We all know pasture-raised is better for you, the chickens and the soil. Raising them with care outside – and moving them to fresh pasture daily as we do – requires a lot of labour, which means pasture-raised chicken is also more expensive than grocery store and even other types of farm fresh chicken. The good thing is there’s a lot of value in a pasture-raised chicken, and here are some tips for getting the most out of your chicken.
1. Carve whole, raw chickens into parts
One whole pasture-raised chicken yields two bone-in breasts, two drumsticks and two thighs, plus wings and carcass for some extra meat and the world’s best stock. For our family of three (2 adults and a 4 year old kid – all with large appetites), this gives us at least three meals with so much room for variation. We like to cut up several chickens at once – what we call a Piecing Party – and freeze the parts in different portion sizes for endless recipe and meal options.
While piecing a chicken can be scary, with guidance it is easy and fast. There are lots of free tutorials online, with a good one here.
2. Use the carcass meat and organs
You can use even more meat from the chicken if you cook the carcass meat (back, neck) and wings. It’s often nice to do this part in a hands-off way, like in a slow cooker or Instant Pot. When it is cooked, pick the meat off the bones. The wings, back and neck, plus any other random pieces of meat, from one chicken create about one cup chicken. This meat is perfect in chicken salad, added to soups or any other recipe that calls for shredded chicken.
When you piece several chickens at once (Piecing Party!) you also have the ability to freeze wings and organs in larger portions. We love to bulk package wings for special wing nights!
Now comes organs… I (Sarah) will admit that we haven’t mastered the art of cooking organs. Which is kind of crazy because I am anemic and we know the nutrient value of the healthy organs from our chickens. I hope to work on some organ recipes over the season and share with you what we learn. Until then, this chicken liver pâté is amazing as are fried gizzards!
3. Keep all bones and make chicken stock
Use the skin and all the leftover bones and make chicken stock. Do this with the carcass bones after you piece a chicken and with the bones after you cook the pieces. If you prefer to make stock in big batches, stick the bones in the freezer. I usually throw bones in a BPA-free plastic bag, and add to the bag as we cook different chicken meals. This way you will have the best stock at your fingertips – you’ll never pay for chicken stock again!
For all bones, it’s best to first cook or roast them before making stock. This gives the stock a richer flavour and also reduces the cloudiness of the stock.
With one whole chicken, we usually get 2 quarts of rich, gelatinous chicken stock. This is enough to get us through 1-3 soup or sauce nights depending on the recipe. As a frugal, versatile and healthy meal, soup makes it on our menu a lot. Of course, you can always freezer leftover stock.