Chicken Soup for the GI

When the big roasting chickens are buy-one-get-one-free, I grab two.  A 6-7lb chicken fits right in my slow cooker.  I throw in some rosemary, a couple carrots, onions and celery ribs, then cook on low for 6-7 hours, until the little plastic gauge pops up.  The chicken meat easily serves 8.  But this is a post about soup.

Slow cooking or roasting a chicken results in three usable byproducts.  After the chicken is removed from the pot or pan, you will have chicken drippings and various debris at the bottom.  I scoop out the big chunks (eat the veggies), and pour the drippings through an old threadbare hand towel (I don't have cheesecloth) into a bowl.  That bowl goes into the fridge where the fat will rise to the top and solidify.  The drippings, full of gelatin, will gel.  I call the fat "chicken butter" and sometimes use it sparingly to add flavor to noodles.  I am sure it is not healthy.  I call the supercooled liquid drippings "chicken jelly" and use it in soups and stews.

When the chicken has cooled for maybe 20 minutes, I cut all the meat off the bones.  There are good small pieces of meat between the ribs and along the back that are easy to get with your fingers.  The legs, breasts, and wings are usually served for dinners with sides of vegetables and rice or noodles for about $1.75 per person.  All the bones, skin, giblets, neck and wingtips go back in a big pot with carrot, celery, onion, rosemary, and garlic.  I use the celery heads and roots that were cut off earlier, and any carrots or onions that are getting on towards bad shape.  You probably won't eat these vegetables after using them for stock.  Bring that pot up to a simmer for a long time.  Since I tend to cook the chicken for dinner, I end up at this step in the evening, and just put everything in the slow cooker on low over night, then deal with it in the morning.  Again, scoop out the chunks and toss them.  Pour the  remainder through a threadbare towel into bowls.  From one chicken I can get a good 5 pints of stock.  It can be safely refrigerated for a few days, or frozen for weeks.

This stock will be a little cloudy.  I don't mind.  This isn't fancy cuisine.  There may be a way to clarify it by slowly and carefully whisking egg whites into warm stock, then filtering through the cloth again, but that's more work and wasted eggs to me.

I had never made a chicken soup before yesterday, and it turned out to be the best chicken soup I've ever had in my life.   I have no idea how many calories are in the homemade chicken jelly or stock.  This ends up being a thick and rich soup. This made 6 quarts for around $6.  This is a delicious meal for no more than $1 per hungry person.  Total time was three hours, but only half an hour or so of it is work, and it can cook in two hours easily.  This is something a 10-year old could make.

All of the stock from one chicken.
All of the chicken jelly from one chicken, with the fat removed.
1 lb carrots, sliced
8 celery ribs, sliced
10 scallions, chopped
2 medium-big onions, largely diced
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/4 lb noodles, spiral, whole-grain, dry
1/2 lb diced chicken meat (I diced the pieces of rib and back meat and part of a leg)
rosemary, oregano, salt, pepper to taste

Note: I also added some navy beans because they are very nutritious.  I made 1 cup of dry beans in a separate pot, then added them to the soup when they were soft.  The beans were the only not-delicious part of the soup.  They did not ruin the soup by any means.  The soup was still incredible, but if I add beans in the future, I will add half as many and prepare them even further in advance.

Put all of the stock and chicken jelly (no fat) in a 6+ qt pot.  Bring to a boil for a minute or two.  Add the sliced carrots and celery and spices and garlic.  Let rise to a boil again, then reduce to a simmer.  After an hour, add the onions and scallions.  20 minutes before serving, add the dry noodles and diced chicken.  That's it.


Catfish Dinner

I was pleasantly surprised to find catfish on sale for $2.29/lb.  I never see fish this cheap.  It was in chunks marketed as "nuggets", though each piece was maybe a quarter of a full fillet, many times bigger than a fast food chicken nugget.  There was also a great sale on veggies and bagged salad.  I buy when the sales are on.  Here's the writeup for a substantial dinner for two, $2.45 and 660 calories for each person:

Entree - $2.92 - 630 calories:
catfish, 1 lb - $2.29, 240 calories
flour, 1/2 cup - $0.08, 100 calories (half gets eaten)
eggs, 2 - @ $1.80/dozen = $0.30, 140 calories
breadcrumbs, 1 cup - $1/can = $0.20, 150 calories (half gets eaten)
paper towels, 2 - $0.03
aluminum foil, 16" - <$0.02

Garlic Bread (or Toast) - $0.61 - 400 calories:
bread, "French", 1/4 loaf - @$2/loaf = $0.50, ~300 calories
butter or olive oil, 1 tbsp - $0.06, 100 calories
garlic powder, 1/2 tsp - <$0.05

Salad - $1.38 - 290 calories:
baby spinach, 2.25 oz - @$1/9oz bag = $0.25, 15 calories
salad mix (mostly iceberg), 3 oz - @$1/12oz bag = $0.25, 15 calories
mushrooms, 2 oz - @$1/6oz = $0.33, 10 calories
walnuts, crushed, 2 tbsp - @$4.50/lb =  $0.15, 100 calories
cheese, 1 oz, diced - @$4/lb = $0.25, 90 calories
dressing, 2 tbsp, light - @$3.50/24oz = $0.15 , 60 calories

Stir the two eggs together in a bowl.  Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on a large baking sheet.  Optionally spray oil on top.  Set the oven to 425 F.

Dry the fish between the paper towels, coat in flour, dip in the egg, then coat in bread crumbs.  Place on the aluminum foil with a little space between each. Bake in the preheated oven for about 18 minutes.  Season with black pepper, thyme, or cayenne as you like.

The fish is a nice treat that should be a more common part of the American diet.  It is usually expensive, though.  You can use chicken instead, cutting the cost of the meal by at least $1.  Just set the oven to 350 F and increase the baking time a few minutes.  Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F, and juices should be clear.

This salad is something I make very often, but the price is usually higher.  Even with sales, this salad for two people usually costs me closer to $2.  The difference is in the prices for bagged spinach and salad mix.  If you buy your own greens, you may cut your cost a bit, but do more work.  Mushrooms are often $3/lb, though they've been $3.50/lb lately.