Over the years, I’ve had more leftover poultry cluttering up my refrigerator than anything else. (At least in terms of total volume; I still have ketchup packets that are older than my car.) The most common example is of course the tattered remains of roast chicken, but don’t count out leftover turkey, either. I could spend a week talking about how to get rid of it.
I actually like the leftovers more than the dish itself, if you can believe that. Of course, there’s always a challenge, whether you are cooking a turkey or chicken the first time or reheating it. The problem is that any bird is basically two different animals. The breast is of course lean, dry, and tasteless, unless cooked with exacting care, but also big and easy to slice. The dark meat, contrarily, is an intimidating mess of random bones and joints, and as fatty as the breast is dry. Between the two of them, they are hard to get rid of indeed.
Happily, a few basic techniques help you to use up every bit of the bird. They include:
Here’s a very advanced technique for combining dark meat and white meat: chop it up. It’s not as easy as all that, obviously. The breast meat comes off easily enough, but the dark meat requires first separating out the flabby skin, and then entering the biological labyrinth that is the thigh.
I am not even kidding when I say that, after twenty years of writing about food – and meat in particular – I still don’t understand what is going on inside the thigh. I never know what side to eat it from, or how to separate it cleanly from the leg, or sometimes even which side is up. But I do know how to pull the meat from it, and from the leg as well. I try to take equal amounts of both meat, and mince them up either coarsely (for sandwiches like this one) or finely (for chicken salad) or very, very finely (to make a garlicky potted meat). For those who steer a middle course, this is the way to go.
I don’t know about you, but I have rarely ever seen a bird whose underside was as crispy and brown as its top – for the simple reason that the top is where all the heat goes. This is unfortunate, as the bottom needs it a lot more than the top does. So I will frequently take a half-eaten chicken, strip the white meat off, and put it into a 350-degree oven upside down.
The white meat will get eaten later; even if it’s overcooked, mayonnaise covers a multitude of sins, which is one reason it’s always on chicken sandwiches. The dark meat and crusty skin, once it comes out of the oven and cools, makes a great low-carb snack, albeit a labor-intensive one (you still have to fight those bones!)
It generally gets thrown away, but the single most important part of a roasted chicken or turkey is neither the white meat, nor the dark meat, nor the delicious crusty vegetables that cooked beneath them, which need no help from anybody in getting eaten. No, it’s the weird, gelatinous stuff at the bottom of the pan. That, my friends, is aspic, and far and away the most flavorful thing in the whole pan.
I don’t waste an atom of this stuff. I will sometimes mix it up with mayonnaise or pesto or even olives, and shmear it on toasted crostini like these. Other times I just make sure to toss reheated chicken with it. It makes a great binding element with chicken salad, and I’ve also used it (along with some of the chicken fat that inevitably attaches to it) to flavor EVOO for roasted potatoes.
Fat and Bone
If you are going to throw anything out, it should be these two, right? Well, sure. But both are pretty easy to use up too. The fat turns white and solid in the fridge, so if you’re not too grossed out by it, it’s easy to spoon up and freeze away. (I add it to vegetable oil to make fried chicken, or to itself to make potato pancakes.)
The bones have only one use: throw them in the pot with a carrot, an onion, and just enough water to cover it, and let it simmer for hours and hours. Then throw everything in the pot away, except the liquid, which will be ten times better than any chicken stock you’ll ever get in a store.
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