Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fat: A chicken dinner

I broke my fast and roasted a chicken last night using Jennifer McLagan's recipe from Fat which differed from the norm mainly because it called for slathering the bird with almost a stick of butter. Not strictly necessary to make a tasty chicken, but it was a very tasty chicken. On the side, served maple roasted sweet potatoes and green beans. 

After dinner I went on Facebook. The latest status update was not, as usual, from one of my friends in New York soliciting sympathy because he spilled Jasmine pearls green tea on his laptop. It was from Isabel. She had written "Isabel just had a very satisfying dinner." 

My girl.

Everyone always talks about how satisfying and comforting roasted chicken is, how easy and foolproof. I want to comment on how cheap it is.

Here's what dinner cost, minus cooking fuel which I have not figured out how to estimate, and may never:

-roasted chicken: $9.63 ($8.98 for the chicken; 65 cents for the butter; herbs I got from pot in yard)
-sweet potatoes: $2.30 ($1 for potatoes, $1 for maple syrup, 3o cents for butter)
-green beans:  $3 (a guess, I bought them a while ago)

Total: $14.93

Obviously, you can go lower than that. For instance, you could buy a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, which costs as little as $6 around here. (Burning question: WHY ARE ROTISSERIE CHICKENS CHEAPER THAN HOME ROASTED? Answer: Economies of scale. Next question: Why roast at home? Answer: Don't know. Maybe "cooking-at-home-is-cheaper" is, in fact, a big lie.) You could also buy a less expensive raw chicken. I bought a "natural chicken" from Whole Foods, which is somewhere between organic and Foster Farms* in price and pedigree. Also, the sweet potatoes were organic and maple syrup is always absurd.
But four of us were fed with leftovers of everything. Mark just made a chicken salad sandwich for lunch; I made broth from the chicken and it will be turned into soup for Isabel's lunch box.

That $28 oxtail is going to have to work pretty hard to justify its bony self.

*do I know for sure that it is healthier to buy "natural" chicken than Foster Farms? No. Do I know that it tastes better? No. Do I know for sure that the chickens are happier? No. Do I trust Whole Foods and the supposedly saintly vendors at farmers' markets? Not completely and no. Do I trust Foster Farms? Hell no. It drives me crazy. I feel like a chump, lacking complete information. One of the best things I've ever did was taste test organic flour vs. conventional. I still don't know if the organic flour is actually healthier, but it made a vastly better loaf of bread. At last, a tangible reason to choose one product over the other. 


  1. I recently tried frying thinly sliced potatoes in the schmaltz, and it's worth keeping the fat for.

    What do you do with the giblets? I use them occasionally, but usually just throw them away and feel a little guilty.

  2. I use giblets to make soup stock, and I cook the liver immediately and give it to my son on toast. That's one of the few, challenging items he has eaten since babyhood.

  3. Wow. Since pregnancy, I have a hard enough time handling uncooked chicken flesh, let alone giblets. I'm in awe.
    Thanks for answering the "why is the chicken with the work done cheaper than the one I do myself" question. We're lucky that in the Co-Op (local grocery store) they have Bell & Evans, local less-awful-to-birds farm, even for their rotisserie chickens.
    But I'll bet all that butter does indeed make a better bird.

  4. that meal sounds great! I've always been annoyed that rotisseray chicken are cheaper too... but I also thing its because its so hard to find a small chicken! The ones they sell to cook at home are all massive!

  5. Years ago I got fresh chickens delivered to my door every Wednesday. They were plump, juicy, amazingly tasty with only olive oil, salt and baking. And not expensive.

    Rotisserie chickens are often over greasy, small, salty, dry, and/or tasteless. They serve a purpose in satisfying immediate hunger, avoiding cooking and mess, and being easy. How can they compare them with a nicely homecooked bird. There IS no comparison.

    One is fast food for easy eating. The other is real good food for a healthy tasty meal with those you care about.

  6. I know, Anonymous, home-cooked chicken is wonderful. But the chicken I cooked the other night was very small, probably equivalent to the excellent Whole Foods organic rotisserie chicken, and roughly the same price. There are cheaper rotisserie chickens, as I say, but those tend to have the problems you mention. I just think it's odd that pretty good rotisserie chickens CAN be cheaper than a raw chicken you then have to cook.