Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Them Bones

When it it comes to saving on food, the general economy of grocery shopping is that the less processed something is the less expensive it is likely to be. For example, say you want chicken for dinner. There are a variety of forms you can get this chicken in and each comes at it's own price. Below is a list in order of most expensive to least expensive:

1. Fried Chicken pieces from the deli counter, already cooked and ready to eat.
2. Whole Roasted chicken from the deli counter, already cooked and ready to eat.
3. Pre-marinated chicken breasts from the meat counter, full of flavor and ready to grill.
4. Boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, defrosted and ready to prepare.
5. Chicken pieces, such as breasts, thighs, drumsticks, leg quarters, or wings, including skin and bones
6. Whole roasting chicken, uncooked

It makes sense that the more processed a food item is before you purchase it, the more you are going to pay since those labor costs get passed on to you. Now that I'm scrutinizing my grocery bill much more closely, I find myself buying a lot more bone in chicken than I have eaten in the past. I've noticed for my neighborhood that the better sale prices for boneless skinless chicken generally fall around $2 a pound while bone in chicken is half that at about $1 a pound. Of course one option would be to de-bone the chicken once you get home as my friend Katy does. While I haven't quite mastered the art of de-boning yet, I have been on the hunt for new recipes that make the most of these inexpensive cuts of meat which can be a real delicacy when prepared correctly.

I've noticed with bone in chicken, that since I'm less familiar working with it, I'm quite a bit more concerned about the doneness factor. Often times thighs and drumsticks can contain traces of veins and other discolorations, and for me particularly this is a little bit of a psychological turn off. That being the case, I either tend to cook the bejeezus out of the chicken or find myself taking a few bites and then turning the rest of it away, even if the thermometer has registered that it is safe to eat. So I've determined that except for the rare occasion, grilling isn't the best method for me when working with bone in chicken as for me it either turns out overcooked or undercooked. Although if you are into grilling, may I suggest Emeril Lagasse's Spicy Honey Barbecue Chicken which got rave reviews from a dinner party we had recently.

For chicken thighs and drumsticks, my cooking method of choice has fallen to braising. Braising is a cooking method similar to boiling, except of course instead of water you use other tasty ingredients such as wines, vinegars, oils, and juices mixed together with herbs, zest, spices, sugars, you name it. You simmer the meat over low heat for a long period of time until chicken is tender, juicy, bursting with flavor, and falling off the bone. Below is a picture of another recipe we made recently from the Food Network Website called "Melt in Your Mouth Braised Barbecued Chicken." Of course Don and I decided to turn the heat up a bit and doubled the amount of chili flakes the recipe called for. Serve this delicious mouth watering chicken over rice to catch all of the flavorful juices. It also reheats excellently as leftovers. Try this recipe with Fresh & Easy Chicken Thighs or Drumsticks which go on sale for $1.19/lb June 3rd thru June 9th.

Don and I also tried another new delicious recipe for bone in chicken breasts last night that was fun and easy to make. Without question, this one gets a five star rating plus some bonus points for creativity on the cooking method. The recipe is called "Greek Chicken Breasts" and can be found on the MyRecipes.com website.

Start by slicing four whole lemons and laying on the bottom of your baking pan in a single layer.

Next prepare the chicken. Take four chicken breasts, gently lift back the skin to create a small cavity without detaching it. Stuff two cloves of crushed garlic between the skin and flesh of each breast.

Next, arrange chicken on top of the lemon slices. Rub each breast evenly with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Finally scatter about 20 pitted kalamata olives around the pan.

The recipe says to bake the chicken at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes but the breasts I used were so huge that it actually took about twice as long for me. Use a meat thermometer to determine when the chicken is done. Insert the themometer into the thickest part of the breast. When removed from the heat, the chicken should hold a temperature of 165 degress for 15 seconds or longer. When chicken is done cooking, remove from the oven and sprinkle with feta cheese.

Don and I both loved this recipe. Not only were the Greek inspired flavors excellent together, but the skin came out golden brown and slightly crispy from the olive oil, while the chicken inside remained extremely moist and tender. That is because during the baking process, all of the chicken and lemon juices run together in the bottom of the pan and actually steams the chicken from the inside out, infusing it with flavor and keeping it from drying out. We can't wait for chicken breasts to go on sale next time to make this dish again! If you decide to try it, please let me know what you think!

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