One Chicken, Five Dinners

(Image credit: Sarah E Crowder)

Any time I roast a chicken, a predictable sequence of events follows — first the meat, and then the bones, are transformed into simple, seasonal weeknight dishes that maximize time and money without sacrificing a drop of flavor.

I realize this is not revolutionary thinking, and I am not the first to write about stretching a chicken into a week of meals. I mean, it’s practically a food writing cliche, and one that often veers into impracticality. Can you really make a week of dinners around one measly chicken? Yes, you can! I do it often, and here’s how it looks in my own kitchen, for my family of four.

(Image credit: Sarah E Crowder)

My hope is that by sharing exactly how this plays out in our kitchen, you might be able to incorporate all or part of it into yours.

I usually roast my chicken on Monday, but if that doesn’t work for you, roasting it for your Sunday dinner might be a better option. We almost always eat the breasts first; reheating the white meat is tricky to do without drying it out, and we love our method for recrisping the dark meat (a little oil, a hot skillet, so good). This means the focus is on meat on Monday and Tuesday. We accompany these with something starchy and something green — like potatoes and sautéed spinach.

The next two meals, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, are based around the stock I make from the chicken bones. I make this stock in the slow cooker, starting it Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning and letting it go for hours. It’s easy, hands-off, and makes one of the richest stocks I know. With it, I make a simple soup on one night, and a risotto the next night — both dishes are easy to make and really highlight the stock.

On Friday, I use up any odds and ends leftover from the previous four meals with a family favorite: scrambled egg tacos. Fluffy scrambled eggs and warm tortillas make the base, and we pile on anything left in the fridge, from the last scraps of chicken to a spare cupful of rewarmed veggies.

Despite the fact that we repeat this pattern about once every month, no one complains about the repetition. In fact, it’s the exact opposite: compliments to the chef are always high on chicken week! I think this is because even though the basic dishes stay the same, there are unlimited ways to customize them. Vegetables and herbs change with the seasons, and grains are swapped in and out by mood. Before you know it, the soup will be winter squash and the roasted okra will be replaced with braised collards. Meanwhile, the rice changes to farro or soba noodles whenever we need something new.

5 Meals from 1 Roast Chicken

Monday: Weeknight Roast Chicken with Lemon and Sage (Eat the chicken breasts for dinner tonight, along with some vegetables roasted in the oven with the chicken.)

Thursday: Sweet Corn Risotto made with the rest of the chicken stock

Friday: Scrambled Egg Tacos to use up all the leftovers

The Recipes

Your Meal Plan

Here’s what a typical roast chicken week looks like for my family of four:

Sunday: Shop for the ingredients to make all the dinners through the week. Cook brown rice — I usually cook 2 cups dry rice and split it between Tuesday’s chicken thighs and Wednesday’s soup.

Monday: Roast the chicken, along with potatoes and okra (or your favorite vegetable). Eat the chicken breasts for dinner tonight, along with the vegetables.

Tuesday: Reheat chicken thighs, drumsticks, and wings on the stovetop, crisping the skin. Cook the spinach in the same pan after warming the dark meat. Warm the brown rice just before serving (or if you didn’t make the rice yet, get it going before doing anything else).

Tuesday night or Wednesday morning: Put the chicken bones in the slow cooker and start a slow-cooker chicken stock. Let this simmer for up to 12 hours, then strain. Chill and refrigerate if not using immediately for Wednesday’s dinner.

Wednesday evening: Make sausage and zucchini soup using some of the slow-cooker stock.

Thursday: Make the sweet corn risotto using the rest of the slow-cooker stock.

Friday: Use up any leftover vegetables, grains, and meat in scrambled egg tacos.

Your Shopping List

Buy at the Store

  • Yukon Gold potatoes (2 1/2 pounds)
  • Yellow onion (4 medium)
  • Garlic (2 cloves)
  • Celery (3 to 4 stalks)
  • Carrots (1 to 2 medium)
  • Baby spinach (5 ounces)
  • Zucchini (1 1/2 pounds, or 3 medium)
  • Sweet corn (3 ears)
  • Leek (1 large)
  • Fresh vegetables for roasting, like okra, broccoli, or another favorite (1 pound)
  • Lemon (1 medium)
  • Fresh sage (1 bunch)
  • Cilantro (1 bunch)
  • Eggs (6 large)
  • Parmesan cheese (enough for 1/2 cup once grated)
  • Whole chicken (4 pounds)
  • Bratwursts or other sausage (3/4 to 1 pound, uncooked)
  • Brown rice (2 cups)
  • Arborio rice (1 1/4 cups)
  • Chicken stock (11 cups, if not making homemade)
  • Dry vermouth (1/4 cup)
  • Corn tortillas (8 small)

In Your Pantry

  • Olive oil (2 tablespoons)
  • Unsalted butter (2 tablespoons)
  • Salt (3 1/4 teaspoons, plus more to taste)
  • Nutmeg (1/8 teaspoon)
  • Pepper (1/4 teaspoon, plus more to taste)
  • Bay leaf (1)
  • Hot sauce (for the tacos, to taste)