It’s hard enough to eat well when the economy’s good, when time and commitments and plain old laziness getting in the way. But when there’s hardly enough money in your wallet for Cup O’ Noodle and a Coors Light, cooking gourmet food can seem damn near impossible. But fear not, Bay Area penny-pinchers. With only one chicken, a few additional simple ingredients, and some time, you can make three whole meals for two people.
But how? That’s exactly what I asked three Bay Area star chefs Alice Waters, Gary Danko, and Traci Des Jardins. I challenged each of these SF heavy-hitters to come up with one mouthwatering, gourmet meal for two people using only one-third of a chicken plus a few low-cost ingredients.
And oh, how they delivered! Alice Waters offered a recipe for chicken breasts, Gary Danko turned in a chicken leg recipe, and Traci Des Jardin thought up a delicious soup, made from the previous the leftover chicken bones of the two previous meals.
Below are their simple, savory recipes. (But first, some advice from Danko: When you’re planning to make a few meals out of a whole chicken, always eat the breast first. The longer the breast is refrigerated, the more it will dry out. The legs, on the other hand, will retain their moisture and flavor even after refrigeration and reheating.)
ALICE WATERS’ CHICKEN BREASTS ESCOFFIER
1 whole large chicken breast, about 3/4 pound
salt and pepper to taste
12 tablespoons clarified unsalted butter
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1/2 box cherry tomatoes
Skin and bone the chicken breast, and cut it in half. Remove the tendons and any fat from the two single breasts. Salt and pepper the breasts and fold the tenderloins to the side of each breast so the meat is evenly thick.
Dip the breasts in a flat dish with 6 tablespoons of the clarified butter to coat both sides. Pat the breasts in the bread crumbs to form a crust. Let the breasts stand for 10 minutes.
Heat 3 tablespoons clarified butter in a heavy cast-iron pan over medium heat. When the butter is hot, put the breasts in the pan, season with salt and pepper, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Sauté gently for 5 minutes, turn, and sauté on the other side for 5 minutes. The crust should be a rich golden brown.
Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons clarified butter in a small saucepan. Put the chicken breast on two warm serving places and pour some of the butter over each chicken breast. Serve with briefly sautéed cherry tomatoes.
GARY DANKO’S BAKED MUSTARD CHICKEN LEGS
2 chicken legs, thigh and drumstick attached (depending on the size of the chicken, you may need two more)
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs or panko
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon chopped tarragon, optional
(you may substitute 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs with 1/4 cups chopped nuts of choice)
Trim excess skin from thigh end of chicken. On parchment paper, combine breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, tarragon, and salt and pepper. Mix well. Using a pastry brush, lightly paint the mustard on chicken legs. Coat legs with the breadcrumb mixture. Place single layer on a sheet pan or in a roasting pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes until completely cooked.
This dish may be served hot or cold.
TRACI DES JARDINS’ CHICKEN STOCK AND CHICKEN VEGETABLE SOUP
leftover chicken bones
1/2 cup each chopped carrot, onion, celery
1 sprig thyme
Pick off and set aside any remaining morsels of meat from the bones, place the bones and skin into a pot, and barely cover with water. Add carrot, celery, onion, thyme, and cook at a simmer for about 3 hours. Keep adding small amounts of water as necessary to keep the level just above the bones. Strain the stock.
(Although most people discard the remainders, Gary Danko remembers that his grandfather "loved to eat the remainders of the stock pot. Being an old Hungarian, he called it ‘a Hungarian picnic.’")
Chicken Vegetable Soup
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup each diced onion, carrot, and celery
2 cups cabbage, roughly chopped
2 cups potato, cubed
2 cups cooked rice or beans
chicken from carcass, shredded and seasoned to taste
1/2 cup pork product, cubed*
Curry, saffron, bay, pimento, or a pinch of Esplette pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon (add at the very end)
(Use either the chicken pieces that have been picked from the bone, or use a bit of bacon or other cured pork product. Render it or not your choice, but include it nonetheless. The flavor will keep you coming back for more, and the fat yes, there will be fat helps our bodies realize we are really having a great meal.)
Sauté the onion, carrot, and celery in oil for five minutes, or until soft.
Then add spice seasonings and the pork product if you are including pork. Stir and cook for five minutes, then add in the stock and bring to simmer. Let it simmer slowly for 15 minutes, then add the rice, potato, or beans (or all three) and let simmer another 15 minutes. Season to taste. Makes about 6 quarts. Freeze all but two, no matter what the yield. Finally, when you heat up a meal’s worth of soup, add a raw egg to the pot. Turn the heat down very low and cover. In three minutes, dish it up. Add a dash of sriracha sauce and a teaspoon of good extra-virgin olive oil. Serve with a slice of good bread on the side.
CLARIFIED BUTTER, CLARIFIED
Clarifying butter removes the milk solids and water from the part of the butter you want for sautéing the translucent, bright yellow butterfat that can be brought to high temperatures without burning. (The smoking point of clarified butter also known as ghee, the beloved cooking fat of India is 485 degrees. By contrast, whole butter smokes at 350 degrees and virgin olive oil smokes at 375 degrees.)
For the Chicken Breasts Escoffier, you’ll need two sticks of unsalted butter to begin with. Cut the butter into one-inch cubes, and heat it in a heavy-bottomed pot over a low flame. As the butter melts, it will separate into three layers a thin foamy top layer, a middle layer of clarified butterfat, and a bottom layer of white milk fat. Skim off and discard the foam, and ladle the bright yellow butterfat into a heat-proof container. Discard the milk fat. You may need to continue skimming bits of foam off the top until your mixture is pure. You will keep around 80 percent of the butter you started with.
TIPS FOR LOW-COST COOKING FROM GARY DANKO
Meal planning is a great way to cut your grocery bill. If you go to the store less frequently, there’s less impulse buying. It also keeps you from running to the store next door, where you’ll pay more for your food.
•The cost of meat has been going up. The best way to cut back on the amount of meat you use is by substituting a healthy filler, like tofu, in your meatloaf recipe. Try to stretch a pound of meat into two recipes instead of one or substitute meat with less expensive ingredients like beans.
•Risotto is a great, inexpensive way of getting a lot of bang for your buck and it can be used as a base for endless flavor profiles using leftovers.
•Take a doggie bag if you have steak or chicken leftover from your restaurant visit. Just last night I had some steak and a double cut pork chop left over from a restaurant dinner. For lunch, I took a can of Amy’s vegetarian chili, a can of rinsed kidney beans, and a cup of store-bought salsa, combined them with the chopped meats, doctored them with spices, and simmered the mixture for 10 minutes. I had rice I made two days before, a dollop of sour cream, and a spoonful of salsa. It fed four people a hearty lunch.