Here’s the thing: sometimes, those dinners aren’t the healthiest meals in the world. There tend to be a lot of quesadillas and casseroles whenever these type of posts pop up, not to mention chicken salads drenched with full-fat mayo. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this whatsoever (except the mayo - blech), but I wanted to see if I could put a healthier spin on it.
In a sentence: I wanted to find out if it was possible to create a gaggle of inexpensive, lower-fat meals with the leftovers from one big ol’ chicken.
Here were my rules:
- The budget – for EVERYTHING - was $25.
- I had to use as much food already in my pantry as possible. (Which accounted for a lot, and saved me mad dough in the long run.)
- Each meal had to feed at least two people (The Boyfriend and me).
- Bonus points for leftovers.
- The chicken had to be used up within a few days, so it wouldn’t go bad.
- The meals had to have reasonable variety, preferably from a range of cuisines. It couldn’t be Chicken with Spaghetti on Day 1, then Chicken with Penne on Day 2.
- The meals had to have very little added fat, since the leftover chicken would provide most of it.
However, I did go $0.86 over budget. I’m okay with that, though. Between what we consumed each night and ate for lunch the next day, that $25.86 made 17 full meals, which works out to $1.52 each. That’s less than a cup of Starbucks coffee, so … aces.
What follows is the menu breakdown, complete with pictures and links to four of the five recipes. The last, a Cook’s Illustrated curry dish, isn’t online, so I transcribed it at the very bottom of this post. There’s also a master grocery list, so y’all can see the price breakdown of everything.
With that said, let’s get started with introductions: Charles, these are the CHG readers. CHG readers, this is Charles. He’s my chicken. He’s 6.99 lbs.
He will not look like this for long.
Marcella Hazan’s Lemon Roasted Chicken with Carrots and Potatoes
Chicken consumed: 10 ounces
We kicked everything off with Marcella’s Lemon Roasted Chicken. It’s been featured on the blog before, with good reason. In a world of dry, lame-o poultry, it is the Queen Mum of moist, flavorful goodness. Plus, when you add a few thick-cut carrots and quartered (unpeeled) red potatoes to the pan before it starts cooking, it becomes a whole meal. (Seriously, that’s all you have to do.) Together, The Boyfriend and I polished off all the vegetables and 10 ounces of chicken (five ounces each) for a Sunday night meal.
Afterwards, we stripped the chicken bare. Nude. Butt-naked. There was nothing left on that carcass but skin and gristle. It was a little hyena-like, honestly, but fun nonetheless. In total, our booty came to 2 pounds, 4 ounces of pure, straight-up leftover meat, mostly from the breast. Here’s a shot of the carnage.
If I had half a brain, I would have saved Charles’ bones to make stock. But I forgot.
To quote the bard, “Duh.”
Cooking Light’s Chicken Picadillo with Rice and Black Beans
Leftover chicken consumed: 1 pound
(Note: The experiment almost ended here, since I didn’t go grocery shopping in time for Day 2. Fortunately, for this particular recipe, everything was in my pantry already. [Woo hoo!])
Going in, I had mid-level expectations for Chicken Picadillo, and was super-pleasantly surprised by the results. All in all, it’s supremely easy to cook, and a nice change from the average Tex-Mex dish. Ground chicken, salsa, raisins, and almonds make up the main ingredients, but a dash of cinnamon ties it all together, giving everything a warm, lovely flavor. We ate it with plain rice and mashed black beans (to prepare: heat in pot, mash with masher, add salt and pepa), and used the leftovers to create a chicken/lettuce/salsa wrap the next day for lunch. Good times.
White Chicken Chili
Leftover chicken consumed: 1-1/2 cups
This tangy, mild, ridiculously simple chili was The Boyfriend’s favorite dish of the bunch. (He is the Chili King. He can do anything.) He slurped a bowl in record time, scarfed leftovers for lunch the next day, and openly wept when I told him he had finished it all. Poor guy.
The key to keeping this dish low-fat is the beans. By lightly mashing them, you create a thicker chili consistency, and don’t have to add as much cheese. FYI: If you like your chilis a little spicier, the heat is eminently adjustable here: just include the jalapeno seeds OR add another pepper altogether.
Food Network’s Sesame Noodles with Chicken
Chicken consumed: 1 cup
Three days into this thing, and we were barely halfway through Charles’ leftover meat. That started to change here.
It must be known: I loooooooove noodles. I luff them. I lurve them. I want to kiss them, but they keep falling through my fingers. (Ooo … deep.) Naturally then, this dish from Food Network was my favorite of the experiment. It’s a cross between Ellie Krieger’s Aromatic Noodles and this Noodle Salad from Cooking Light, with just a little more tang. The whole shebang is a tad higher in fat than the experiment’s others (see: butter, peanut), but it’s the healthy, protein-y kind, so I wouldn’t worry too much.
One note: I substituted a pitted, sliced regular cucumber for the Kirby. No harm, no foul, and it worked just fine.
Cook’s Illustrated’s Chicken Curry in a Hurry
(recipe at bottom of post)
Chicken consumed: 2 cups
Finally, we had reached the end. Charles was nearly tapped by Day 5, though perhaps surprisingly, we weren’t getting tired of chicken in the least.
It’s a good thing, then, we went with Curry in a Hurry. Served with a side of brown rice, it’s a fast, fantastic, Indian-inspired weeknight meal that will absolutely use up the last of any leftover chicken. Plus, it’s a lot of frigging food. CI claims it serves four people, it’s really more like five or six. Maybe eight or nine if you’re elves.
Note: we skipped the peas because they represent the oppression of the worker by the bourgeoisie, and can only be freed through shared profit and community-wide effort. (Oh wait – that’s not right. Actually, I just forgot to buy them. It didn’t make a difference.)
And that, my friends, is it. We're full. The chicken's gone. The experiment worked.
Here’s our grocery list (just like we promised!), plus the curry recipe, should you be into it. Comments and questions are welcome, and I'd love to hear what y'all have done with a whole chicken. Enjoy!
(* means I already had it in my pantry or fridge)
1 7-lb Oven Stuffer Roaster chicken: $6.92
1 lb thick carrots: $0.67
1-1/2 lbs red or Yukon gold potatoes: $1.42
2 lemons: $0.80
*1 or 2 tablespoons salt: $0.04
*3 teaspoons olive oil: $0.11
*2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil: $0.36
*2 tablespoons vegetable oil: $0.18
*2-1/2 medium onions: $0.30
*9 garlic cloves: $0.30
*2-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin: $0.05
*1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon: $0.01
*1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or Italian seasoning: $0.02
*Pinch ground cloves: $0.01
*1 teaspoon crushed red pepper: $0.05
*1/2 to 1 tablespoon curry powder: $0.07
*1 cup bottled salsa: $0.99
*1/3 cup golden raisins: $0.79
*1/4 cup raisins: $0.42
*1/4 cup slivered almonds: $0.73
1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts: $0.35
1 large bunch fresh cilantro: $0.99
*1 14-oz can black beans: $0.67
1 can large white beans: $1.39
*1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas: $0.67
*1-2/3 cup uncooked brown rice: $0.95
1 seeded jalapeño pepper: $0.25
1 cucumber: $0.80
6 scallions: $0.67
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger: $0.32
1 can (4-ounce) chopped green chilies: $1.49
*2 cups chicken broth: $0.60
*1 pound spaghetti or Chinese egg noodles: $0.80
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter: $0.21
*1/4 cup soy sauce: $0.38
*2 tablespoons dark brown sugar: $0.06
*1 tablespoon rice vinegar: $0.24
*1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (we used low-fat, and it was okay): $0.28
*1/2 cup grated low-fat Monterey Jack or white cheddar cheese: $0.50
Cook’s Illustrated’s Chicken Curry in a Hurry
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced thin
1/2 to 1 tablespoon curry powder (mine is hot, so I only use ½)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
½ cup water
2 cups shredded of thinly sliced cooked chicken
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen peas (I left this out, but please use)
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (we used low-fat, and it was okay)
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1. BUILD CURRY BASE: Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, curry powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until onion is browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
2. ADD WATER, MEAT, VEGETABLES, AND COOK: Stir in water, meat, chickpeas, peas, and raisins. Cook, stirring frequently, until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. GARNISH AND SERVE: Off heat, stir in yogurt and cilantro and serve. Over brown rice is a good option.