Eating well without breaking the bank or cooking every minute of the day requires strategies to economize on time and money. One way I like to do that is to start with one dish and transform it into another (and another and another). With a turkey or ham, that’s not too hard because there is usually lots of leftover meat. But even a simple roasted chicken can be given new life several times over. My most ambitious feat yet has been to cook one chicken, four ways. Check it out: slow-cooker roasted chicken becomes chicken pot pie, fried rice and chicken broth. Three out of these four recipes I have shared already on the blog, but now I’m putting it altogether for you to show you how to save time, and throwing in a simple description of how I make fried rice.
Here we go…
1. Slow cooker roasted chicken
Do you have a small-medium sized slow cooker that could hold a whole chicken? If so, drop it in. Add either just dry ingredients (like garlic salt, onion flakes, herbs & spices) or a sauce. Last time I used 1/4 bottle of barbeque sauce, some onion flakes and garlic salt. Teriyaki is great, too. Use 1/4 to 1 full bottle. Whatever you prefer. (You could also make a sauce with balsamic and Dijon, or Dijon and honey.) I find that whatever sauce I use, the roast chicken with sauce is great, and really saucy. But it doesn’t season the meat so much that it restricts the ways I can use the leftover chicken afterwards. (For example, fried rice after teriyaki chicken is safe. But I have made chicken pot pie, fried rice and chicken broth using the same bird I had cooked in BBQ sauce.) That said, probably some flavors are too strong to cross over. Maybe Dijon wouldn’t be great later in fried rice. I don’t know. Let me know if you try it and I’ll do the same. You can read more detailed instructions on “roasting” your chicken in the slow cooker here.
For your roasted chicken dinner, steam some rice (any variety). I like short grain brown rice. Double up on what you’ll eat the first night and save half for fried rice to be made later on. Cook up a veggie. For more synergies, make it something that goes well in fried rice (e.g., broccoli, carrots, green beans, asparagus) and double that up, too. Even hearty greens like kale, cabbage, and collards work. More delicate greens like spinach and chard won’t stand up to a second round of cooking, so I would skip those, or plan to use a different vegetable in your fried rice.
So, dinner the first night is chicken with sauce, rice and vegetables. Simple. The only thing is, you have to go easy on the meat if you want it to last. We usually eat the drumsticks and share a breast among us. The thigh meat seems to stay moist longer, so I save that for the next two dishes, plus the other breast and all the meat in the little crevices.
After dinner, wrap the chicken and store in the fridge. You could remove the meat the first night if that’s the only night you have time, but I find it dries out a bit. I prefer to keep the chicken in tact until preparing the next dish.
2. Chicken pot pie
For the second and third dinner, remove all the remaining meat and chop into small chunks. (Tip: the smaller the pieces, the further it will stretch.) Set aside 1 ½ to 2 cups of chicken for the pot pie, and put the rest in a container to save for the fried rice.
3. Fried rice
Fried rice is my husband’s favorite dish in my repertoire. Such a humble dish, but so satisfying – as a cook, eater, and manager of household resources. Fried rice is simple, inexpensive, quick, and can absorb a wide variety of odds and ends you may have lying around the kitchen. It’s versatility also combats palette boredom. Everyone has their own way of doing it, but here’s mine.
Sauté some onion, garlic and ginger in a large skillet (preferably one with a lid). If you’re using fresh vegetables (e.g., broccoli, Chinese broccoli, cabbage), add them now and sauté for a few minutes. Add in your rice (about 2 cups) and leftover meat. Stir to combine and heat. When the rice is hot, push it off to the side, add a bit more oil, and pour in two beaten eggs. Cook until the eggs are firm. Incorporate with the rice and meat. Add any other vegetables now, including cooked ones (perhaps leftover from roasted chicken night), fresh leafy greens like spinach and chard and/or frozen ones (I always use peas and sometimes edamame). Pour in your sauce. I use teriyaki sauce, rice wine vinegar (to give it a distinctive tang), and a dash of sesame oil. You could use soy sauce, oyster sauce, or black bean sauce. For any of those, I would add to it some water or vinegar to give it a bit more moisture without adding more salt. Stir in the sauce and combine all the ingredients. Then cover the pan (with a lid or cookie sheet, if necessary) and let it steam for 3-5 minutes. Done.
That’s a real one-pot wonder in my kitchen. Whole grains, veggies, protein and tasty sauce, using leftover rice and chicken and whatever else I’ve got. I make this at least twice a month. We gorge ourselves and then have it again for lunch the next day. A real family favorite.
4. Chicken broth
Finally, we come to the fourth preparation – chicken broth. Throw the chicken carcass and leftover bones (drumsticks, etc.) into a slow cooker or soup pot. Add water, a dash of vinegar or wine and some chopped veggies (or veggie scraps if you’ve been saving them – e.g., carrot peelings, celery hearts, onion ends, corn cobs). Cook until flavorful. For more detailed instructions, go here.
And don’t forget, if you don’t have time to make the broth within several days of eating your roasted chicken, just toss it in a bag and keep it in the freezer until you’re ready. In the meantime, you can save up your veggie scraps, adding them to the bag until you have enough time and materials to work with.
For bonus points, cook a triple batch of rice on day one and toss some into the chicken broth for a simple start to a soup. Your chicken supply will probably be tapped out, but there’s no rule against buying more, using something different (like meatballs), or serving a meatless soup. Just toss in some veggies and you’ve got a fifth dish.
Not counting the bonus soup, I estimate this series of four recipes from a single chicken costs me $26 to make (using nearly all organic ingredients) and yields about 17 (modest) servings (at $1.48 each) plus 2-4 cups of additional chicken broth leftover. It doesn’t get much better than that. [See the spreadsheet at the bottom for the breakdown, if you’re interested.]
If you can’t stretch a chicken this far (perhaps your family or appetite is bigger than ours), consider roasting two chickens the first night, or picking just one or two of the dishes to follow the roast. If you’ve got a lot of meat left, make the pot pie. Just a little? Go for the fried rice. None? Head straight for the broth. If you do just one additional thing with the roasted bird after you’ve enjoyed it the first night, you’re ahead of the game.