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Trying to reduce food waste? Start with a whole roasted chicken.

written by

Michelle Sroka

posted on

February 1, 2023

Is there a meal that you imagine will transform your kitchen?

When we first began farming, I heard many people talk about the merits of a whole roast chicken. It's often lauded as the centerpiece of home-cooked meals. It's comforting and provides a dearth of leftovers. It can feed a crowd. But it's also a step toward zero-waste: once you've removed the meat, the bones serve as the centerpiece for another meal.

In fact, I'd recommend roasting a chicken at least once a week. Here's why:

  • It's economical. Between the whole bird, the leftovers, and the bones, it can serve as the foundation for three meals or more.
  • It's delicious. If you cook it right, you have the best of both worlds: juicy, tender meat and savory, crispy skin.
  • It will encourage you to make more stock. Homemade stock should be a regular element of your kitchen. It's deeply nutritious and far superior to the mostly water-based stocks you'll find in the store.
  • It will save you time. Shredding up or dicing leftovers and adding them to a simple pasta dish, rice, or tacos can greatly reduce your cooking time over the week.

So here's my challenge: roast a whole chicken this week. And the week after that. And so on. And see how it transforms what you can do in the kitchen.

Ready to get started? Here are a few things we've learned about the mastering the art of roasted chicken.

Keep It Simple (at first)

There are lots of recipes out there. If you're just starting out, I'd recommend keeping it simple. Learn how to roast the bird whole, and start with the salt-only seasoning in our favorite roasted chicken au jus recipe. As you get more confident, you can try different seasoning blends or cooking methods.

Also, be aware of how using liquids on the skin will change the texture. Fats or oils will soften the skin, so if you're looking for a crackling texture, you're better off with a dry rub.

If you feel like you're a pro at roasting a whole chicken, the next step is spatchcocking. You'll need high-quality shears for this (kitchen scissors will not do the job, so don't try). The best tutorial for this can be found from this Bon Appetit recipe.

Use a High-Quality Roasting Pan

We've learned that roast chickens cook best in either a cast iron skillet or a dutch oven (but leave the cover off). If you don't have either of those, a glass roasting pan in the next best option.

Thaw the Chicken Completely

Believe me, as someone who has tried to bend this rule many, many times: it will not work out the way you want it to. The best option is to place your frozen chicken in the refrigerator at least 24 hours before you plan on cooking it.

If there are parts of the chicken that are still frozen, despite your best efforts (like the breast or cavity is still frozen), I'd suggest using a different cooking method. You can cook it in the Instant Pot, for example, and then pop it in the oven for 10-15 minutes to crisp the skin.

Rely on a Meat Thermometer

The juices may "run clear", but that doesn't always mean the chicken is done. Use a meat thermometer to ensure it's reached at least 165°F. Then, let it rest for another 10-15 minutes.

I like to test both the deepest part of the thigh and the breast meat, as sometimes the thighs will reach temperature before the breast does.

Give Yourself Enough Time

Imagine your partner and children lingering around the kitchen, 30 minutes after you were supposed to be eating, while you desperately watch the oven and try to fast-forward time. I don't have to - I've been there!

In general, allot yourself 30 more minutes than you think you need. This is especially true if you're only factoring in cooking time. Remember that you'll need about 10-15 minutes for the chicken to rest and cool before you can slice into it.

Want to try it for yourself? Check out our simple Whole Roasted Chicken Au Jus recipe.

Reducing Waste: Making Broth

Once you've roasted the chicken and set aside the leftover meat, it's time to turn your attention to the carcass. We also like to save leftover bones from the legs and thighs to add in our stock.

Before you make your broth, you'll need to decide what kind of broth you want to make. If you want to make a flavorful, hearty liquid stock, one carcass is plenty of bones. Add in vegetables of your choice, season with salt and pepper, and fill with water until just barely covered. We don't like to cook ours on the stovetop for extended period of times, so I recommend either setting a slow cooker on low for 24 hours, or cooking the stock for 2 hours in a pressure cooker like the Instant Pot.

However, if you're interested in bone broth, you'll need more than one carcass. This is because the "gelatinous" texture of bone broth can only be achieved if bones comprise 1/2 to 3/4 of your pot. When making bone broth, I usually save bones in the freezer, and combine the bones of two chicken carcasses. Once you have enough method, the cooking method is similar: add vegetables and seasoning, and fill with water until the bones are just barely covered. However, you'll also want to add 1-2 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar to help break down the collagen in the bones. The cooking time is the same as stock: 24 hours on low in the slow cooker, or 2 hours in the pressure cooker.

We personally don't roast our bones. The last thing I want to do after roasting a whole chicken is spend more time roasting something else in the kitchen! However, we also don't drink our bone broth straight out of a cup. We prefer to mix it in smoothies, with chocolate milk, or as a replacement liquid for water in dishes like rice. If you plan on drinking your bone broth regularly, you may want to experiment with roasting your bones.

Want a basic bone broth recipe to get started? Here's one that you can easily customize.

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