic — even after it is heated.” Gelatin helps the body more completely make use of protein that is ingested, and has been revered as a digestive aid since ancient times.
Given my cold constitution — I wear socks to bed in summer in Sydney — it’s no surprise I have trouble absorbing nutrition from food and struggle with slow digestion. I’ve found my tummy troubles ease within hours of having a bowl of soup prepared with homemade stock. Soup’s warm, gentle qualities seem to awaken my otherwise sluggish tummy. The 2013 edition of Reader’s Digest Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal concurs: “Hot liquids help stimulate the bowels.”
Why chicken soup?
Chicken soup has been made in different cultures for hundreds of years and has even been studied scientifically. One well-known study, by Dr Rennard at the University of Nebraska Medical Research Centre, determined that chicken soup may help stop or reduce upper respiratory tract inflammation, considered to be a precursor to the common cold. According to Rennard, “The current study presents evidence that chicken soup might have an anti-inflammatory activity.” Rennard also notes chicken soup “may improve rehydration and nutrition in the body”.
While lab studies have trouble pinpointing exactly what makes chicken soup so good for you, the consensus is that it does have some benefits, especially in regards to reducing congestion and supporting the immune system.
Traditions and time
One of the most important “ingredients” in traditional food preparation is time. Slow cooking provides a contrast to today’s fast-paced life but is really quite simple. A few minutes of hands-on chopping and arranging (for a roast) or bringing to the boil (for a stock) precede hours of hands-off cooking and simmering.
By using time as your friend when preparing food, you can opt for less popular — and often cheaper — cuts of meat. Braising, slow cooking and stock-making help turn cheaper cuts of meat into nutritious and tasty meals.
Since becoming a stock- and soup-making convert, I’ve cut down on food waste. I now have a freezer full of nutritious soup and we throw out far fewer past-their-prime vegetables, which are perfect for making stock. Not only does this mean there’s always something healthy for dinner after a busy day but it’s a greener option, as reducing food waste is also good for the environment.
Meat is one part of the Grocery bill where I’ve found spending extra on organic, freerange or grass-fed (also known as pasture-fed) is worth it. There are differences between the three options. Organic is increasingly readily available and ensures the meat in question was not fed anything genetically modified or treated with chemicals.
Organic freerange is a step up, as organic foods can still be mass-produced, while freerange suggests the animal spent at least some time roaming outdoors. Check different suppliers to see exactly what “freerange” means, as each brand likely has a different definition of the term.
Organic grass- or pasture-fed is the gold standard of meat. Grass and seeds are the natural diet for many of our food animals, unlike the corn (a grain) they are fed in feedlot settings, both organic and conventional. Meat raised on grass takes longer to mature, hence the extra cost, but emerging research suggests it’s better for you.
Each of these options is progressively expensive, but when making three meals from one chicken, splurging on the best quality you can afford is worth it.
Meal 1: Roast chicken
I normally cook for a family of four, so I select the largest organic chicken available. Where we live, this is around CA$20, though I recall paying closer to AU$30 in Sydney.
Roast the chicken breast-side down for about 30 minutes in a hot oven (220°C), then turn the heat down and flip the bird over, so it’s breast-side up. Roast for 60–90 mins in a medium oven (180°C), depending on the size of the bird. If you’re not one to make gravy from the juices (a little cornflour stirred into the juices over heat works a treat), save them for the stock pot.
In our family, there are two breast-lovers and two leg-lovers, so we easily divide a chicken between the four of us. While there’s not much meat left once we’re done, you’ll find that by simmering the leftover carcass all the fussy bits fall off the bones, giving you meat for chicken soup. If you’re feeding fewer than four, you’ll have extra meat. For more than four, I’d recommend two chickens, which is how Mum fed our family of eight.
Interim step: Chicken stock
Making chicken stock is less exact science and more freeform art. You’ll need:
1 chicken or 6+ chicken pieces, raw or roasted
2 bay leaves
2 large carrots
½ bunch of celery
Salt & paper, to taste
Ask your butcher for extra chicken bones — last time I did, I got a large bag for free. Stock-making enthusiasts also recommend including 1–2 tablespoons of vinegar, as this helps draw minerals out of the bones.
Put everything in a big stock pot and cover completely with water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for more than two hours. For chicken stock, I simmer for up to six hours, time permitting. While it simmers, skim any scum off the top. Let it cool, ideally in the fridge overnight. Once cooled, skim some of the fat off, too.
Strain your stock though a colander so all the liquid is separated from the chicken, vegetables and herbs. This liquid is your stock. If you’re not making soup immediately, it’ll keep in the fridge for up to a week, or can be frozen.
Your first meal, roast chicken, has been transformed, through water and heat, into chicken stock. You now have the basis for your two more meals.
Meal 2: Chicken soup
Chicken soup is probably the most widely used “food as medicine” meal. Making your own from scratch, with homemade stock, takes the nourishment factor to new levels. Now you have your chicken stock ready to go, pick over the chicken carcass and separate the meat from the bones. Throw out the bones — by this point you’ve literally sucked the nutrition out of them — and set the chicken meat and vegetables aside.
For chicken soup, restock the pot. I like to throw the already boiled veg back in, along with some fresh celery, carrots, onion and any leftover or wilting vegetables. Add 1–1.5 litres of stock (or half what you made, top up with water if necessary) and all the chicken meat. Simmer for 30 minutes or so until the fresh vegetables have softened. Add herbs such as thyme and sage, plus salt and pepper to taste. Voila! Meal two is ready.
Meal 3: Butternut pumpkin soup
This is one of our favourite winter soups. It’s thick and creamy but dairy-free. If pushed for time, you can skip roasting the pumpkin, but roasting does enhance the flavour.
Chop one butternut pumpkin into pieces and roast for about 45 minutes at 180°C, until the pieces are soft. In your soup or stock pot, sauté one onion, one potato and a clove of garlic in a little oil or butter. Add the peeled, roasted pumpkin and the remaining half of the stock. Top up with water if needed to ensure everything in the pot is covered. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add one tin of coconut milk and simmer for 5–10 minutes. Use a stick blender to puree the soup in the pot or let it cool and process through a blender. Ta da! Meal three is done.
These examples are just the beginning of your adventures in turning one piece of meat into multiple meals. Through the transformative process of simmering and soup-making, you can add nutrition to your diet while at the same time reducing your eco footprint and cutting down on waste. All you need to supply is time and a nod to tradition.
- Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
- I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson
Kelly Surtees is a writer, astrologer, teacher and editor who loves reading, writing and escaping into the ocean. She travels regularly between her dual home countries of Australia and Canada. Visit kellysurtees.com or follow her on twitter @keldreamer
How to make 3 meals from 1 chicken
Chicken soup may be the most-used â€œfood as medicineâ€ meal. Make it even more nourishing and economical by revisiting traditional cooking methods and combining slow-roasted meat and homemade soups.