Chef Kurt Michael Friese's new book is A Cook’s Journey. He is also the co-owner of Devotay in Iowa City.

Three days on one chicken

And other Depression-era folklore

October 7, 2008

Editor’s note: Recently, Ellen Jackson wrote a story titled “One chicken, four meals.” This week on the blog, we welcome Kurt Michael Friese, who tackles the same subject but from his own unique angle: Lessons from his mother.

Prices of everything are going up. As I recently told my children as they headed off to college, in these challenging economic times, it’s prudent to fall back upon the wisdom of our elders.

A long time ago, when I was a young man, I did an internship in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As any of you who have done any sort of internship know too well, there isn’t a lot of money in the internship game, least of all in the theater — my chosen profession at the time.

My wonderful mother, sensing that her baby boy might be starving in the desert, sent a few pages of advice on how to get by on practically nothing at all. She called it “Good Old Mom’s Handy Survival Tips: Three Days on One Chicken and Other Depression Folklore,” and she said if I were “not completely satisfied . . . make them into paper airplanes.” It became a family treasure.

Here, in condensed form and with my own comments thrown in, is what she taught me then.

Start with one chicken; eat for three days.

Foods that are traditionally cheap, she said, were rice, potatoes, canned tomatoes, canned beans, and pasta. Of the rice, she said to buy the biggest bag that looks clean, and never buy anything in a box. Potatoes should be purchased 10 pounds at a time. She said, “Idahoes are best for baking and reds are best for salad, but this is no time to be picky. SMELL THE BAG before you buy it. The odor of a rotten potato is not subtle.”

Mom thought it best to buy the smallest eggs, saying that the size difference does not justify the price disparity. I would certainly add that it is far better to get your eggs from a local farmer. The price is about the same and the eggs are much fresher and better-tasting.

She went on to say that one should use coupons when possible, but only for things you were going to buy anyway. Additionally, it is important to realize that “quiche was not invented as a test of masculinity. It was invented to get rid of leftovers.”

As for the three-days-on-one-chicken thing, I’ll give it to you word-for-word, with my comments added parenthetically.

Buy your chicken from a local farmer if you can.

Buy one whole frying chicken (preferably organic, from a local farmer) for every two servings desired, and do it when you have a couple of hours free. It is not necessary to start with a live chicken. Remove legs at the hip and refrigerate or freeze. Fillet the breasts and refrigerate or freeze. Bang on the carcass(es) enough to make them fit in the biggest pot you have. Add a couple of onions, a stalk of celery, and (fresh!) parsley. Add water to cover, and a little salt.

Simmer, DO NOT BOIL, for 1 hour, skimming occasionally. Remove the bones from the soup and cool a few minutes. Remove usable meat, return the bones to the soup, and refrigerate the meat. Simmer the bones for another hour, then strain the broth and throw away the junk. Taste the broth for salt, season appropriately, and refrigerate at once.

One day: Barbecue or fry the legs and thighs. Serve with Spanish rice and baked beans or coleslaw.

Another day: Use fillets for Chicken Parmesan, Jennifer’s Chicken, chicken nuggets, curry, and on and on. See Dinah Shore for details.

Yet another day: Use chicken bits and broth for chicken pie, chicken à la king, chicken ‘n’ biscuits, etc.

BUT BEFORE YOU USE THE BROTH: Skim the fat carefully from the chilled broth and mix the fat with an equal amount of flour to use for thickening the gravy.


Jennifer’s Chicken

(This family favorite is very simple and very flavorful. It’s been on my training table since I was a kid.)

Dip the chicken fillets in beaten egg, then in a mixture of breadcrumbs (your own, not the store-bought sawdust), Parmesan (real Parmigiano-Reggiano — accept no substitutes), and (fresh!) parsley. Bake at 350 degrees on an ungreased pan for 20 minutes. Before serving, drizzle a mixture of melted butter and lemon juice over the fillets.

There are 13 comments on this item
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1. by valereee on Oct 8, 2008 at 4:34 AM PDT

And don’t waste a good whole onion, usable stalks of celery, or fresh parsley unless you have an abundance. Keep a baggie in the freezer. When you chop an onion, save the ends in that bag. When you chop celery, put the waste into the bag. Same for parsley -- the stems flavor broth as well as a fresh bunch. When you put the carcass into the pot, pull your baggie of collected veggie scraps out and dump them in, too.

2. by Holly on Oct 9, 2008 at 7:20 AM PDT

Good comment!

3. by Fasenfest on Oct 9, 2008 at 4:12 PM PDT

My mother just left from visiting with me for 9 weeks. The biggest surprise was how much fun we had. But also, the dish we made out of chicken feet and neck bones. Sounds pretty thrifty huh?. It was inspired by the calf’s food “jello” she made for the family when we were young. Actually, it was a very hardened aspic that had vegetables and cook egg sliced in and we would eat it on black bread and horseradish. Now I know it is an acquired taste but it was made out of things the poor had access to - calf’s foot. The dish we made with chicken feet and necks was about the same - cooked in a water with onions, carrot, pepper, bayleaf, and garlic, drained, reduced and poured in a loaf pan with whatever else you want in it (we went traditional). Vinegar adds a biting taste to the broth and once chilled, sliced and served on black bread we girls were happy. So I got to say, whole chicken is yet a luxury. Once you start looking at the feet with a twinkle in your eyes you know you getting pretty basic. And for anyone bold enough to try, you can get “stock kits” at Kookoolan at the hillsdale farmer’s market. You may not want to make the Polish “jello” we ate but something like that. I guess it serves nicely as a demi-glace if that is more suiting to everyone’s taste.

4. by Kurt Michael Friese on Oct 13, 2008 at 1:30 PM PDT

Always remember that the food that are called luxury items today are food that the nobility lifted from the peasants. Caviar, lobster, paot au feu, cassoulet, foccacia, polenta, and more recently hangar steak and flatiron and flank.

And don’t be grossed out by Fasenfest’s “jello” ideas. That’s where gelatin comes from, the cartilage, ligaments and marrow of animal bones. Classically it’s called aspic, and it’s remarkably versatile.

5. by batever on Oct 29, 2008 at 6:06 PM PDT

I prefer to make the stock with just the chicken, and add vegetables to the stock when I am making my soups or whatever. That way I get the full benefit of the vegetables.

One of these days when I’m making broth, I’ll add vegetables. But up to now, I haven’t been able to see the point of putting perfectly good veggies in, only to strain them out when I strain the broth. Seems like a waste of veggies and of money.

6. by batever on Oct 29, 2008 at 6:08 PM PDT

Also, after you use the drums and thighs, save the bones and whatever meat is clinging to the bones in a bag or plastic container in your freezer. You can add them to your next stock batch.

7. by Kurt Michael Friese on Oct 30, 2008 at 6:03 AM PDT


What you miss out on in the wellrounded flavor provided by what are called “aromatics” in the trade - carrots, onions and celery (mire poix) and the herbs and spices (garlic, parsley, black pepper, thyme), and much of that nutritive value is transferred to the broth, so you don;t really lose it. That’s what grandma always recommended chicken soup for a cold.

8. by valereee on Oct 30, 2008 at 6:31 AM PDT

batever, don’t use perfectly good veggies -- use veggie scraps. The ends of onions and carrots and celery, the stems of parsley are just as good at flavoring broth as the good whole veggies are. Save them in a baggie in your freezer, and when you make stock take the baggie out and add it to your stock.

9. by Kurt Michael Friese on Oct 30, 2008 at 7:21 AM PDT

Valeree has a good point from an economic and environmental standpoint, but from a flavor standpoint those carrot, celery and onion ends can be quite bitter. Compromise where you will.

10. by Fasenfest on Oct 30, 2008 at 7:27 AM PDT

Growing up in the world of Jewish penicillin I know that there nothing better then those flacid vegies served up with hot broth and egg noodles. My mom would add turnips, parsnips, carrots, celery, onion or whatever was on had. I have to say, I loved them soft and without a trace of texture. Funky, maybe, but oh so comfortable to a sick palate. I also loved eating the soft chicken wings and necks used to make the soup. So cook like a peasant and eat like a king (or princess as was my case).

11. by Kurt Michael Friese on Oct 30, 2008 at 8:35 AM PDT

A philosopher named Lin Yutang once said, “What is patriotism but love of the food we ate as children?”

12. by batever on Oct 30, 2008 at 2:01 PM PDT

Thanks for the feedback, guys. I think I will try making some batches with celery, onion, etc--for use in recipes that require fuller stock flavor--and some with just the chicken and no veggies, for use in soups and stews where I will be adding all of those veggies anyways.

13. by Freya Lund on Jun 20, 2009 at 8:46 AM PDT

Our chicken ritual has become this. We buy a 4-5lb organic chicken at the begining of the week. We cook it on our vertical chicken roaster, rubbed with some salt, we catch the chicken grease,( which we may start to use after the post on fat,) Then through the week my husband just trims the bits he desires for our 3 meals from that chicken. He loves the dark greasy meat in the indian dishes we make, the lighter chicken meat in our italian, thai and mexican meals. Then I make the weekly stock for cooking broth or soup that we have through the week. Sometimes if I am organized enough I make something from the remainder of the chicken bits from the stock. If not, the dog and cat get bits for treats (and the dog loves loves loves the soft veggies) So let’s see, 4 meals & chicken stock for the week and sometimes one more meal. Now what to do with the bones? hmmmmmm.

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