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Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Easiest Way to Turn 1 Chicken into 20+ Meals (how to boil a chicken, make chicken noodle soup & chicken stock)

Free of gluten, dairy, soy, nuts, and corn

My mum has always made chicken noodle soup and turkey soup out of leftover carcasses from Thanksgiving or the odd time she baked a whole chicken. I'm not much of a meat-eater, but I certainly like the idea of making the most out of it for the purposes of saving money (meat is expensive, after all) as well as ensuring that some little bird didn't give up it's life just so I can have a drumstick. 

My mum always baked her birds, but when I started making chicken soup myself I was doing my Masters degree and had almost no time to cook - as in I was mostly eating salad and popcorn for dinner.  Baking a chicken and then making soup seemed like far too much work.

So I learned to boil chicken. Not surprisingly, it always comes out moist. The cooking water lightly flavours the chicken and then makes for great chicken stock, which can then be turned into noodle soup. Then I pop the bones into my crockpot, simmer it for a day, and Voila, I have like 20 meals for all of $5-7 and a minimal amount of work.

Here's how I do it.... 

I get myself a whole small chicken, or a half chicken, ideally organic or at least hormone free certified humane free range chicken.

The ones that I can usually get my hands on have already been cleaned, and don't often come with giblets, so I'm going to presume that you've already taken care of your chicken's innards and done with them what you will.

This recipe is super, super flexible and I usually just end up using whatever bits and pieces are kicking around in my freezer and fridge, which makes it ridiculously frugal.  Here's a super basic recipe. Feel free to experiment! 

Here's what you'll need for the boiled chicken and noodle soup:

1 chicken (mine are usually around 4lb)
Vegetable scraps (optional, see below for details)
2 carrots, 1 peeled and cut into 1" chunks, one peeled and cut into thin rounds
1 medium onion, quartered
2 bay leaves
1/2 bunch parsley
A few handfuls of rice vermicelli or bean thread noodles
Salt and pepper to taste
Bragg Liquid Amino(optional, for extra flavour. It's gluten free but not soy free)

How to Boil a Chicken

Rinse your chicken* (or not, see note at end of post) and place it into a pot large enough that
you can throw in scraps and have water to cover it all

I have a Cuisine Art Green Gourmet set similar to this Cuisineart Cookware Set , and I'm very happy with it - it's ceramic and free of any toxic chemicals. I use the 6 quart stock pot and it fits my chicken perfectly.  My set also came with an extra Cuisinart Stainless Steel 6-Quart Sauce Pot that I use sometimes as well, although they come in much larger sizes also. Both pots work great for huge batches of soup.

I've learned over the years that it's well worth the investment to pay for good quality pots, especially if they will last forever and don't release toxic chemicals into the environment, like a lot of teflon coated non-stick pots and pans!! 

Now I keep a container in my freezer for vegetable scraps, like carrot peelings, onion skins, parsley/herb stems, fennel fronds, celery tops, water used to cook vegetables, etc.   

Almost anything except cruciferous veggies will work in this (they get stinky and throw the flavour off), I've also discovered that apple peels add a nice flavour. 

Below is one of my containers with carrot and parsnip peelings, as well as some kale stems.

Add your scraps, one of the carrots (the one chopped into 1" chunks), onion, bay leaves, and parsley. cover with water. 

For this chicken I also had some celery fronds and something dark green I don't recall!

Bring water to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 1 - 1.5 hrs, until chicken is cooked. You'll know when you can slice into the chicken and it is white inside and the juices run clear, instead of pink or red.

Carefully remove the chicken from the hot water.  Reserve the liquid.
You will know your chicken is cooked when the bones and flesh easily come apart. 

How I Divide a Chicken

Now here's how I divide my chicken up into meals.

When a chicken is boiled it makes the flesh just fall off the bones, so you can really pick off almost every teeny tiny piece of meat. So I strip everything and organize it into containers as I go.

In truth, as you can see from above, the meat from one little chicken can actually be used in about 24 meals in total!!  And we haven't even gotten to the carcass yet!

I use the big chunks to base a meal around. Serve it with Gluten Free Vegetarian Gravy (weird, I know, but after being vegetarian for 8 years this is the only way I know how to make gravy!), cranberry sauce, or whatever else you like. We eat the big pieces over the course of a couple of days. One 4lb chicken gives us enough large chunks for 2 meals for 2 people.

Then, the medium sized bits I divide up into small containers and freeze them. I only use small amounts to toss into things like stir fries, bean dip, or soups. To defrost them, I just soak the bits in warm water for a couple of minutes. We use just enough to add a bit of flavour and protein, so it really stretches out the chicken. 

Then, the teeny tiny bits, not so pretty kind of ugly bits I reserve to make my chicken noodle soup.

So here's how I make my soup: 

How to Make Chicken Noodle Soup

Strain the liquid used to boil chicken. 

I use a small Fine Mesh Strainer (like the one linked) to scoop out the large chunks, then pour the liquid through double layers of cheesecloth or a flour sack. I prefer Flour Sack Towels like the linked ones because they're washable and reusable, and can be used to cleaning, cooking, and I've seen some people online decorate or embroider them as gifts.  

Straining is an important step, because there's tons of gunky stuff that collects in there. 

 I place a strainer over a large bowl, then line the strainer with my flour sack and pour the soup through it. I give the sack a twist and press it with a wooden spoon to press out all the good stock. All the scooped out veggies can be composted or discarded.

 This is some of the gunky leftover sediment.

Rinse out your stock pot, then pour the stock back in. Add the one leftover carrot that's been sliced into rounds and vermicelli noodles. I often add an extra couple of cups of water.   

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, until carrots and noodles are soft. Add salt, pepper and Bragg to taste.

Then, I cool the soup in the fridge, ladle into freezer-safe containers (I use old yogurt containers), divide my small little chicken bits amongst the containers, label them with the date and title, and freeze. I usually get 3 yogurt containers worth, which I can take out for a quick lunch or dinner. I just slide it out of the container and into a pot and defrost on the stove over medium heat for about 10 minutes.   

I like to have a couple of containers of homemade chicken noodle soup in the freezer at all times because my husband has the Epstein Barr virus, and I find that when he starts to get sick, I load him up with tea and soup and it really helps to build up the white blood cells to combat any infection (more on this in an upcoming post I've been planning)

How to Make Chicken Stock / Bone Broth

 So once the chicken is boiled and my soup is underway, I pop the leftover bones into my new Hamilton Beach 5-Quart Slow Cooker to make bone broth. 

I do this almost the same way I make the stock. I cover the carcass with filtered water, almost to the brim of my crockpot, add another onion, some more vegetable peelings (again, apple peels are awesome for this, and last time I had a hollowed out pumpkin that I threw in as well!), another couple of bay leaves and then I let this simmer for about 24 hours on low heat (you want this above 140F so the chicken doesn't go bad).

This is awesome because it makes my whole apartment smells like chicken soup.

Then I strain it the same way I did the chicken soup, season with some salt and pepper, cool it, label it, and freeze it.  I can get another 4 large yogurt containers with this, and we use it for things like stews, cooking rice in, and so on.

So really, you can see that my one 4lb $7 chicken actually gets the 2 of us a freezer full of meals. I only do this once every couple of months because we don't go through it very quickly.

Incidentally, a while back I made some chicken drumsticks baked with a super spicy jerk sauce I'd picked up at the local Asian market. I rinsed the drumsticks clean before making the broth, but they still made for a rather spicy broth (which my husband loved, but I'm not as fond of hot foods), so beware that whatever you season your chicken with, your broth will probably have some of that flavour!

Do you make chicken soup or broth? How do you stretch out your meat? 

Updated October 21, 2013
* Based on a comment on this post about rinsing chicken being unsanitary and spreading bacteria I did a little research. Turns out it's true, according to researchers at Drexel University, who found that bacteria can be spread by water droplets that splash off the chicken in a radius up to 2-3 feet. NBC news recently posted an article on it as well you can read here. I usually scrub and clean everything that comes in contact with my chicken after cooking with it, but I'll probably reconsider the whole rinsing thing. I still don't like the little bit of blood that is on chickens sometimes (call it the squeamishness of a former long-time vegetarian if you will), so I might have to figure out a way to rinse it without possibly spraying anything...


  1. Some great tips & detail here.....great job showing how one can eat "cleaner" on not a lot of money. Hopefully, others will "get it." Really enjoy your writing.

    1. Thanks so much, kygal! Glad you enjoyed the post :)

    2. This is my very first reply to any blog online. Was impressed with the coconut oil deodorant and stretching chicken recipe that I had to reply. Hopefully this helps... what we do to prepare our chicken or any meat (except fish) is a vinegar and water rinse. You can pour it over or dunk it in a large container. Say 1/4 cup vinegar to 6 to 8 cups of water, transfer to a colander and drain. Opt. can pour plain water over it again while in colander. Now there's a subject for you to research cause I'm not sure on the proportions since I don't measure. Looking forward to coming back to read more from you.

    3. Thanks for sharing your tip! I will look in to that :)

  2. I love to do this, too! Last time I did it, I used rice instead of noodles, and the kids liked that, too. I never thought to save scraps to flavor the soup. Great idea. I buy several chickens at once when I find a great sale and cook several at once. (Sometimes I have chickens boiling in several pots and crock pots!) Great post. Pinning.

    1. My mum used to used to make turkey lentil barley soup all the time and it was my favorite! Of course now I can't have barley because of the gluten, but sometimes she tosses in some rice instead :) Great idea to boil a few chickens at once, Heidi. If I had a big freezer to hold it all I would definitely give that a shot.

  3. Hi Danielle-- Because there's so much misinformation out there about the Teflon® brand, I'm not surprised that you are concerned. I'm a representative of DuPont, and want to share some information with you and your readers so that everyone can make truly informed decisions.

    Global regulatory agencies have affirmed that Teflon® nonstick coatings are safe for their intended use:
    Here’s an article where the bottom line is that you can use Teflon® nonstick without worry.

    I'd truly be glad to share additional information if you are interested, and appreciate your consideration of this comment. Cheers, Nellie.

    1. Hello Nellie,

      Always interesting to hear from industry :) I appreciate your willingness to reach out and share your links. However, I noticed that the links on the site that you say tells us that we can use Teflon without worry does not provide any links to any recent peer-reviewed scientific studies, and is a site set up by the plastics industry, as opposed to a government health site or independent organization.

      Does Teflon still contain PFOA, the coating found on non-stick pans? If so, might I direct you to the Health Canada site (the site of the Canadian federal health department) that notes a couple of studies that have found that PFOA is likely to cause cancer in rats, or give off poisonous fumes if heated too high? The Health Canada site also notes that ceramic, stainless steel and cast iron are safe for cooking. Cast iron can even provide beneficial amounts of iron.

      Or this Globe and Mail article that interviews several environmentalists who compare PFOAs to the modern day DDT and a likely human carcinogen?

      This study from the European Food Safety Authority also notes that humans who consumed fish that had accumulated PFOA and PFOS had higher levels of these chemicals in their systems, and that this effect was cumulative over time.

      Any chemical that stays in your system, or somehow manages to get into the blood stream of polar bears, sea otters, fish and birds who, incidentally, have never cooked with non-stick pans, or that causes cancer in rats, is of concern to me.

    2. A huge applause for you, Danielle. Thank you for standing up to the truth about the non stick coatings. Please allow me the opportunity to speak on something else that everyone should research. I notice you use plastic containters for storage. I have researched plastic (and suffer reactions to it, as well) and its ill effects on living beings and I would encourage you all to do the same...I think you would find it very frightening as well as interesting to search out evidenced based studies as well as testimonies of those who believe they have been affected. I have tried to live plastic free but it is impossible as plastic is everywhere; hidden in places one would never notice or expect, but I do what I can by avoiding many products, esp juices and bottled drinks as the liquid has totally been saturated for who knows how long and absorbs the leeched poisons (some of which are lead, cadmium and mercury.) I also as store every thing in glass, stainless steel, and use Natual Waxed Paper. I wrap meat in it before placing in (ack!) plastic bags for the freezer, otherwise the food dries out and freezer burns. Although I can't site the reference now (it would be in one of my papers) when an expert researcher was asked which plastics are the safest, he stated simply, "There is no such thing as a safe plastic." and explained the reasons why. This means if organic food is watered with plastic tubing, it truly is NOT organic (free from leeched poisons from the plastic.) My CSA organic farmer uses black plastic along with the tubing so....(sigh) Still it is better than the food also sprayed with chemicals and fertilizers. It grieves my heart that we are so unaware of what this is doing to our health and esp to our children. Parents with babies are unknowingly poisoning their little ones daily who are still developing physically AND mentally. Well, I guess enough said. Please, please anyone, check it out. Just like the above msg, the industry and government agencies will tell you their research verifies that plastic is safe for consumption. This is a lie. Thank you for your time :)

    3. Hi Kim,

      You're absolutely right about plastic and I agree 100%. When it comes to regular food storage and keeping leftovers in the fridge, I use glass containers, and if you look on the left side of the 1st photo you'll notice a glass Ball canning jar that I keep my bouillon mix in ;) I only use the yogurt containers to freeze things in, and then I NEVER heat plastic in the microwave. Heating can cause toxins from the plastic to leech into food and air. If I could find some larger glass containers that stack well and hold enough food, and with matching lids that won't rust in the freezer, I would definitely do that instead.

      Thanks for commenting, and thanks for your support! :)

  4. Rinsing your chicken just spreads bacteria. Do NOT rinse it, just throw it in the boiling water. That takes care of any bacteria that may be present.

    1. Hi stephanie, thanks for pointing that out. I should clarify I always clean and scrub any utensils, sink, plates, etc that come in contact with the chicken. I rinse mine, though, because sometimes it comes with blood in the packaging and I prefer to rinse that off before tossing it in the pot.

  5. I love this - so resourceful! I forget to save my veg and squash peelings. This is a good reminder to put them to use.

    1. I've gotten my husband in on it, too, and I think he gets kind of excited about it when he helps make dinner. I think he likes the idea that we're totally making use of everything, and the prospect of the soup tasting a little different every time. He's always asking "is this ok to save? Which container should I put these scraps in?" Super cute :)

  6. I do make chicken broth often now and wonder why it took me so many years to do it. I used to buy broth; now I save about 4 or $5 /month making my own broth that is so much better for me.
    I often don't feel like I can really stretch chicken anymore. I feed 7 people/meal and 1 child is on the GAPS diet which is more meat. So I am happy to get 2 meals from 1 chicken and then the broth as well.
    Thanks for sharing at Healing with Food Friday. Come back and share again this week if you have not already done so.

    1. Feeding 7 on one chicken is definitely more of a challenge than 2, so I can see how it's a challenge to stretch it!! At least you can get the broth from it as well as the meat.


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