It has been a while since our fine-feathered dinner went from funky chicken to fancy chicken.
But lately, the sticker price of the first white meat, especially the popular boneless, skinless chicken breast, is enough to turn a poultry lover into a full-time vegetable eater. One package of two pieces for $7 or more? Time to rethink dinner. Boneless pork chops and London broil are better deals.
Several things have conspired to drive up chicken prices. High fuel and feed costs, plus a reduction in production, are pushing prices ever higher. Still, there are ways to get more meals for your money as long as you're willing to branch out from your steady diet of boneless, skinless white meat.
If you learn how to use the rest of the bird, plus master the art of carving, perhaps even butchering, you can enjoy chicken and still have money left for dessert. Thighs and legs, plus white meat on the bone, are better values and offer additional taste, too. Yes, they have more calories and fat grams, but it's likely you are adding breading, sauce or something else to that breast meat to make it taste like something. We all agree it's healthier, but the taste factor ranks low.
Chicken breasts roasted on the bone and with skin just taste better and need nothing more than salt and pepper to season them. Don't eat the skin and save the calories and guilt.
Keep this in mind when you buy chicken and other meat or produce: The more the product is processed and handled, the higher the cost. A rotisserie chicken is about $8. The same size raw bird is about half that and, if you watch for sales, you can get it even cheaper. A few weeks ago, roasting chickens were two-for-one at Sweetbay. All stores have regular deals on chicken. This week it might be drumsticks; next week breasts and the week after whole birds.
Buy chicken breasts on the bone with skin and you'll pay about $2.79 a pound. Once the processors have stripped off bone and skin, the cost is closer to $5. There is some waste on the cheaper price, because of the bone, but the benefit on the wallet is hard to ignore. If you must buy boneless, skinless breasts, consider splitting them lengthwise to make cutlets. They cook quicker and two half-breasts become four servings just like that.
Stock up when chicken goes on sale. I have limited freezer space but there's always room for a few packages of chicken when prices dip. I am a big fan of chicken thighs and those can go as low as $1 a pound.
Chicken tenderloins can be used lots of ways, including the Chicken Schnitzel recipe that accompanies this story. They can get pricey, too, but 2-pound bags of Purdue tenderloins were on sale at Publix last week for $4.99. They are usually $6.99 and even then, that's $3 a pound for pure meat, no waste. I can get a lot of mileage out of that bag: Mojo-marinated and grilled; draped in barbecue sauce; grilled and added to a Cobb salad; oven-fried and served with a chipotle ranch dipping sauce, or served in curry sauce over rice.
Chicken salad is popular at my house and I'll either make it by roasting a whole chicken or chicken breasts on the bone with skin. A vat of chicken salad made Sunday is used for lunches during the week. When I find rotisserie chickens chilled and on sale for about $5, I use those for my salad. Saves money, time and my electricity.
Another way to save money on chicken is to use less. Two pounds of breast meat can easily feed six people if you use it in a casserole or stir-fry. Most nutrition experts say Americans eat too much meat and an adequate serving size is 4 ounces so 2 pounds should theoretically feed eight people. That might be stretching things too far, but you get the point.
There are economical cooks who can get several meals from a whole chicken roasted at home, using the meat in salads, pasta, quesadillas and broth for soup. If the whole chicken is intimidating, consider buying it already cut for which you'll pay about $1.89 a pound. Drumsticks are even cheaper at $1.69 a pound and can be surprisingly versatile.
I saw leg quarters — where the leg and thigh are attached — for 99 cents a pound last week at Publix and they were delicious braised with pearl onions and a bit of bacon. The original recipe called for cippolini onions but they're expensive and a pain to peel. A bag of frozen, peeled pearl onions work just fine. Legs and thighs are also good for a one-dish paella that features red pepper and sausage. Buy and freeze leg quarters when they're on sale, and when you find red peppers on sale, you're golden.
Wings are another inexpensive way to get your chicken fix and add variety to the dinnertime offering. I prefer to use the meatier drumettes. A favorite lemon pepper coating elevates them beyond the Buffalo treatment. Plus, I can grill them and save the calories from frying.
Will soaring prices dim Americans' love affair with chicken? The average individual consumption is 60 pounds a year, and since steaks can be as much as $12 a pound, we're likely to swallow those high prices. But keeping a keen eye out for sales combined with a willingness to break the routine will give us all more cluck for the buck.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.
¼ cup lemon pepper seasoning
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
12 wings, cut in half at joints, wing tips removed and discarded (or a combination of 24 flats and drummettes)
On a plate, combine the lemon pepper and chives. Pour the olive oil in a separate small bowl. Dip the wings lightly in the olive oil, then roll in the lemon pepper mixture. Let the coated wings sit for about 15 minutes.
Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for direct cooking. Place the wings on the grill and cook, turning frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until done. Watch carefully and adjust the heat to avoid burning the coating. Makes 24 pieces.
Source: Wings by Debbie Moose (Wiley, 2009)
Braised Chicken Legs and Thighs
With Onion and Bacon
4 large leg quarters, with thigh and drumstick separated
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for seasoning
½ bag frozen, peeled pearl onions, thawed
2 ounces smoked bacon, cubed
4 ounces button mushrooms, quartered
2 sprigs thyme
¾ cup red wine
2 ½ cups chicken stock
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy flameproof baking dish over medium heat. Pour in the vegetable oil and once it's hot, sear the chicken pieces by turning them over once or twice in the baking dish, until golden brown all over. Remove from the baking dish and set aside.
Reduce the heat, add the onions and cook, stirring gently for 4 to 6 minutes, until they start to color. Add the bacon, mushrooms and thyme
and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the red wine, allow it to bubble and reduce the liquid by half.
Reintroduce the chicken to the dish and add some of the chicken stock so that it covers the chicken three-quarters of the way up — some of the skin should stay clear of the liquid, so that the skin can brown. Place in the oven for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Test the pieces with a skewer — the juices will run clear when the chicken is cooked.
If the sauce seems a little thin, remove the chicken and set it aside. Bring the sauce to a boil and let it reduce until it has a thicker consistency. Remove thyme sprigs. Then put the chicken back in the sauce to keep warm.
To serve, place a drumstick and thigh piece on each plate and surround with sauce.
Source: The Perfect Ingredient by Bryn Williams (Kyle, 2012)
Chicken Tenderloin Schnitzel
1 to 1 ½ pounds chicken tenderloins
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon milk
2 ½ cups fine white bread crumbs
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Vegetable oil, for shallow frying
Using a meat mallet, gently pound chicken to slightly flatten.
Whisk flour, eggs and milk in shallow bowl; combine bread crumbs, peel, herbs and cheese in another shallow bowl. Coat chicken pieces, one at a time, in egg mixture, then bread crumb mixture. Heat oil in large frying pan; saute chicken in batches until cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
Serve with lemon wedges if you'd like.
Source: Delish Cooking School: Learning to Cook Step-by-Step (Hearst Books, 2012)
Chicken, Sausage and Red Pepper Paella
2 bell peppers
Pinch of saffron, crumbled
3 ½ cups warm water
¼ cup extra-virgin olive
2 chicken legs, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 chicken thighs, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 Italian sausages
1 onion, julienned
1 fennel bulb, tops trimmed, core removed and sliced very thinly
Kosher salt and black pepper
¼ cup garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 ½ teaspoons aleppo pepper
2 bay leaves
¼ cup dry white wine
3 plum tomatoes, cut in half from top to bottom, and grated, cut side down, on the large holes of a box grater, leaving the skin behind
2 cups arborio rice
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 tablespoons scallions, sliced into thin rings
Roast the peppers: Sometime during the day or when you have time, turn a gas burner to high. If you don't have a gas burner, turn your oven to broil and place a rack at the highest level you can. Char the peppers on all on sides. The idea is to char the skin without cooking the pepper through.
Place the peppers into bowl covered with plastic wrap. Set aside for at least 20 minutes. The skins should easily peel off, then seed and core them. Cut the pieces into thick strips. (You can also use prepared roasted red peppers from a jar but they will be much softer. Make sure to drain and blot thoroughly.)
Crumble the saffron into the warm water and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a 16-inch paella pan or a 12-inch saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and once it's hot, add the chicken, skin side down, and then the sausages. Brown them thoroughly and then remove them to a plate. You don't need to cook them all the way through. They'll finish cooking in the oven.
Turn the heat to medium and add the onion and fennel. Season them with healthy pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until they start to soften, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, aleppo pepper and bay leaves. Cook for another few minutes until fragrant. Add the white wine and grated tomatoes, bring to a slow boil and cook for a minute or two, letting the alcohol burn off. Add the saffron water and rice. Season again with a healthy pinch salt and pepper. Shake the pan to level out the rice. Place the chicken into the pan and arrange the red peppers around the chicken.
Return to a boil, place the pan into the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. Cut the sausages in half. Once the timer goes off, add the sausages and place the pan back into the oven. Set the timer for 10 minutes.
Once the timer goes off, remove the pan from the oven and place a clean towel over the top. Let the dish rest for 5 minutes, remove the towel and garnish with parsley and scallions, then serve.
Serves 4 to 6.