2000s Archive

Cook Smart: Birds in Hand

Originally Published March 2009
Roast chicken is the utility infielder of practically everyone’s culinary repertoire. Popping two of them in the oven at the same time gives you dinner for four and provender for three more great meals.

Putting delicious, sustaining meals on the table consistently, economically, and with a minimum of fuss is something all home cooks aspire to. Over the years, we’ve learned that having two roast chickens on hand pays real dividends in terms of speed, convenience, and energy efficiency.

Meal number one: roast chicken with pan gravy

The secret to a gorgeous, golden-brown bird is basting—a bit of a bore, true, but more than worth the effort. We use melted butter flavored with smashed garlic cloves, then tuck the garlic and a lemon half inside the chicken. If you have rosemary or thyme sprigs in the fridge or growing on a windowsill, toss in a few of them as well. Pan gravy, a snap to make, is the kind of finishing touch you will become famous for. And, after dinner, put the chicken carcass in a ziplock bag and stash it in the freezer; those remains of the day, so to speak, will eventually end up in the stockpot.

Meal number two: cheesy chicken and mushroom lasagne

Use the meat from half of the second bird (and don’t forget to save those bones for stock). Much of the dish’s flavor and moistness will come from the thigh and drumstick. The people at your table who profess to dislike dark meat won’t know it’s there because it’s cleverly camouflaged with cheese and mushrooms. Brilliant.

Meal number three: gyros with cucumber salsa and tsatsiki

It’s hard to beat a good chicken sandwich, and that is what the last half of the cold roast bird is slated for. Assembling wrap-style sandwiches with a flatbread other than tortillas takes you to another part of the world, the Mediterranean. Cucumber, tomato, red onion, and mint contribute crunch and freshness, and thick Greek yogurt adds substance and a creamy tang.

The real beauty of leftover-roast-chicken stock is that you don’t have to make or use it immediately if you don’t have the time. The bones will keep in the freezer for weeks, and the stock can be frozen for months. It’s a fundamental building block for soup, obviously, but why not go in a less predictable direction?

Meal number four: leek and pea risotto with grilled calamari

At first glance, fish stock may seem a more appropriate choice for this risotto, but, in fact, chicken stock has a way of bringing out the savory quality—the meatiness, really—of pan-grilled squid. There you have it: Two chickens, four meals. As for dessert, you’re on your own.

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